And This Is Why I Teach



My stepfather is dying.  I hate even using the word “step” because in every sense of the word, he is my father.  And he will be gone soon.  He is in hospice now.  There are no more emergency room last ditch efforts to save his life.  He is being “kept comfortable” they tell me.

I bring this up because working and teaching in Wisconsin is difficult now, and has been for some time, but on top of the politics, the demoralization, the constant questioning of whether or not I’ll have a job in a couple of years, the loss of friends, colleagues, and –well I’ve written quite extensively on this topicbefore— on top of this, my stepfather is dying.  To say that going into work is hard would be to deny the depth of how difficult it is to do my job right now.

I’ve often said…

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A Love Letter to My Fellow Rape Survivors Part 3: How We Might Reclaim Our Power

Photo Courtesy Morgan Jo Photography

Sometimes there are points in your life of such clarity that you are able to completely reframe how you function and live in this world.  Last night was one of those moments.

It’s good to have friends.  It’s great to have friends who get it.  Who know you so damn well, they say things that fundamentally help you understand exactly why you are feeling what you’re feeling–who suddenly unearth the causes of the pain you’ve been feeling.  For so long I’ve felt as though I’m continually at a bottom of a well, clueless as to how I got there, clawing my way to get out, and last night, one of the most important people in my life reached down to the very bottom of that well and pulled me out.

For those who know me well, and who follow this blog, you know I struggle very much with mental health issues.  Depression, anxiety, OCD, PTSD, ADHD, and for whatever reason, this semester has been one of the most difficult semesters I’ve ever experienced.  I’ve had more days where I cry for no reason.  I’ve had more panic attacks, and feelings of such despair I’ve wished for illness and sickness so I could just take some time to run away from those horrible feelings–be free of all my responsibilities–and take a vacation from the constant negative internal monologue running through my brain.  What I wouldn’t give to have a remote control to just turn my brain off.  I am also a rape survivor and have written and researched this topic extensively.  Though I feel as though I’ve worked through much of the pain associated with this type of violence, I realized last night that even with all of the lectures I’ve given on this topic, the number of pieces I’ve devoted to this topic, a part of me never made peace with what happened.

This semester I went back to counseling.  I’m exercising more than I have in my entire life.  I’m learning how to do yoga properly, meditating, and figuring out how to take care of myself so I can get through the day.  I’m working on being present and mindful–to not get stuck in my prefrontal cortex that reevaluates the past and focuses on the future–a way of being  Buddhists call “suffering.”  And it’s helping.  But every day is still a struggle.

For those of you who suffer from anxiety or OCD, you know much of it has to do with control or feeling as though you’ve lost control.  When you feel as though everything around you is out of control, deep cleaning your apartment or color coordinating your closet can give you a semblance of control.  If you’ve only ever been in dysfunctional relationships, you find yourself figuring out ways to sabotage a healthy relationship because, again, your brain tells you that inserting drama into this healthy relationship seems like you have power over *something* when other parts of your life lie out of the realm of things you have a say in.

“So what has changed?”  My friend asked last night.  Last semester, even with everything going on in Wisconsin, I still loved my job.  I looked forward to going to work every day.  I didn’t have spans of hours where I simply couldn’t get out of bed or stop crying.  Life may have not been perfect, but for the most part I was happy.  And on paper, I have so much to be grateful for.  So what changed?

I’m still trying to figure that out, but it’s absolutely possible that nothing has changed.  That my “off switch” simply won’t let my brain relish in all of the amazing things I should be grateful for, and is intent on focusing solely on the negative–that which is out of my control–and that I’ve simply lost the coping skills I once had to deal with the anxiety that has always been there.

And then my friend said something that will forever change how I view what is currently going on and how I can regain my power.  He said, “You need to remember, something happened in 1997 that changed the course of your life forever.  You were raped.  You lost your virginity through that rape.  Your parents were going through a divorce.  Everything that you held dear slipped out of your life through no fault of your own.  You lost so much.  You lost control.  You lost your power.”  And then he said this:

Every time you allow yourself to let your anxiety get the best of you, he wins.

Every time you question the healthy relationship you are in, he wins.

Every time you question your decision to teach, to do the job you love, he wins.

Every time you can’t get out of bed, and cry, and let the sadness take over, he wins.

Every time you spend hours disinfecting the apartment to gain a sense of control, he wins.

Every time you tell yourself you’re not good enough, that you question your abilities, your intellect, your beauty, and your worth, he wins.

No one, no one in my life has ever put it that way.  For so long, I’ve allowed the man who took so much from me to continue to rule my life–how I feel about myself.  I’ve allowed him to sabotage all that is good in my life through self-doubt.  That is where it began and though I’ve gone to counselors, done everything in my power to control the uncontrollable, I’ve allowed him to be in the driver’s seat of my life.

