Category Archives: Feminism

When Children Speak, Listen Carefully

 

Our children go to public school. Where we live, this is an anomaly. Families like ours, white and middle income families, don’t send their children to public school.

I have watched mothers pull their children on a playground from playing with ours once they notice our children’s uniform tops. I have listened to mothers whisper loudly ‘those are public school kids’ when my children walk by them.

When my husband and I made the decision to enroll our oldest in public school, we made an informed decision. We attended open houses of private and public schools and we talked to the staff of the schools. And yet, the driving force of enrolling our children at a public school was diversity; it reflected the racial makeup of our city.

Once I enrolled our second child in this same school, I had an acquaintance physically recoil when I told her where our children were. Then, I had another one tell me that she couldn’t send her child there, because she wanted the best education for her child (as if I didn’t).

But after it was obvious our children were going to public school and it was a decision that was sticking around, the nastiness really started.

“You’re really going to let your kids go to school with black kids?” (I heard that a lot)

“I thought public school was just a phase you were going through.”

Most of you have never met me in real life, but if you have read any of my stuff, you can imagine that didn’t go over too well.

Yes, our children go to school with black kids. They also go to school with Indian children. And Hispanic children. And Jewish children. And Chinese children. And you know what? It’s amazing and our children’s lives are richer for it.

A few months ago, I was stuck in traffic with our youngest child. I sat on one block for over an hour and I was frantically trying to figure out how I was going to get everything done that I needed to that night, now that I was running an hour behind. Our youngest talks. And talks. And talks and is never quiet. He was rambling on and on and then he said something that made my head whip around so fast my neck hurt after.

“I’m sorry, can you repeat that?” I asked, my cheeks burning and my eyes seeing white from anger.

His eyes got really big and his eyes started to well up.

“I said I don’t want to be friends with *Student A* anymore because he called my friend *Student B* the n word and he doesn’t think it’s wrong.”

I took a deep breath because I realized he thought I was mad at him. When I explained the cause of my anger, he said to me, “Mom, I just don’t understand why people hate people so much that they don’t even know.”

This conversation has sat on my heart for months. I’ve wanted to write about it, but I didn’t, because there are women I love, who have children that they have to comfort at night and explain to them that they are equal to white children and I’ve never wanted to make their heart ache anymore than it already does. The level of respect I have for these women is unparalleled. Knowing that they cannot protect their children from this and knowing that one day, their children will be made to feel inferior due to the color of their skin or their religion makes my stomach turn. There is no part of this that is okay.

But now? Charlottesville? The hoods are off. What you are seeing cannot be unseen and Freedom of Speech does not equal freedom from consequences. In the wise words of Maya Angelou ‘When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.’ We are witnessing evil and it cannot go back to hide in the dark.

And so what should be done by those of us with privilege? I believe that some people say things with good intentions because they want to help and don’t know what to say. If you don’t know what to say, don’t say anything. Listen to those that are hurting. Educate yourself. Get involved with something, anything that will make a difference.

I write a lot about speaking up about what is wrong. But I don’t write anything just for the sake of writing it. Most of what I do, I don’t put on social media. The hard work is off of social media. Loving your neighbors? Harder than trolling the comments on social media. Showing up at a non-profit to help the homeless and not telling anyone about it? Harder than screaming your opinions on social media. Raising kids? Really damn hard. Much harder than reading the comments on the internet.

And so, while I don’t write updates constantly on social media, I am watching and more importantly, listening. I am raising our children to not exhibit bystander behavior and to call out hate and to listen to other opinions who are not like their own. And I’m pouring all of my extra time and energy into a project I believe will profoundly change our city and the future of our community.

These things are part of a marathon, not a sprint. Advocacy work is exhausting and the level of burn out is high when you are passionate about something. Imagine screaming at the top of your lungs and not stopping until you have no voice. You’re tired. You’re physically exhausted from the mental toll it takes on your body and you have no energy to finish the race. This helps no one on the other side of the finish line. Change never happens overnight, it takes time. Stop screaming at the top of your lungs and preserve some energy for the long run. Because that is what we are looking at — a very long marathon.

