You Can’t Un-know

There’s a line from a Bob Sieger song, Against The Wind, that speaks to me.  “I wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then” the song says.  It’s powerful to me.  I sometimes wish that I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then.  I sometimes long for the return of innocence.  But you can’t un-know and you can’t un-see.

I wish that getting a new pastor wouldn’t be an anxious time for me.  I was raped by my pastor as a teenager.  He was a new pastor, newly assigned by the Bishop.  I know things as about pastors…things that I can’t un-know.  Wishing I could un-know doesn’t help.  I’ve tried.  I mentioned my wish to un-know to a sexual abuse counselor once and she told me honestly, I will probably always experience some level of anxiety whenever I change churches, or my church changes pastors because I know things that other people don’t know.  However, I can also use this knowledge to be an advocate for safe sanctuary, abuse prevention and healing.  Jackie and I recently decided to pursue a shared dream of creating a website and workshops to promote healing and speak out against injustice and violence.  We did this in part because, once you see it, you can’t un-see it.  Once you know, you can’t un-know.

If you are a survivor of abuse, there are no doubt triggers you will encounter the rest of your life that remind you of what you know about a parent, a family member, a teacher, a priest, or a neighbor.  You can’t un-know what you know, but you can use it to help make the world a safer place for all of us.  A few years ago, when my church adopted safe sanctuary and required all the youth leaders and Sunday School teachers to take training, the staff relations committee seemed very confident that they had made the church a safe place for kids.  I thought it fell short.  But then, I knew things they didn’t know.  Things I can’t un-know. I know that abuse can happen in less than ten minutes by a janitor, or bus driver, or some other person that also has contact with kids.  I asked why these people hadn’t been included in the background screenings or training.  They said they had never thought of that.

Once I saw how inadequate it is for society to train our women and girls how not to be raped and ignore training our men and boys not to rape, I couldn’t un-see this either.  Now it seems obvious to me that the most effective way to end rape is to stop raping.  What is is it that you see?   What is it that you know?  Let your knowledge and your vision guide you and then you will know how to bring hope to the world.

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Love Her For Her Bravery

When the news of the Steubenville, Ohio rape case first came out in January, 2013, I wrote about it on the old page. If you’d like to read the first post before reading this one, please click here. The verdict of that case came back Sunday.

If you haven’t read it, the two high school football players, were convicted of rape. They will both spend at least one year in prison. The outraged part of me wants to write an entire post on the atrocity of that fact, but I think, perhaps, it is finally time to give some respect to the young woman those two men raped. I don’t know all the facts, so some of this is just what I have learned about survivors.

It has been just about two months since the 16 year old female student was raped repeatedly by two people she knew. She may have only seen them around school, but she was probably familiar with who they were. Ok, so she was at a party drunk. Bad idea. I hate to tell you, but every person I’ve ever known had at least one bad idea in his or her lifetime. That does not make it ok to rape someone.

She was taken to several parties that day, not of her own will mind you, but by these other people she knew. They raped her, and then recorded her and said she looked, “so raped.” Her body was repeatedly violated. She was unconscious. And the two men who were raping her thought it was ok.

Now, she has been living with the fact that she has become a victim of a violent crime she will never forget. Every day since her rape, she has had to wake up and look at a reflection in the mirror she may not recognize anymore. She wakes up every day and showers, probably trying to scrub off the “dirty” feeling she has. She isn’t dirty, but society tells her she is the one at fault.

She has to endure the looks of all her classmates because she did testify. There is no denying she’s the one. Some people will love her for her bravery and others will hate her for the same thing.

She may have to deal with an STD, an eating disorder, a drug or alcohol addiction, anxiety, depression, counseling needs, inability to work. If she chooses to have children, she will now have to figure out a way to tell them her story.

She may never wish to go to a party again. She might be too traumatized to go to college. She could have become a doctor and found a cure for cancer.

It is easy to look at all the things with which she will now have to struggle. Easy isn’t necessarily the right word for that, but it is always easy to list the bad things. The outlook of her life could be pretty bleak.

But.

There is hope. It may take her a long time to get there, but she can overcome the adversity. She can go to college. She can study whatever she wants because, after all, there is no limit of what a person can do when they set their mind to it. She could be a rock star, like Carlos Santana or Tori Amos (both survivors of abuse). She could be a television mogul like Oprah (a survivor). She could become a mom and teach her sons not to be rapists (like so many survivors I know are doing).