Today, and for the rest of my days in this world, he no longer wins.

I will still suffer from anxiety.  I will always suffer from mental illness.  There will be good days and bad.  But reminding myself that every time I choose to engage in destructive behavior or entertain untrue thoughts about my self-worth that I’m allowing him to win–to continue to wield power over me–my hope is that instead of feeling sad and overwhelmed, I will get angry, and, well, that feels empowering.  That is power.

For those who suffer from mental illness, we know much of it is irrational, and that searching for root causes might help, but our brains are just wired differently, and that that’s ok.  But for me, this was a breakthrough.

It’s been less than 24 hours since this breakthrough, so I don’t know what the future holds, but I do know this.  I will do everything in my power, in all aspects of my life, within the realm of what I can do mentally and physiologically to not let him win anymore.  To not let him dictate how I choose to view myself.  To view myself how others view me and believe them when they tell me I’m a good person.  That I deserve to love and be loved fully.  That I’m not damaged.  That I’m thriving and that what I do makes a difference.  That I am strong.  That I am good.

Today he doesn’t win anymore.  Today I win.  I am taking control back from him.  I am taking everything he stole from me and reclaiming it: my power, my self-worth, my dignity.  Today, and for the rest of my life, he doesn’t win anymore.

To those who have experienced the hell that is sexual assault and violence, my wish for you is that you no longer allow the person or persons in your life who stole something from you to win, either.  Because today, for me, it feels pretty damned great.  Peace and love to you all.

Dear Wisconsin Legislators: We Don’t Have a Pension Problem. Please Stop Trying to “Fix” It.



With Governor Walker suspending his presidential campaign, many of us in Wisconsin have been asking ourselves, what will be next on his agenda?  My guess?  Messing with public employee retirement and pensions.  According to Molly Beck, “Republican lawmakers are laying the groundwork for changes to state workers’ pensions that could reduce the monthly payouts and raise the age at which they could retire.  One bill expected to be introduced this month would change the way pension payments are calculated for state workers in five years — payments would be determined by averaging workers’ top five years of pay instead of the top three.  Under a second bill, the minimum age at which a state worker currently under the age of 40 could retire would be 57 instead of 55. Public safety workers could retire at 52 instead of 50.  The measures are sponsored by Sen. Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville…

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Dear Educator Hating Strangers: Your Opinions Belong in the Comments Section. Not in my Inbox.


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This is now the third time I’ve written about being harassed for being an educator, but clearly the message isn’t getting through, so I will try one more time to reason with those who spend their lives making it their duty to share their opinions regarding my profession, my areas of expertise, and disparaging the work that I do in places they have no business sharing their opinions.

In my “Open Letter to Those Who Hate Teachers,” I recounted this lovely incident that happened in July:

“I was at a gas station when a man approached me.
Man: ‘Looks like gas prices have gone up!’
Me: ‘Um, yep? I guess so?’
Man: (looks at my UW-faculty parking sticker) ‘If I had your kind of money, I wouldn’t be complaining about gas prices, bitch.’

I was dumbfounded.  A good friend noted, “Wow, eliciting sympathy purely in order to twist it…

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A Love Letter to My Fellow Rape Survivors Part 2: Your Stories Edition

empty chair
When I posted “Rape Culture 101: A Love Letter to My Fellow Rape Survivors” within hours, friends, loved ones, and strangers flooded my inbox with personal messages telling their own stories of rape, abuse, and assault.  Within less than 24 hours, I had enough men and women contact me or publicly post their own stories I felt it necessary to write another piece.  I could write an entire book with the number of stories I’ve received since this posting.  Reading every detail, knowing that so many people I love know the ineffable trauma that is rape and assault–I felt compelled to reach out and ask if they would be willing to share their stories here.

So, what follows is their stories.  They were not mine to tell, so I asked if each survivor willing to share their story here (not all were comfortable sharing in such a public forum) would write their story themselves, in their own words.  There were no other guidelines than whatever appears here should be 100% compatible with what they were willing to share in this public forum.  And that is what this piece is.  A compilation of those who weren’t believed, who never felt supported, who never felt what happened to them was rape–who thought they were alone.  As I stated in my previous post, I believe you.  It wasn’t your fault. What happened to you was rape. You are not alone.  And I love you.  My hope is that in sharing these stories and providing a venue for them, we all take one step forward in breaking a very real culture of silence surrounding rape, assault, and abuse. I also consider this a “living” document, and have the ability to add stories from those who wish to share at a later date.