Your children are watching, they hear every word you say, they scream at what you scream at, they learn their passions from you, and also your fears and biases from you.

Every year before school starts, we give our children books. I try to match the book to something that would be relevant to life lessons they may learn that year. This year, I gave our oldest the books 1984 and Fahrenheit 451. They suddenly seem more relevant than ever.

I wrestled with what to write on the inside of the jacket. But this is what I ended up with:

It’s time to start questioning everything you know and hear and also what you don’t hear.

Know that doing the right thing is often the much harder choice and the opposite of what everyone you know is doing. Learn to trust your gut and shut out the opinions of those who do not matter, for if they are not fighting by your side, their opinion is just white noise.

 

 

The Lonely Version of Gloss

For a long time, specifically this last year, friends of mine and I have had conversations that center around the same question:

Why do we not talk about the hard parts?

If you follow any of my writing, you have obviously read about trying times in my life. What always seems to blow my mind, though, is that both readers, acquaintances, and friends alike believe that I just woke up one day, stepped out of a closet where I left all of the bad memories behind and into a glossy version of a white picket fence life. It is as if most people believe that becoming a well-adjusted person happens overnight and that there is no room to discuss the hard parts. This lonely, glossy version of my life is something I don’t recognize, because it’s not at all the truth.

I’m tired. I’m tired of misconceptions. I’m tired of hearing my friends who are having bad days worry what others will think because they are struggling. I’m tired of hearing my badass female friends live in fear of letting their guard down because they will be seen as weak.

And so, today, I’m going to tell you about my hard parts. The parts that I don’t talk about because, well, to be frank, they are a part of my life and I have accepted it. That doesn’t mean it’s okay, or that it’s not frustrating or hard. Because it can be, and it is okay to acknowledge that.

This part of my story has several different parts to it, but this ‘hard part’ starts four Mondays ago. I have to see a urologist every three months because my bladder does not work like a normal person’s bladder does. I have scar tissue from being sexually abused, which traps bacteria, which in turn causes frequent urinary tract infections. I also had a severe case of anorexia during my formative years, which weakens the bladder. Both of these issues set my bladder up for failure when I had a hysterectomy many years ago.

When I had my hysterectomy, I had to start using catheters to empty my bladder. I also had to start taking medication to make my bladder work. I had to spend a full day every three months at the doctor’s office where they checked my bladder and my kidneys through every invasive test possible.

For almost eight years, I have checked into this urologist’s office. I wait, as someone in their thirties amongst a waiting room of octogenarians, while they look suspiciously at me, wondering why I am there. I get called by the nurse, and the same routine happens every time. Every time, every three months, for the last eight years.

I go into a special bathroom. I wash my hands and I sit down on a fake toilet that is connected by wires to a contraption on the counter next to it. I start to urinate and when I stop, the machine prints out a graph of the flow rate of my urine output (spoiler alert: it’s terrible). I then go into the exam room where I lay down on the exam table and pull my pants down so the nurse can scan my bladder for retained urine. I lay there why the nurse tries to cover her shock over how much is still leftover because my bladder cannot empty itself. When the doctor comes in, sometimes she sends me over to the imaging center to ultrasound my kidneys and then to nuclear imaging where I watch my kidneys on a large screen overhead drip in tiny dots that look like constellations.

Every time, every three months, for the last eight years. I realized this Monday, four Mondays ago, that not once have I cried about how much it sucks, and I make jokes about it, because, really, what else am I supposed to do to get through it?

Four Mondays ago, the routine started again. I walked into the bathroom and urinated into the fake toilet, watched the graph grind out informing me of my bladder’s failure and then I went across the hall into the exam room. When I walked into the exam room, I stopped and my chest started to tighten. On the counter was a setup for the nurse to catheterize me and I started to panic. In all of these years, with the exception of childbirth, no one else had catheterized me, but me.