In light of the Steubenville case, it has once again become painfully obvious that we are doing it wrong. We have a rape culture in which we are so entrenched, we try to teach women how not to be raped, but we never consider that maybe, just maybe, we should perhaps try to teach men not to rape. Yes, the reverse is true, that we also need to teach women not to rape as well.

Since this seems to be an issue, many people have actually written tips for teaching others not to rape people. It is actually rather appalling to me that such things have to be written, but here is one, in case someone you know, or you, need a reminder. As the author, Ben Pobjie says, you can print it off and carry it in your wallet. That way, you can look at it if you need a reminder.

THE HANDY GUIDE TO NOT RAPING PEOPLE IN SEVEN EASY STEPS

1. When you meet a girl who doesn’t want to have sex with you, don’t have sex with her.

2. When you meet a girl who wants to have sex with one of your friends, remember the golden rule: You Are A Different Person To Your Friends. Maybe this handy mnemonic can help: Yentl Acted As Ducks Probed Three Yucky Frenchmen. This will help you remember that a girl who wants to have sex with one person does not necessarily want to have sex with every person she meets. Confusing, I know; what can I say – political correctness, etc.

3. If you meet a girl who DOES want to have sex with you, but then a bit later she says she’d rather not, don’t have sex with her. Again, pretty confusing, I know, but it’s due to a special Scientific Fact: sometimes girls change their minds. Like, remember the time you wanted a kebab, but then you thought no, I’ll have a hamburger instead? It’s a bit like that, only with sex.

4. When you meet a girl who is unconscious, don’t have sex with her. This is true even if she was drinking before. I may be delving into some fairly arcane theory here, but scientists have discovered there is actually technically a difference between “drinking a lot of alcohol” and “saying yes I want to have sex with you”. I realise this difference is probably hard to spot for a lot of you guys; you might have to squint a bit.

5. When you go home with a girl, try not to have sex with her until after she says she’d like to.

6. Practise not having sex with people. I know it’s hard – sometimes you just look down and it’s like, whoops, I’m having sex with this girl, how did that happen? But I bet with a bit of concentration and discipline, you can actually manage to avoid having sex with someone, even when they’re in the same room as you. It’s true! Anyone can do it! Why, last week I met at least five women who I actually didn’t have sex with, without causing myself any particularly severe internal injuries.

7. When you meet a girl who doesn’t want to have sex with you, don’t have sex with her. I realise I already said this one, but that was five steps ago, and I have a feeling some of you guys might have slightly short attention spans.

Please share these tips if you know someone who needs this lesson. If you are a survivor, please know that you are not alone. You can heal and there is hope!

Bravery

Is Anybody There?

“Jennifer”, my therapist once declared, “you don’t have bad self-esteem…you have no self-esteem.”  It was a monumental observation.  The kind that changes the course of therapy.  My therapist had previously been listening for the source of thoughts that were leading to the negative things I said about myself.  What she realized, somehow, is they weren’t my thoughts.  They were someone else’s.    What she helped me see from that point on, was that I had never developed a core sense of self.   I got my esteem from whomever I was around.  When I was with positive people, I was positive.  When I was with negative people, I turned dark.  Are you a party person?  Me too!  More of a quiet nerd? Wow, I share those qualities!

We’re all influenced by those around us to a certain extent.  It’s a natural thing to be lifted up by some, pulled out of your shell by others.  It’s another to be a complete chameleon.  It has its advantages. It creates a persona of willingness.  It makes others around you feel good.  It reduces tension and conflict.  But it takes its toll too.

Realizing that I had no sense of self started me on a path of discovery.  I’m still working on it.  I have to remind myself all the time when faced with a decision that I need to take a breath and ask myself what I think, how I feel, what’s important to me about it.  I have learned to recognize that when I’m feeling tense and torn in life, whether at work, at home or with friends, it’s usually because two people I care about are in disagreement with each other and I haven’t taken time to ask myself what my opinion is.