1.  I’ve decided the details aren’t all that important to get into. What I did go into, or what came through, was this: Because it was entirely about control. I knew that what I wore had nothing to do with it. He seized control over my body—and to a considerable degree, over my mind and emotions too—because that was what he wanted. He wasn’t pulling me by the hair and yelling that I thought I was better than him because he found me desirable and wanted to be with me. It was entirely about control—but not just about proving to himself that he had it; it was just as important to him that he prove to me that I had none. And if I took one lesson from that experience, and from the following events that night, and from the court case and trial that followed, it was that I had no control. What he didn’t realize until several hours later—when he was shot in the heart in the front seat of his pick-up truck by my boyfriend, who had been his friend—was that power and control are always contextual. In his final moments, I imagine he realized that he really wasn’t the master of the universe that he’d enacted with me. Nor was my boyfriend, who within a few weeks was serving time in prison.

2.  In college my mom was raped by her then boyfriend. He drugged her and she still doesn’t really know what happened, only that she ended up pregnant, after being a virgin the night before. Sadly, she is still ashamed of what happened to her. She is a feminist and a career woman and up until her 50s had never told anyone but my dad and her parents about the rape. Even her siblings didn’t know. The shame of such an attack is powerful and difficult to overcome.

3.  I was sexually abused in third grade by a 17 year old uncle. The family decided it was “best” to not press charges. Apparently grounding him was sufficient for him to learn his lesson. I was forced to still go to family gatherings, even required to say hi when all I wanted to do was run away. When I did get old enough to refuse to go (about 15) I was told I was making a mountain out of a molehill. I was the one in the wrong for not wanting to politely chat with my abuser. Even now, before family functions, I check to see if he will be there. I still get the eye roll as if I’m over reacting. He stole my childhood. He is a root cause for self esteem issues I’ve had to overcome. He’s the reason that in my teens and twenties I thought I had to use sex to make someone love me and put myself into several unhealthy relationships with both friends and lovers. He’s a big reason why I turned to drugs to dull the pain. But society says it’s my fault.

4. I was 19 or 20 years old. A college student. He was my boyfriend. He said he loved me. There were occasions when it was consensual and occasions where it was not. Or where I asked him to stop and he wouldn’t. I didn’t understand what was happening. I assumed it was part of being in a relationship. He told me there was something wrong with me when I didn’t enjoy sex. Not until 2 years later did I realize what had really happened. When the PTSD and depression and anxiety had reached its peak. When I was cutting and anorexic and barely eating because I felt like I needed to have control over something. When I found out he had given me an STD. And when my mom called me a whore because I had an STD. I should have spoken up but I didn’t know how. I didn’t think anyone would believe me. I couldn’t even say the “R” word. I wouldn’t wish the experience on anyone. Ever. I am fortunate in that I have learned to deal with what happened and to develop healthier coping mechanisms. I have the capacity to love and be loved and finally understand that it wasn’t my fault.

5.  I was a freshman at college and a mutual friend of my boyfriend was helping me out (finding classes, how the library functioned, etc). This went on for a few weeks and then he turned and assaulted me in my dorm room. I never told anyone and ended up falling into a deep depression, causing me to fail my classes. I let everyone think I was just too lazy to go to class and I tried to hide my depression. That didn’t go so well and I ended up being academically dismissed from school when my grades didn’t improve the following year. It took me over a decade to get back on track. During that decade I went from a highly abusive relationship into meeting Joe near the end of the decade. With his encouragement, I started going to therapy and slowly started putting my life back on track. He encouraged me to go back to school, and that’s how I ended up in your class. With medication and therapy, my depression and anxiety became easier to control. It took me over a decade to return to school, but it showed me how valuable my time at school could be. Instead of letting everyone think I was a total failure I pushed myself back into being who I was before my assault…a student who excelled in the classroom and someone who wanted to use those experiences to grow.

6.  I was a junior in high school and had spent a lot of time with my best friend, her boyfriend, and his cousin. The cousin was very flirty and came on very strong. He found an opportunity when we were alone at my friend’s house and assaulted me, quite forcibly. I felt ashamed and disgusted with myself. I thought because he was older that no one would believe me, and that my parents would be so completely disappointed in me. I wish I would have done something, though. He continued to prey in young women throughout the years and eventually ended up in prison and as a registered sex offender. I still carry guilt about it happening, about all the other girls who may have not been victimized if I had spoken up. When I was 33, I was assaulted for a second time by a co-worker who I trusted. He was in a position of authority and denied it ever happened. My supervisor openly said I was lying and offered my co-worker a slap on the wrist for the “infraction.” I quit my job, moved out of the area, and had my life turned upside down because of this incident. As I became more persistent (maybe making up for my complacency years prior) , more questions were asked, and others came forward about similar (or worse) experiences at the hands of this man.

7. July 28, 2012 – A Friend No More

When I received the call from an old friend from high school during my first summer after college, I was excited. I knew that he probably wanted to use me, so I made sure he knew that this was not going to be the case. I did everything in my power, including making sure there were other people there and that we were in a public setting. Then July 28th came.

