#Awesome

As I hope you saw, Jennifer and I had the amazing opportunity of participating in a workshop entitled “The Stories We Tell” through “The Voices and Faces Project.” If you haven’t had a chance to read Jennifer’s response, please check it out.

I have waited to respond because I couldn’t quite pull my thoughts together to write about the conference. It was #amazing. I learned so much about so many people in an amazingly short period of time. I’m going to playfully use hashtags in this post because one of the participants is a big Tweeter. I do it in honor of her.

For the most part, I do not know who abused these incredibly strong people. It was not part of what needed to be told on the days we gathered. There is a time and place for that, and it could have fit in to the time we spent together, but the telling was more about the after. “Every day after, we’re surviving.” #Beauty

The weekend was filled with anticipation, strength, poetry, trying new ways of writing, sharing a little of the past to get to where we are now. There were stories of people who helped us; and stories of people who hurt us, not necessarily through abuse, but through lack of understanding or care. #Empathy

We talked of well-intentioned messages from colleges warning of sexual-assaults or attempted assaults on campus. These were designed to help, but often did much more harm than anything else. The messages triggered survivors and created a community of fear among other students. It also secretly, and I’m sure completely unintentionally, gave rapists ideas of what not to do right now. People are looking for that, so do something else. #Unitendedoutcome

We ate lunch and wrote. We ate lunch and watched a presentation by “The Voices and Faces Project” founder, Anne K. Ream. We heard the struggle of the women in Atenco, Mexico who have been raped and abused but refuse to be silent, or silenced. We saw pictures from Patricia Evans, photographer for the soon-to-be-published book, “Lived Through This.” #Strength

We also had lots of opportunity to write. Then we would listen to a few of the readings and offer comments, thoughts, or just listening ears. People shared some of their most painful moments, and some of their most profound and power times, with wit, humor, grace, strength, passion, compassion, and heart. There were tears and laughter, smiles, hugs, Kleenex, coffee, amazing muffins, and snow. Best of all, the foundations of community and support were laid. #Youarenotalone

As a survivor, I always walk into a room and run the statistics in my head. One in three women, one in six men. Does that include me or am I excluded because I already know that I was abused? Here, some sort of survivorship precluded the meeting. I didn’t have to run the numbers. The answer was yes, the hows, whos and whys were already a basis for the conversation. The “what are we going to do nows” were already in progress. Life was going on. We survived. Now we are telling what we experienced and offering others the reminder that they, too, could survive. #Wearestrongandamazing

As Jennifer said before we went to the conference, sometimes you go to something you know will change your life. After it has happened, and your life is profoundly changed, how do you write about it? How do you encompass a life-changing experience in 900 words or less? #Profoundlychanged

I can’t tell you how amazing it was. I can’t break the confidence of the group and tell you about the amazing things these women and men wrote. I guess the best I can do is tell you to do what you can to experience it yourself. If you are a survivor, check out when and where the next workshop is going to be. If you know a survivor, encourage them to go. If you can’t go through the experience yourself, get the book when it’s published. If that isn’t possible either, tell one person your truth. Even if that one person is you, tell it. From that telling, you will be profoundly changed. #inthetellingishealing

Thank you my new friends for your strength and courage. Thank you to the leaders and coordinator. Thank you for helping us tell our truth and helping us heal. The stories are not always pretty, but they are always real. #Tellitlikeitis

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(We also did some sight seeing. #eagle)

Reflections on the Voices and Faces Workshop – Jennifer

 

One week ago, Jackie and I had the privilege and honor of attending a writing workshop hosted by the Voices and Faces project.  We joined a dozen other men and women who are survivors and who want to use creative writing to tell their stories.  The vision of the Voices and Faces project is that if survivors continue to tell their stories, that the general public will be moved to change, and that change will put an end to gender-based violence.

Attending this workshop gave me so many gifts.  First, I have formed a new network of people I feel deeply connected to.  Second, I discovered what type of writer I am, and what kind of writer I want to be.  The workshop helped us explore many different forms of writing.  We were given assignments with a lot of room to investigate ourselves, our styles and our voices.  I was so inspired by what was shared by the other participants and I was amazed a what came out of me.  Third, this workshop opened my eyes to how political I am.  I have defined political far too narrowly.  I’m not really interested in marching on Washington, lobbying congress or running for city council.  But, I desperately want the world to change.  I am ready to join with others to change the rape culture that exists in society today.

voices and faces

By attending this workshop, I also got to spend a lot of time with Jackie.  We have known each other for a couple of years now, but we only met face-to-face last summer.  before I met Jackie, I shared my story of survival with a friend, who later told me about a song she found that was written by an acquaintance of hers, Christopher Grundy, about a woman named Jackie who was a survivor.  After listening to the song, I saw that Jackie wrote a blog, so I started to read Jackie’s blog from time to time.  I connected so deeply with the things Jackie wrote about that I started to comment on her posts.  Jackie invited me to be a guest writer on her page.  I was really unsure.  I knew I wanted to write and that I had things to say, but I had never been public about my story.