I started to cry. These big crocodile tears of frustration, shame and anger fell down my cheeks the entire time. This poor nurse, she couldn’t understand why I was crying. When I apologized to the doctor for basically coming unhinged and a sobbing, blubbering maniac, she hugged me and told me I needed to cry, that these were tears of grief.

And that’s when I realized for all of these years, I have never once cried about this. And I’m not sure why I haven’t cried, because the situation, although surrounded by the best medical professionals, is invasive. When does the invasiveness stop? Never. It never stops. Why do I have to continue to be invaded when the people who did this to me don’t have medical professionals poking tubes into their genitals multiple times a year?

That was four Mondays ago. The next Sunday I started running a high fever and I couldn’t stand up. The next day, three Mondays ago, I went to my general practitioner’s office because I thought I had appendicitis. Turns out, I had pyelonephritis, a bad kidney infection, probably taken root from a urinary tract infection that lasted on and off last year for ten months.

To be clear here: I got this infection because thirty years ago, someone touched something that they shouldn’t have.

For the first ten days, I didn’t leave our bed as I ingested two heavy duty antibiotics. Other people had to help me with the boys, and once, when I was home alone with the boys and unable to get out of the bed by myself, our oldest son had to help me walk to the bathroom, a mere twenty feet away.

After the first two antibiotics didn’t completely get rid of the infection, I began going in for daily shots of antibiotics, the third antibiotic. And then, last Friday, I started a fourth antibiotic to try to get of this nasty thing once and for all. Before this week is over, I will spend another 5-6 hours in a doctor’s office as I am scanned and invaded and then prescribed a long term low dose antibiotic based on the current bacteria counts.

When I was twenty years old, I forgave my abusers and all of those complicit in what happened to me. I did this for me, and me alone. It was as though a physical bag of bricks was removed off of my shoulders. Since then, I have accepted what happened, and through forgiving, I was able to leave my anger behind.

And then last week, I realized I was angry. Not in a hot-tempered sort of way, but in a bitter, nasty, invasive anger that dampens every minute of your day. I felt heavy. I was at church last Wednesday, and I choked out to the priest that I was struggling with forgiving again.

I’m angry that I just lost three weeks of my life to an infection caused indirectly by other people. I’m angry that even though I haven’t been touched by them for twenty years, that I am the one that has to live with the consequences. I’m angry that I continue to go through invasive procedures because someone put their hands where they did not belong.

This is where I’m starting to talk about the hard parts. I’m so sick of everyone thinking that once you get through the hard parts, and you’re never allowed to have a bad day, or struggle with what has happened to you. Because let me tell you, there are parts of it that I could do without. Even on days that I’m doing great, I have to stick a tube into my urethra because an evil person sexually abused me and caused scar tissue. I pay roughly $100 per month so that I can have the supplies to urinate like a normal human. I routinely take antibiotics because I have chronic UTI’s because of what these people did to me.

I am the definition of you never know what battle someone is fighting. I know I look like I have a white picket fence life. And truth be told, I absolutely love my life. But when I have the few hard days, like last week, I hold back because I know that other women will judge me and talk about me just for having the courage to say out loud that I am struggling. I said this part to Harmony (my writing partner and partner in crime) last week, when I was lamenting how frustrated I was that I couldn’t just be angry for once about what happened, for fear of what would be said about me. The two of us have this thing where we play out worst case scenarios. In this case, it was playing out what could be said about me, which morphed into us listing all of the things that, within the last year, have been said about me and in turn shared with me.

Within the last year, I have been told that these things have been said about me: That I’m a raging alcoholic….That I’m just a dumb trophy wife…..That I’m messed up by what happened to me….That I have psychological problems from what happened.…That I almost lost my mind….That I’m uptight…..That I take myself too seriously…..That I don’t take myself seriously enough….That I’m just an aged Barbie doll, flitting around thinking that I’m actually smart.