I started off the day with a day at Culver’s, my longtime place of employment. Then I followed it by working out, a thing that I did for my own enjoyment and for feeling better (this will change). Finally, I drove over to his house to meet him for a day at the mall.

Unfortunately, when I arrived, I discovered that we would not be doing anything that we had planned. In fact, everything I did to protect myself would fall apart. This was red flag #1 – but I still decided to hang out with him and his friends.

After a few hours of driving around and grabbing dinner like silly teenagers, we would return to his place where we would put on a movie. Although there were numerous spots in the living room, he insisted that we sit next to each other since we knew each other the best. This was red flag #2 – but I still didn’t leave.

Throughout the movie he made moves on me, I pulled away – saying “no” repeatedly. He backed off. The entire time I thought to myself, “Come on dude! We were in high school, we were dumb…stop!”

The movie ended… someone decided it was time to light up. I have a moral objection to this – so I grabbed my things I made my way for the door.

He followed me and asked, “Can I walk you to your car?”

“Sure…why not?” I replied.

We make our way in the darkness to my car…I open the door…put my purse and things away in my car…turn around to say goodbye…

My ‘friend’ then takes me and pulls me close. I repeat, “Please! Stop…”

He doesn’t. (red flag #3)

He unzips my pants, turns me around, shoves my face and body against my car, puts his arm around my throat, and proceeds to penetrate me with his fingers. He kisses me and bites me…

I feel outside of my body – because my body is frozen. I am screaming at myself, do something, your keys are in your hands! I can only keep whispering for him to stop…over and over again, I tell him to stop.

My head is screaming to yell, since his friends were inside the house still, but I can only stand there and barely get a word out.

It felt like an eternity as I stood there being cut and bitten and violated repatedly by him. Why is he doing this? Why is my friend hurting me? Why can’t I fight back?

Finally, it was over…

I didn’t say a word. I pulled up my pants, got in my car…and drove away…

Upon my return home, I placed my clothes in a pile in the corner of my room…I didn’t want to touch them…

I climbed into bed…and cried myself to sleep.

The next day I went to work, pretending nothing happened. However, something did happen. I wouldn’t know this until I got home and took off my uniform from work and looked in the mirror.

My neck was covered in hickies and bruises from his mouth and his arm, respectively. I knew I needed to do something, but there’s no way I could do anything by myself. So, I called the one person I could trust… My U.S. Marine Corps fire team leader (direct supervisor in plain terms). She walked me through everything, including taking that pile of clothes and grabbing a paper bag to put everything into.

It would be hours before I felt strong enough to take the long, solo drive to the hospital to meet her to walk me into the rape exam. This would be the second violation, but I knew I needed to get it done – if my ‘friend’ would ever have justice brought against him.

A few days later, I’d have to tell my story and every dark secret of my sex life in front of a detective and a camera and a voice recorder. Every part of me came out, every part of my ‘friends’ violation. I stayed strong though – this step meant that he just might be brought to justice.

Finally, the DA decided to accept my case and put forth charges against my ‘friend’ — forget that — against the predator. Once the warrant had been issued, the predator went on the run – hiding from the law and wouldn’t be found for several weeks. He knew he f*cked up. He knew he messed with the wrong victim.

That was the moment I knew I did something right – I brought a predator to the foreground and he knew he did something wrong.

But my pain wouldn’t end there. From the pain that my ‘friend’ – now known as ‘predator’ – had inflicted, my PTSD set in. I could no longer work out without having a bizarre flashback related PTSD symptoms. Months later I would still shutter from hugs or people coming up from behind me. Relationships would fall apart because I would never want to let anyone in. Until one day, nearly two years later, I sought out professional help. My therapist was able to help me manage each of my symptoms and help me build a relationship with people. But it took me realizing I had a problem to seek him out. I stood up for my well-being, my health, my happiness – me. My therapist also helped me come to something I already knew, but never wanted to admit…


All the red flags were there, so I blamed myself for what happened. But it wasn’t my fault. He was the predator, he preyed upon my weakness and vulnerability as a friend of his. It’s never the victim’s fault, no matter what.

Today, I use my voice and my strength to tell the world that sexual assault survivors are not alone – whether they’re man or woman, sexual assault happens and it’s never the victim’s fault.

8.  It was April 1986.

I never told my parents. I didn’t tell my friends until years later. I never told the cops. In fact, it took several days for me to even be able to say it to myself.

I’d been drinking and hitting on a couple guys at a party and bragging about being on the pill and bemoaning the lack of a boyfriend. Not one of my finest moments, for sure. I passed out, and when I woke up, one of the guys was inside me. I was screaming. Then I passed out again, only to wake up in the morning to the same thing. While he was in the shower, I found my purse and drove myself home, despite the fact that I was still under the influence of alcohol. At home (I still lived with my parents), I stumbled up the stairs and cried myself to sleep in my bedroom with the girly pink walls.