So, I started to write anonymously on Jackie’s blog.  I stuck my toe in the water.  It wasn’t long before I wanted to swim.  Jackie is a great writing partner, a wise and centered woman and she works tirelessly to bring about healing and hope for survivors.  I am proud to have now joined her in that endeavor.  And, although I’m glad that I eventually went public with my story, I completely understand why others need to remain anonymous.

I know that you will be seeing and hearing more from both of us in the near future as a result of the workshop.  I am already working on a satire piece.  Please consider adding your story(ies) of hope and healing to Learninghope.org.  You have a story that no one else can tell and yet we all share.

Safe Sanctuary

Safe Sanctuary

It’s called Safe Sanctuary Training.

And why am I being required to take it?

Because you’re a Sunday School teacher.  Everyone who spends time with kids in the church has to take it.

So, I guess the janitor will be joining us soon.

I saw him talking to a boy in the hallway last week.

No, just Sunday School teachers.

Rule number one, there must always be at least two adults present when children are in the building.

Are you fucking kidding me?  He once raped me during choir practice.

He raped me at a youth retreat

when there were adults crawling around the entire camp.

Your rules

didn’t keep me safe.

The childless farmer down the road that I spent hours and hours with

was safe.

He actually cared about me.

He taught me how to care for animals.

Picked me up every Sunday in his rickety truck,

his 25 year old horse Princess on board

and took me to 4-H, so I could learn showmanship

and character

and tenderness.

Mr. H, the English teacher, and 4-H leader

with his fancy RV

parked at the county fair all week,

who tried to pick me up one night while I cleaned my horse’s stall.

He was not.

Safe Sanctuary my ass.

 

 

Don’t Chase People

(I usually try to put in a picture or song that fits the post. This time, I just really like this song. Please listen to it if you need a cool song as background for your reading.)

Next weekend, Jennifer and I are attending a conference through The Voices and Faces Project. We are excited to go and bring back all the useful information we can. We are also excited because we get to spend time together, as friends and as business partners and work on next steps and planning for the year.

In order to go to the conference and not come home immediately after, I had to do some juggling. I also had to ask for help from a friend. That was not easy for me. At all. I’m not used to having to ask for help. My friend, being the amazing person she is, did not bat an eye. She said, “Yes, of course.” I started to cry. Then she told me not to cry so she didn’t start crying.

It is was in part that I’m not used to asking for help, but a large part of it was that I don’t like to bother people. I don’t like my need to infringe on plans they had, or that they might just not want to help me with what I need.

This, I know, is not a healthy attitude. I have learned that friends, true friends are the ones willing to reciprocate. If they need help, they ask. If I need help, it’s okay to ask for that too. It is also okay for the other person to say no. It is also okay for me to say no.

As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and as a born-people pleaser, I’m not used to enforcing the boundary to say no. I have gotten better at it, but it is still hard. What if the person is mad that I said no? What if they have no other options? What if. What if. What if.

None of that does me any good. It does not do my friend any good either. It isn’t healthy for our friendship. It might seem like it is healthy to them, but in the long run, it isn’t.

I have learned that I do not need to chase people. If they never call me back or only text me when they need something, that is not a very equal relationship. It is not life-giving or nurturing.

Quite frankly, it’s really, really draining.

If I give all my energy to someone else, there isn’t any left for me and my family. There isn’t enough left to go do things I enjoy or that Jeff and I enjoy doing together.

My friend, in his or her need, may feel better. He or she may feel great. She just got everything she needed and got to dump all her concern on someone else. I end up feeling terrible and drained.

My friend reminded me of a very important lesson I sometimes try to forget. I have helped her. She has helped me. Most of the time, though, we are just friends. We have lunch or coffee, or go to a flower show. We enjoy each other’s company and the relationship is based on friendship and trust. It isn’t needy or draining for either of us.

The same is true with an intimate relationship. If one person is doing everything and the other person is taking everything, it isn’t very stable or mutually respectful. Mostly, it’s just draining. I have been in those relationships before. I did not find them any fun at all.

So thank you to my friend for being genuine and kind. I needed the help; and the reminder.

How have your relationships evolved to be more mutual?

What ways do you still need to work on boundaries and not be drained?

 

A Rape by Any Other Name…

The first time I told someone what was happening to me, I had no understanding that I was being sexually abused.  I wasn’t reporting a crime.  In my mind, I was confessing a sin.  I believed I was having an affair with the minister.  It was nearly ten years later when I would even start to understand what really happened…that I was groomed by a monster, an experienced, accomplished, master abuser…that I was raped.