The seeds of my lack of self were sewn in my upbringing, in a culture that devalued the opinions of women and children, but it was solidified when I was sexually abused as a teenager.  The teenage years are when youth transitions to adult and the self is formed.  As a person experiences more of life, she learns more about herself.  I’m good at music, I’m average at athletics, I’m a great friend.  During those years, I was instead, completely focused on appearing to be whatever I needed to be and keeping people from learning the secret of who I really was.  Abusers use this redirection in their victims to keep from getting caught.  They continually direct the focus of their victims to themselves.  At 15, I was so focused on pleasing the minister who was molesting me, that I considered it my “real life” and everything else was just a front.  So, even though I was experiencing all the things other teens do, and developing skills, none of it was getting logged into my sense of self.

The good news is, that even though my self-esteem was still undeveloped as I sat with my therapist at age 45, all the building blocks were there.  The day my therapist said to me, “Jennifer, “you don’t have bad self-esteem…you have no self-esteem,” I started building it.  I still struggle to take my own opinion into account, to listen to my own preferences, but it’s work in progress and the self-discovery is amazing.  There is hope 🙂

 

Kindness And Love

Last week, I had lunch with a friend. She is a survivor, and just an incredibly strong person. She’s going to school to finish her degree. One day, as she was coming out of class. A man was sitting in the hallway on one of the couches by the classroom door. He said hello to her, and not wanting to be rude, she said hello back. As she continued down the hall, she heard the man say, “Oh damn” behind her. He said it in that way that let her know he was staring at her and watching her walk away.

She said at other times in her life, she would have just kept walking and tried not to think about how it made her feel. On that particular day, she decided she didn’t have to take his comment. She turned around and walked back to him and said, “Excuse me. What did you say?” He tried to act like he didn’t know what she was talking about, but she pushed him on the issue and finally told him that she had heard what he said. He, of course, was dumbfounded and didn’t know what to say. She told him that if he wanted to talk to a woman and compliment her on how she looked, tell it to her face, not to her back as she walked away.

The next day, she was leaving class and the same man was sitting in the same place. He said hello to her again and tried to engage her in conversation. She said, “Yesterday you ruined your chance to compliment me. You’ll have to try it on someone else. I’m not an object.”

I love that story and asked her if I could write about it here. She said that would be just fine.

How many times have we walked by and garnered inappropriate, offensive comments just because we were walking to the next place we needed to go? We were not doing anything other than walking by and being female.

The other side of the objectification coin was a commercial a few years ago with Michael Jordan. He walks by a group of women and they are trying to guess whether he has on boxers or briefs. It was cute and the first time I saw it, I laughed. The incongruity of a man being treated like an object was funny, at first, but then my experience and my background reminded me that I would not like it AT ALL if people were trying to guess what I was wearing. Yes, I know, Michael Jordan got paid, quite well I’m sure, for doing the commercial. That is not the point, though. Money or not, he was still being treated like an object.

The discussion with my friend and hearing her story made me think of a phrase that runs through my mind quite frequently. “You can’t unsee what you’ve already seen.” This phrase always stands in stark opposition to “Hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil” which doesn’t run through my head a lot, but it is one I hear frequently. I abhor that phrase.

see no evil

The first phrase is realistic and implies living life without blinders. The second implies that if we choose, we can live in a dream world where bad things don’t happen because we don’t see them. We don’t want to know and if we just close our eyes, we won’t see it. If we don’t know about it, it can’t be our problem to solve.

This sense of detachment pervades much of communal thought. Just let me see what I want to see and not the bad reality because then I have to think about it. And then I have to change it.

During my journey toward healing and in my conversations with other survivors, I have learned more than I often wanted to know. I have learned that at any major sporting event, men, women and children are being trafficked just outside the gates. I have learned that very often, the moral compass of the non-abusing parent is so weak that they continue to see no evil. Sometimes they even perpetuate the evil itself, because for them, it is easier than “knowing” and doing something.

As a survivor of abuse, I have seen horrible things that I can never unsee. As a survivor who chooses to work with other survivors, I have learned further horrible things that I can also never unsee. But, as a human being, I have also seen incredible beauty and selfless acts of kindness and love. I hope you have seen and experienced such things as well.

Don’t forget the horrible things, but perpetuate the kindness and the love. In those acts, may you and all humanity find hope.

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International Women’s Day

As another week comes to a close, in Women’s History Month, it is International Women’s Day. It has been celebrated since the early 1900s. We have come a long way, but the journey is not yet over. Take heart today and celebrate your being and all the women in the world!