There are things I can be grateful for. It was not my first sexual experience, so it didn’t take something physical away from me that I’d been saving for another occasion. Because I was so drunk and passed out, I barely even experienced my own rape. Truly, it could’ve been worse.

I dealt with it in a way that makes no sense to me, although I now know that it isn’t that uncommon: I entered a relationship with the guy. For several months I took advantage of his money and his tentative guilt. Then I manipulated things to get the guy fired from his job. Although it wasn’t all he deserved for what he did, it was enough to help me feel like my life was under my own control again.

So I can tell myself that it was okay, that it wasn’t as bad a rape as it could’ve been, that I could’ve had it worse, and that I deserved it. Even now, I have to own the fact that my own behavior set the stage for the guy to do this to me. That doesn’t mean I think it’s my fault, but I didn’t make it easy for him to do the right thing. I wanted him to make a pass at me. So that’s on me. But he shouldn’t have taken me without my consent. Twice. Or even once.

Years passed. I told some friends in college when it seemed relevant. I really didn’t think of myself as a rape victim or rape survivor most of the time. I’d done some other stupid things that seemed to be a bigger part of my identity at the time. Still, for several years, I thought about the experience at some point every day. It was part of my subconscious even when I wasn’t actively thinking about it.

When I met my husband, I told him. Eventually, I went to graduate school, married, and had children, and my identity was overwhelmed by whole new sets of experiences. At one point, I realized I hadn’t thought about being raped for years. As much as possible, I was over it.

It damaged me for a long time, and while I still carry scars that become visible now and again, it hasn’t hurt for a long time now. Healing can happen.

When my daughter was in high school, I began to think about it again.

Much healing can happen through telling and sharing. The moment that healed me the most grew out of a conversation with my daughter. She was a junior or senior in high school and was telling me about a friend who had been raped. She looked at me and said, “Mom, were you ever raped?” I don’t lie to my kids, but I was so shocked by her question that I said nothing–and she knew. She came over to where I was sitting on the couch and began sobbing for me. I hadn’t cried about it for many years, but seeing someone I love bear my old pain provided unexpected closure and healing.

It shaped my daughter, too. She is a gender studies major at a Big 10 school. She participates in a sexual assault prevention program that includes giving presentations to fraternities about consent. She always makes sure she and her friends have a “safety monitor” when they go out in groups, and she is always the first to believe when a woman says that she was taken advantage of.

Telling her provided healing for me and prevention and healing for others. It is hard to fill the empty chair, but doing so can make a real difference in many lives.


Along with my mostly invisible scars, I carry so many questions.

How many wounded women are walking around us and working with us every day? How does a shared experience that is never discussed affect us? And how different would it be if it were okay to talk about it? How differently would I be able to support other women if it were okay to talk about this?

We don’t yet know how to talk about it.

Too many people have opinions on how others should deal with it. They shame women for telling or not telling. They place all the responsibility on the woman’s shoulders or they push aside her own sorrow about having put herself into the situation where the rape happened. We judge other women rather than letting them tell their stories in their own voices.

I had already been violated by a man who wouldn’t control himself. I didn’t want to be further violated by having to face the responses of people who might question me or invalidate my experience. So I stayed quiet. I healed alone.

It needs to be okay for women to share their feelings about their experiences, even if it upsets other women. Even one voice telling me I am wrong to feel what I feel is another violation of my sense of self and the choices I have as a woman.

We have done so much to destigmatize mental illness and domestic violence. But what are we doing to make it easier for young women to find support for experiences of sexual violation? Posting a rape hotline number or a website on a flyer isn’t enough. Asking them to talk to a total stranger after they’ve already experienced a violation isn’t enough.

At the age of 22, I had no one. I didn’t tell anyone at all until I had worked through most of it myself—but if I had known even one grown-up woman in my life who I’d known had been raped, I would’ve gone to her. But because it’s still so hard to talk about in today’s society, even to say, “This happened to me,” I doubt that most women in my life now would know they would find an understanding heart in me.

I don’t know what the answer is. Maybe there isn’t one. This has been the experience of women for eons, right? And men will be men with their own issues of sex and power.  I doubt that we can put an end to rape, but we can at least make it simpler to surround rape victims with the love and support needed to help them become survivors.

Every woman who shares her story is one more voice to say to other women, “You aren’t alone. I do understand. You can heal.” Because truly, we can heal.  The greatest thing I’ve seen about women is our ability to work together to support and nurture.

I carry other questions about the men among us. How many men carry the memories of things they did to women? How many of them didn’t understand that what they were doing was rape? And how many of them now face their memories even more alone than I was for many years? They were rapists, but were they also victims of rape culture? I don’t have answers, but the questions remain.