All of these things have been said about me, and not a single one of them is true.

What I’m trying to say is that people are going to say what they want to about you, regardless of what the truth actually is. The worst has already been said about me, and I wasn’t even vulnerable about the truth. And, as Brene Brown would say— these people haven’t been face down in the arena with me so their opinion does not count.

Recently, Harmony realized she is an alcoholic, and because she is authentic, she is not hiding her road to sobriety. But I’ve also watched women tear her down because she has acknowledged she has a problem and that there are hard days. People are talking about her like they talk about me. Over the last few weeks, as I watched her go through obvious physical withdrawals and taking her to AA, I’ve wondered why women put others in a neat box of assumptions and labels, tied neatly up with a bow.
So is the question:

Why do so many people put each other in a box to make themselves feel better?

or:

Why do so many people put each other in a box? To make themselves feel better.

I think it is the latter. But I am not backing down in acknowledging the hard parts. We absolutely need to talk about the hard parts. This is how we get better, evolve, form more authentic connections and live the life of our choosing.

Harmony and I had a Facebook live over the weekend talking about this, about how we are both embracing these difficult conversations for both ourselves, for other women, and the women who will come after us. You can watch that here.

It’s time to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Buckle up. The conversations are coming.

What Are You Willing to be Criticized For?

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday and I’ve been playing over and over in my mind a line that the Rector said during the sermon.

“What are you willing to be criticized for?”

This post has been brewing in my head for awhile, months actually. I’ve started and stopped it three times over the last nine months, walking away from it, with just a jumble of thoughts left typed on the page, saved for another day.

This post started after I wrote the piece about Brock Turner, and the dumpster fire that surrounds him and the judge in the case. I revisited it after he was let out of jail, and my piece was syndicated on another website. And then, last week, I went on a rant of thoughts after a piece of mine ran on Scary Mommy.

A month ago, I wrote a piece for Scary Mommy, titled ‘My Grandpa was a Sexual Predator. Thank God My Parents Listened to Me’, and it was published last week.
This piece is the most vulnerable and exposing piece I have ever written about being abused, and I questioned whether or not to even share it on my social media.

The trolls tracked me down and came after me with a vengeance. I have a very strict rule of never reading the comments, and I made the mistake of breaking this necessary rule.

The aftermath of that piece being published is what compelled me to finish writing this post today. So, bear with me, because this rant is long, but important for me to say.

Not only did trolls tear me up, they tore my parents up. Now, I want you to think about this. In order for these trolls to contact me, they had to click on my bio on the Scary Mommy website, go to my blog, find the ‘contact me’ section, click on the email and then write out the email. That’s a lot of effort to email nastiness.

The other phenomenon that has been happening for the last eighteen months, is that every time I write about the abuse, I get a slew of emails offering me advice. I get offers to find me a therapist, offers of hallucinogens to help me move past my trauma, and emails from people smugly telling me that they ‘got over’ their abusive childhoods or when they were raped.

So, I’m going to break alllll of these down for you.

First of all, the details that I have written about are barely a drop in the bucket to what happened. The piece that was published last week had details in it that only my therapists knew, and I was cautious in putting those out there. Frankly, it’s no one’s damn business to know every detail about it unless I want to tell you. I hold some of it back because there are innocent people in my life that I love and am protecting from getting hurt. I don’t have to share details, but I do because there are people out there that need to know that they are not alone in their struggles with the aftermath of abuse.

I also want to be clear that there are only so many details that can be included in an 800 word essay. This abuse and rape that occurred happened more than twenty years ago and some up to thirty years ago. Times are very different, statute of limitations are different, and evidence collection is different.

To clear up all of the readers out there that continue to email me and recommend that I get help, please stop. I retired three therapists and a psychiatrist for goodness sake. I got the help I needed many years ago, which is how I am able to write about what happened to me.