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So Much More

Friday, at the close of business, my doctor’s office called me. A call from the doctor at the beginning of the weekend is not necessarily a good thing. I had some test a month ago and while nothing is seriously wrong, I now have to have at least one test repeated in four months.

The nurse asked if I had any questions. I could barely speak. Shock rocked my brain. But my overall feeling was betrayal.

I have always been healthy. It felt like suddenly, my body was fighting back against me. I am finally in a place where I’m happy and life is going well and my body decided that wasn’t a good plan and now I have to monitor some aspects of my health.

For many survivors, there is an overwhelming feeling of bodily betrayal. If their body was aroused during the assault, they may wonder if they truly did enjoy it. Of late, too many people are saying that a woman’s body has defenses against rape and will respond appropriately. It is an absolute lie, and the latest example of victim blaming.

People often become self-harmers because the pain they feel on the inside does not show outwardly. “If someone will just see what I’m feeling, they will ask me what’s going on and help me stop it.” The worst part of this is that, very often, people do not want to see.

Some people eat to hide their bodies. Some people starve themselves so no one will notice them. People get addicted to drugs, sex, and alcohol to hide their pain and torture their bodies and their souls. Torture and suffering is not something a survivor wants, but it may be all they know. This process of self-abuse is not always prominent in the thought process behind addiction, self-harm, and risky behavior, but at least for me and my struggle with food, it was always an underlying thought. If I hurt myself, that maybe someone would see, and if I managed to do some harm to myself, it wasn’t the end of the world.

These behaviors helped you survive at one point, but continuing to do those behaviors may not serve you anymore. You may actually just be hurting yourself.

Your body did not betray you. The person who abused you, or let you continue to be abused, betrayed you. Even if your body responded, it did not betray you. If your legs froze and you could not run away, it was not your body’s fault. If your voice stuck in your throat and you couldn’t scream, that is a natural response to violence and violation. You and your body did not do anything wrong.

Your body actually helped to save you. In the moment of abuse, it may not have, but it helped you walk away when you were able. It helps you go to counseling. It carries your fragility to Take Back the Night, Walk A Mile in Her Shoes, and One Billion Rising. It moves your being to coffee with a friend, where maybe you told your secret for the first time. It creates the tears you cry in silence and the scream you utter when it has all been too much.

Your brain tells your hand to reach out to another victim you see hurting. It allows you to hold the hand of another; the hand of one who has healed and one who is raw with the fresh agony of assault.

Your body has carried you through a lot of pain. But if you let it and learn to love it, your body can also help you experience tremendous joy.

It isn’t always easy. I won’t even pretend to tell you it is, but it can be better. After abuse, there is joy and there is hope and so much more.

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I Had a Dream

Disagreements abound about the significance and source of dreams.  My writing today is not an attempt to enter that debate.   I only know that I had a dream,  which is a significant piece of my healing from sexual abuse as a teenager, and that the dream feels like a gift from God.

I dreamed one night, that I was standing in a very crowded hotel lobby.  People were milling about and I remember feeling very  pinned in.  I scanned the crowd, trying to determine where I was.  No one seemed familiar, until across the lobby, standing in a doorway…it was him.  I was immediately flooded with  confusing, contradictory, and massive emotions.  I felt rage, attraction, fear and excitement.  But mostly, I felt hate.  I started toward him.  I clenched my fist.  I gathered all the courage I could find.  I prepared to confront him.  No, I prepared to strike him.  I wanted to make him hurt the way I had been hurt by him, to damage him the way he had damaged me.

As I grew closer to him, I thought to myself, “I’m really going to do this!  I’m going raise my hand, and I’m going to hit him as hard as I can.”  He was standing there, smirking at me.  He had seen me coming.  He wasn’t afraid.  He should have been.

The moment I reached him, leaning in that doorway, we were both transported to a beautiful garden in the back yard of a home.  It was so peaceful there.  Lush with greenery and flowers of every sort.  Well-tended.  He began to walk away from me and I started to follow him, when I noticed a beautiful young woman sitting at a patio table, under the shade.  She was gorgeous, poised and seemed so at peace.  “She must be his daughter,” I remember thinking.  I was so drawn to her.  So much so that I could not focus on pursuing him.  I knew I could learn something from her.