My rapist has a daughter who just finished her first year of college. I wonder if he is haunted. Does he worry that she will meet a man just like him? Does he carry scars, too?

9.  Early August 1989

I’ve blocked the exact date. My date rapist and I worked in the same restaurant in the same small town. I was on my way to my freshman year of college. He was a rising senior there, popular, rugby player. Funny. We flirted but it didn’t go anywhere because I had a boyfriend, my high school sweetheart. My first. Then my boyfriend broke up with me toward the end of July, and I was pretty heartbroken.

My date rapist was understanding, kindly. One night, he suggested going for a drive after we got out of our shifts. I was an inexperienced drinker, so it was easy for him to get me dead drunk. I drove myself home, not sure what had happened or how I got home. I woke up in the same clothes I’d passed out in, with his semen on the leg of my shorts. I put everything in the wash on the hottest setting, and tried not to think about how little I could remember—just a dirt driveway, some pines, a hillock around a man-made pond. His parents’ house? He didn’t introduce me. I couldn’t have found my way back there if I’d had a gun to my head—the information was just not there. Blank.

Afterwards, he never spoke to me and didn’t make eye contact. I didn’t know what to make of it, didn’t want to make a scene. I just went to work, and thought “How could I have been so trusting and stupid?” Not “What the fuck is wrong with a guy who gets a girl blind drunk, rapes her, wakes her up and sends her on her way to drive herself home down back country roads at 2:00 am?”

About three weeks later I started at the same tiny campus (1200 full-time students) where everyone knew everyone and my date rapist had a pretty blond girlfriend that everyone liked. I hadn’t known he had a girlfriend, which made me feel worse because I had no respect for women who went after guys who were “taken”—and I couldn’t have any respect for myself, because I’d gotten so drunk that I couldn’t say “no” which was the same as saying yes, at the time. The language of consent was not something we were taught. Sex for pleasure was not really a thing. “Good girls” didn’t fuck, and “sluts” did. Good girls got to get married and have nice lives. Sluts got used up and tossed away and ended up alone. I was afraid of being labelled, so I kept my mouth shut. I wanted a boyfriend, an emotional connection, and I was afraid that if I was “damaged goods,” no one would want me.

I was a nobody, and was pretty sure nobody would believe me about what I suspected, so I pretended it never happened, since my memories were confused and I was drunk, so it was my fault (except that it wasn’t—but I didn’t know that).

I also skipped a period, because I wasn’t on the pill, and the dried semen on my shorts clearly indicated that he hadn’t used a condom. I had only had sex with one other person (the sweetheart boyfriend) so calling me “inexperienced” is an understatement. I had no car, and neither did my new friends, who I couldn’t bring myself to tell—so I swallowed my shame and my fear and I went to the clinic on campus and had a pregnancy test, which came back negative. The nurse said that stress could make you skip, and sure enough, I was back to normal once the fear of being pregnant by a rapist was gone. She cautioned me to have my boyfriend always use a condom.

I saw my rapist many, many times—on such a small campus, it was inevitable that I’d end up at the same parties. His girlfriend never looked at me twice, so I’m sure he never said anything. Why would he? I was just some chick he worked with that he got drunk and fucked while she was barely conscious.

I never told anyone until I told the man who is now my husband, not long after we started dating. By that point more than 10 years had passed, but it had unconsciously affected my sex life—how could it not? I finally told him what I thought had happened that night by the pond. To his credit, he listened, put his arms around me, and offered to kill my rapist.

I didn’t want that on my conscience too—and I’ve refused to identify him or have him prosecuted.


There is so much wrapped up in this—it’s difficult to unpack/untangle. I was 18 at the time. Technically an adult, if underage for alcohol. He was old enough to buy beer. I went with him. And I didn’t want it to be the defining thing about me–so I never spoke up, never made his life difficult. And culturally that is what happens–slut shaming, “real” rape versus “Well, you smiled at him at work, you went over to his house after work that night, you never said no” so we don’t talk about it. Because we can’t. We were asking for it (Were we asking nice? To borrow from Courtney Love’s lyrics. The first time I heard Hole’s 1994 album Live Through This—I knew what she was talking about, and it wasn’t just drug addiction: “You should learn when to go/ You should learn how to say NO”).

I have a loving partner who has worked very hard to help me untangle the worst of the knots. But it’s a process. This set of memories is one I’ve tried to exorcise and make peace with because it has contaminated so much of my adult life. Never good enough, should have known better, how could I be so stupid?

All wrapped up in that one night next to a star-covered pond in Hudson.

10. My mother’s voice is just barely audible from the other room as she whisper-screams, “Don’t you point your gun at me”. I pull the heavy blankets up higher around my head. It is over 90 degrees with humidity in the little house because we don’t have air conditioning and it is August in the Midwest. I will be starting my junior year of high school in less than 3 weeks at a new school with new people who won’t recognize my face, even after a sleepless night of my father’s drunken demands and my mother’s accusatory words when shadows dance beneath my glassy green eyes.