It’s an interesting word, rape.  Our culture seems to think it has decided what rape is and what it isn’t.  When the word rape is used, most people imagine a very physically violent act, perpetrated against a struggling victim, usually by a stranger.  A high school girl who goes to a party and gets drunk, wasn’t raped by some people’s standards, even though her classmates had sex with her while she was unconscious and left her on a doorstep in freezing weather.  Judge Baugh, in Montana said that a 14 year old could be in as much control of the situation as her 40+ year old teacher who raped her.   He said he didn’t think it was rape unless it was “forcible, beat up rape.”   Thank God, he has finally resigned.

So, our society uses other words to talk about rape.  We insert words that seem less violent, less criminal…words that are more palatable.  Words like, “molest”, “fondle”, “inappropriate sexual conduct.”  I refuse to use these words.  They do victims a disservice.  Call it what you want – it’s rape.

When a trusted adult sexualizes a child, regardless of whether intercourse happens, it’s rape.  When a therapist, teacher, or minister has sexual contact with a person under his/her care, it’s rape.  When a parent robs his/her children of privacy and or sexual innocence, it’s rape.  It’s all rape.

I loved my abuser.  I trusted and adored him.  I felt dehumanized by what he did to me, but I had no power to stop it.   And somehow, he convinced me that I was the one in charge.  My healing was non-existent for many years, until I met a woman therapist who helped me see that I didn’t have a sin to confess, I had a crime to report.

The next time you hear someone say that a “teacher was caught having an affair with one of his students”, or that a “therapist took advantage of a client” or the priest was “fondling children” please feel free to correct them and say “you mean rape.”  When we change the language, to call it what it really is, we will all heal.

A New Day

It is hard to describe to someone what my job is and what I do during the day. I spend a lot of time thinking. It may look like I’m doing nothing, but there is a lot going on.

I’m doing work on my own book, and work with another survivor on a comprehensive book for use in classrooms and other settings to try and explain the complexities of abuse. We are trying to address all forms of abuse – rape, incest, date rape, stalking, child sex trafficking, ritualistic abuse, and all the other forms we can think to address. To do that kind of work, I need to keep reading and talking to people who have experienced these different horrors and survived. I need to think about those who have not survived.

I also manage our household. It is definitely a partnership, but I have a more adjustable time schedule so I can make calls about things, do the shopping, do a lot of the errands that keep our household going.

In the summer, Jeff and I do a lot of gardening. We love every minute of it and it gives me a different space in which to think up posts and ideas to help survivors tell their stories and gives me energy to keep giving others hope. It allows me to recharge and do the rewarding, though sometimes draining work that I do.

One of the most rewarding parts of my job is listening to the stories of others. It is also the hardest part sometimes because I want to just hug them and hug away their pain. It isn’t always appropriate to do that because I need to respect others’ boundaries and always try to ask if I can hug them. It certainly is not appropriate for me to try and take on the pain of others for my own sake or for their healing, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to sit with them through it.

A lot of the information I deal with and receive on a daily basis is also confidential. When I am contacted by another survivor, I let Jennifer know because we are partners, but we both understand that the details of conversations I have and she has are not necessarily important to convey to each other. It’s just a boundary that we talked about when we started writing together.

It is an honor for me to sit with another, even over the computer and hear stories that sometimes have never been uttered before. Honor is a strange choice of words perhaps. I am not excited to hear their story, but I am honored to be part of the hearing of it. I do not like to hear the pain of others, but I am humbled and grateful that they are sharing and I can help hear them into speech.

I know I’ve used that phrase before and I can’t take any credit for it. It was said to me by one of my primary listeners. He heard my pain and listened. That is one of the best gifts I have ever been given. It is one of the greatest things I could ever hope to pass on to another who is in pain.

My job does not necessarily lend itself to pleasant conversation. People will ask me what I do and first of all it’s hard to explain, but it is also hard for others to hear. I went to the doctor over the summer for a test and the person administering the test said, “And what do you do?” I told her and she looked seriously uncomfortable – the uncomfortable that makes one contemplate turning and running from the room. It could have been part of her history and made her uncomfortable, or it could have just made her really uncomfortable.

That is also an issue of what I do. I never want to hurt another person by talking about what I do. It may strike their own pain and they may not be as vocal about it as me. At the same time however, I want to encourage everyone to speak and keep speaking. Silence doesn’t help anyone but the abuser; but that never makes speaking easy.

As part of my thinking, I sometimes wonder if I need to be out more, speaking, doing advocacy work, talking with people. My life does not necessarily lend itself to that at this point.It is a dream I will keep exploring, but for now, I sit and write and think. Listen and dream, and hope. Jennifer and I are working on workshop platforms. We are also continuing the Signs of Hope. We want to keep adding inspiring pictures and more languages in which to share the message “You are Not Alone” and “It is Not Your Fault.” We are also working on a page called “Abuse Facts” and one called “Abuse Myths.” There’s still a lot of work to be done, but we do it a little at a time and both of us keep thinking and hoping.

Hard to explain, but definitely not a bad job.

We would love to hear about your dream job and why it may be hard to explain. We hope you get to do it! Dream big, friends! You never know when that dream just might come true.

New Day