There seems to be some confusion that when people talk about something hard that they have experienced, that they need help. I don’t see it that way at all. I find that the people that need the most help, are the ones who don’t talk about their problems. This does not mean you need to constantly talk about your past. I mean that I am able to have conversations about what happened because I have processed my experiences.

I’ve written extensively about these experiences. About the hurt and the anger. About the eating disorder that followed and my hesitancy to trust others. And yet, I have held back from fear. Fear of what people will think about the recesses of my mind. People are appalled at the fraction I have shared. But if I pulled the curtain back all the way, and the horror show appears, what will happen? Will people think something is wrong with me? The answer is probably and most likely based on the emails and feedback that I have already received.

Envisioning this shame is what has held me back from fully writing what I want to write. From stripping it all back and finishing the next draft of the novel I’ve been working on. I’ve been terrified of what people will think when they see the damage that was actually done.

I’m tired of holding back.

It wasn’t easy to get to who I am. It was HARD. Really damn hard. In addition to the therapists and psychiatrist, there was therapy on the daily, weigh-ins at the doctor, and the entire time feeling the weight of shame for something I did not do. While I left all of the therapy, psychiatrists and weigh-ins behind twenty years ago, the shame is something that has never gone away. I took on shame of someone else’s actions. It’s their shame, not mine. I should feel hurt, and angry, but not shame. I have shame about the aftermath because that was the truly repulsive part. While the abuse and rape were grotesque, the aftermath was the real calamity.

We need to start talking about the chaotic disaster of the aftermath of trauma. Of what actually happens to a person when an intrusion happens to them. We are doing a disservice to people to lead them to believe we can all have a happy ending without trudging through the truly gruesome wreckage that will follow.

People think I can’t get over what happened to me, as if I am paralyzed and can’t move forward because I am telling a part of my story, the story of who I am. We all have parts of our story, how we grew up, who raised us, who was instrumental in shaping our minds, where we went to school and who we hung out with. Experiencing abuse is part of my story, one part that I am not willing to dismiss to make people more comfortable.

No, I’m not ‘over it’, but I am living the life of my choosing, and I moved forward many years ago. If you tell me that you got ‘over’ abuse, you are lying and doing a disservice to anyone who experiences abuse. Stop it with this narrative. No one ‘gets over’ it. Science tells us that brains are fundamentally changed after trauma. When you tell someone they should get over it, you are telling them that if they can’t, they should feel shame for experiencing valid feelings.

I have a lot of people tell me ‘but you look so happy’. I look happy because I am happy. I chose to accept that the aftermath is a disgusting mess, but if I went through it, that I could have my happily ever after. So, I went through it, I worked my butt off, with the goal in mind that I would spend the rest of my days on my terms. When we do not give people permission to acknowledge the hardest part of their story, the aftermath, they can’t get to their happy. Happy endings don’t happen by accident, they happen when you blindingly claw out of the black abyss, claw mark by claw mark.

When I talk about my unsightly aftermath, I talk about it because I know my strength. I have no question that there is nothing that I cannot handle, because I have looked evil in the face and decided how my story would end. I have never felt more confident in my strength than I do today, regardless of how uncomfortable it makes others feel. I will continue to write my truth because there are others that need to hear that you can have the life of your own choosing after trauma.

To the trolls who continue to send me hate mail and question why I write, I say this: You are the reason victims do not report. You are the reason that the cycle of shame continues because when a victim shares details of THEIR story, you question their behavior and not the perpetrator. When you are nasty to people who are willing to tell their story, the victims around you keep their mouths shut because of your judgment and you are implicit in the cycle of abuse continuing.

So, to end this long rant, I end it with saying I know what I am willing to be criticized for. After the hate mail I got last week, I wondered if writing my truth was worth the criticism and hate. It is worth it, and the sign I needed, I heard in church yesterday. I, and I alone, own the ending to my story. I will continue to write my truth and I will continue to talk about the ugly aftermath. It’s important that someone does so that when someone else is in the midst of their terrible truth, they know that they can choose their own ending, too.