Some people come into bad situations of their own accord and some are born into them. Some leave and move on and some are stuck for some time. Some never make it out alive. I’m not sure what will come of my mom’s abusive relationship with my father but I will not be a statistic ever again.

I would like to think that my father has reasons for being the way he is, and he does, I know. His family was broken and detached. His dad was a drunk who hit him and touched his sisters. His mom was absent and spiteful. But that doesn’t forgive the man he grew up to be, or anything for that matter. He doesn’t deserve forgiveness and he shouldn’t have been a father. Maybe someday God will make that call and all will be made right. But I’m not holding my breath.

I will spare you the dismal details, but my father is a self-proclaimed sex addict. Yes, present tense, the man is a 64 year-old alcoholic and drug addict and right now it looks like he’ll get another 9 lives. It is funny how some people get too many chances to make the same mistake but some only get the one chance to do something wrong. My brother was in the latter category, he died when I was 12 years old, on his 24th birthday. He drank too much that night and passed out on the bathroom floor and never woke up. His twin brother found him in a pool of vomit sometime after 3 am. The funeral was on a Friday in June and it was sunny and warm.

I cannot recall if things at home got worse after my brother died, but maybe it set something off in my father or deadened that last bit of hope or warmth he had. All I know is that when I was in 9th grade, he molested me. It was a late July night when he crawled into bed with me. I was scared and didn’t move as he rubbed my shoulders and back and tried to initiate sex with me. When I attempted to leave he held me close and drunkenly called me by my mother’s pet name, “baby doll”. That is all I have to say about that.

As for my mom, I don’t know if it was shock or denial or ignorance or a combination of the three, but she didn’t do anything about what happened that night. Nor did she attempt to acknowledge the random ass-grabbing that would happen later or the flashbacks I had of him hitting on my middle-school friends in their basketball uniforms. She also doesn’t acknowledge or mention the fact that he forced her to have sex with him on almost a nightly basis. Some people call that rape, for her, it is life. She isn’t innocent in this, but I cannot blame her for his behavior, only for her own – or lack thereof.

But my story doesn’t end on a sad note, not yet. I don’t have a drug addiction or 3 DWIs like my older brother. I wasn’t a teen mom or a high school dropout. In fact, right this very moment I work at a domestic violence shelter and am going for my master’s in social work. My job hits too close to home sometimes, and my memories aren’t similar to my friends’: I don’t have vacation pictures or funny birthday stories. There was even a time where I didn’t have a permanent address. But if and when I choose to have kids of my own, they will never know what it feels like to be abused at the hands of a parent or relative, or ignored or shamed or devalued. They will be loved wholly and unconditionally. I’m going to break the cycle, it ends here. And I’ll be damned if I don’t make a difference and leave this world a better place than I found it.

11.  After five years in foster care, and four years with us, she was finally ours forever! Our six year old bundle of joy! We soon saw her behavior change. She started wetting herself. Our beautiful princess no longer cared about what she looked like. She started having night terrors. She became more aggressive, and was pushing people away. She threatened to runaway almost every day. She even threatened to kill me on on more than one occasion. In the back of my mind, I feared the worst. I saw my younger self in her. I pushed away my fears of abuse, and explained it away with other big life changes. Her adoption, and soon after her foster brothers. A foster sister returning home, and realizing we aren’t the typical family. She started asking question about her birth family, and about her infancy. All things that could explain away my fears. It wasn’t until several months later we learned the truth. A local teachers aid was caught molesting the special needs students. Babies really. They were all in the special needs preschool program. He picked the weakest of the weak. The ones who could speak. The ones who may not have even realized what was happening to them. The scariest part? Everyone loved him. He was a local favorite. It wasn’t until he was caught that he was seen as the monster he truly is. He didn’t just groom the children, he groomed us all. He wasn’t the creepy guy in sweatpants at the park, lurking around. He was the good looking, charismatic guy everyone loved. We were sitting in counseling when she told me. “Mommy, come here. I have to tell you a secret in your ear”. Something about this secret didn’t feel right. Then our world stopped. My baby girl said those words no one wants to hear, “Mr. X touched my vagina”. My stomach dropped, my heart raced, I couldn’t breath. I told her right then to tell Dr. X. How I kept it together, I don’t know. We finished the last 10 minutes of the session in a haze. On the way home, she asked me if I was mad at her for not telling me sooner. I told her how brave it was of her & that she told me when she was ready. Inside I was screaming, I could never be mad at you! It’s not your fault! You’re braver than me & you’re only 6! I decided right then & there I needed to be brave. I needed to find my voice. A few days later, I invited my mom out to dinner. Staring at my plate, I told my mom about the abuse I endured over 20 years ago by my cousin. I told her everything. How he used to threaten he would do the same to my sister if I didn’t let him do it to me. So to protect her, I “let” him. I told her that the reason I hated that park, was because that’s where he would do it. That’s when I learned my grandpa had abused my mom. The next day I told my daughter what happened to me. I wanted her to know she wasn’t alone. What happened was never her fault. From time to time she’ll bring up our “connection”, and ask question, but for the most part, she won’t talk about it. I see the cycle of abuse. My cousin was abused so he did it to me. His brother was abused, so he did it to him. Chances are my grandpa, and Mr. X was abused as well. Knowing how damaging it can be, and how it seeps in to your soul, forever changing your life, a very small part of me feels sorry for the small boy who was hurt and never got the help he needed. But what they did is inexcusable. Those sad, scared little boys turned into men. Men who chose their actions. I believe in karma and I know one way or another, justice will be served. My daughter is still hurting. She is still angry. Fearful. Aggressive. But no matter how long it takes, we will be by her side. We will reassure her of her worth, her strength and her bravery. If it takes until my last breath, I will fight for her. Just like I know my mama would have all those years ago.