I walked over to the young woman, sat down and started talking with her.  The one part of my dream that I cannot remember clearly is what we talked about, or what she taught me.  All I remember is the I was so impressed with her wisdom, kindness and gentle nature.  She seemed to me like everything I could have been, would have been, if it weren’t for him.  I was so sure during the dream, that I was talking to his daughter and during the dream, I kept trying to comprehend how a woman who lived with him in her life could be such a healthy, happy person.  We finished our talk, and I gave her a hug goodbye.  I walked peacefully  out of that garden as I walked peacefully out of that dream and awoke.

As soon as I was awake, I was aware that I had just dreamed a holy dream, but it didn’t feel complete.  There was something about the dream that was bothering me.  Then, it hit me.  He doesn’t have any daughters!  He has three sons, but no daughter.  So who was that woman?  She was about my age, and looked very familiar.  Who was she?  Finally, the truth of my dream was revealed.  I had encountered myself in that garden.  I was there in that garden to show me and to tell me, that despite what had happened to me, despite what he had done to me, I had emerged a beautiful soul, a whole and healed woman.

It still has taken me several years to claim the truth in that dream.  I struggled for years to grow into the wisdom in me.  But, because of that dream, I had a vision of who I truly am and I gained the knowledge that no abuser can ultimately destroy me.

Beginnings

For about a year, I’ve been saying that I needed to move my blog. I needed a new site. I needed it to fit my need and what I see as my new mission in a different way. I absolutely needed to change the site because of my last name on my temporary one. I think I had temporary insanity for the whole three years I had it and a little while before. It was like a traffic accident that just kept piling up and I just couldn’t look away.

But I finally jerked my gaze away. By doing that, I had to change what I’d been doing. It wasn’t working so, to change was not that strange of a concept.

It is always hard, or at least the thought of it is hard.

This is my first post on this new blog. I am excited. I am also looking forward to many more posts and working with Jennifer on this project. I think we will be a good team.

Part of the reason I waited so long to start this new blog was that I didn’t know how to set it up. I was totally clueless. There was no easy place to start. Step one – a new name. Jennifer and I worked together to pick a name we both liked. So we managed to do that, and we didn’t do it alone. Step two – buy the name before someone else snapped it up. Some conversations with friends led us to a site to get the name, so we got it. Then for a web host. Again, conversations with friends and searching through new sites. It was the goal to find an actual web person, but we ended up finding was Chris, from http://www.Chris-Jenn.net, a friend from seminary, who isn’t a web person, per se, but knows useful things about the internet and started the blog journey before us. (He might not be a web person, but he is a minister and an excellent consultant on youth faith development.)

So then we got started setting up the site. That took several frustrated emails to tech support on two different sites. One was very helpful and fixed the problem for us. The other was helpful, but it took several rounds of emails to get the necessary answer.

Now we are kind of on our own. Trying things out and sometimes succeeding, sometimes not succeeding, but learning from the mistake and trying again. The current site we’re working on is under construction and I hope you can roll with us through the growing pains and changes. It will take us a little while to get a groove for this and build on this totally cool thing we’re building. It is a new adventure and no one knows where it will take us!

It is not nearly as painful, but this process reminded me of my journey to heal from sexual abuse. There were a lot of unknowns in my journey. There was a lot of really (really, really, really) scary things I encountered as I healed. Building a website is not nearly that scary, but it did cause some anxiety. It also reminded me of how resourceful survivors can be. Jennifer and I have both had to be creative and innovative to get where we are. We had to learn and make mistakes. We had to be frustrated, sometimes beyond belief, then we experienced something that we did gracefully and like we’d been doing them all our lives.

All survivors have this tenacity. I think, actually, most people have this level of tenacity. Sometimes, that tenacity and that strength gets lost and we feel broken and completely wrung out.

broken

So we sat down and reflected for a while, cried the tears we needed to cry, then we got up and danced in the rain.

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Life is about twists and turns, highs and lows, learning, crying, losing, gaining. All of the the things that everyone goes through in life. The abuse that we experienced altered our perspectives on life, but we kept going. Somehow, we held on and kept moving. And we found hope. It took a while and sometimes, we forget we have it, but it is a skill we are still in the process of honing.

If you have been abused, are a supporter of someone who was abused, or are part of a community rocked by abuse, you may need to learn hope as well. We look forward to walking with you on this journey.