12.  20yrs old, virgin, fooling around with a boyfriend… What!? And it was gone. It totally demolished my self esteem. It has taken 14 years, a coue of failed marriages and a terrible relationship with an older man who thought it necessary to, “slut shame,” me for having casual, consensual sex (which was very liberating, I must say) for me to finally stand up for myself. I’m finally in a relationship where I enjoy being surprisingly touched and we both ask for consent, “is this ok?” I haven’t told him of my date rape. I don’t want anything to change. I don’t want him to question his actions or not be spontaneous.

13.  I was sexually molested as a very young child. I was gang raped when I was 13 while at a party I had no business being at. In my 20s, while making horrible decisions about where I could go alone in the middle of the night in questionable neighborhoods in Chicago, I was attacked, beaten, mugged, and raped. Again in my 20s, I managed to escape an attempted rape by my then-boyfriend’s best friend when I agreed to crash at his place because I was too drunk to get myself home from a bar that I had run into him at. One night after clubbing in Chicago and making the horrible drunken decision (that seemed to have happened a lot – I was very lonely in Chicago in my early 20s) to spend the night at a very nice-seeming strangers place, I woke up to him having sex with me. He was very polite. And several other experiences. I don’t talk about any of that anymore. I learned not to blame myself, even though I still put in all of the qualifiers I did in my above list. I can’t help it. It’s as if I have to say, “Well, I take responsibility for THIS part of my experience” because I’m afraid that I’ll be ridiculed or not believed otherwise. But even that’s not it. I think some part of me needs to OWN the experiences so the memory of them doesn’t knock me over and knock me out.

14. Living in poverty, people try to find ways to be able to pay for living expenses – pooling money with other families to pay rent, renting out rooms, multiple families lived in a small home, etc. – and in doing so, poor people invite danger into their homes without intending to. When my parents bought their first house, in order to pay the mortgage, my dad converted the garage into a neat little apartment. He had two friends that he trusted and that needed a place to live. My dad had known his friends from childhood, and it is understandable why he trusted them so much.

One day when I was thirteen, I was helping my mother fix dinner. One of my dad’s friends entered the kitchen and asked my mother if it was okay for me to go over and help him out with making an international phone call. For those of you not familiar with Latin-American culture (and perhaps many other cultures outside the U.S.), you should know that many of the people who reside in the U.S. have families in other countries. Calls are usually made through telephone cards that charge lower fees that a telephone provider would charge. Older people in particular have a poor grasp of the English language, and so a request such as the one my dad’s friend made is not strange within our culture. Of course, my mother not suspecting anything said it was okay, and so I went over to his room to help him.

My dad’s friend was an alcoholic, and he happened to have been drinking that day. When I got to his room, he closed the door behind me and told me that the real reason he wanted me to go over was not the telephone call, but to have a conversation. There was something in the way he said it that made me feel uncomfortable, but I only nodded. I was considered a rebellious child, and that is what he began talking to me about at first. He told me that I was becoming a man and that I needed to change my attitude, but then he moved over to sit by me and began to question me about my body.

It was so strange that even though I knew I was not safe; I was not able to move. I felt paralyzed and unable to get away. I felt as if I was watching things unfold from above… like it was not me who was in that room undergoing the questions and the eventual sexual assault.

He asked me if I had already hit puberty, and I dumbly answered yes as if I was somehow compelled to do so. He then asked me if I already had had my first kiss. I had not, and I answered no. He then told me that he would show me how to kiss a girl, and he began to kiss me. I clenched my mouth, but I was still unable to move. He then asked me if I had pubic hair and began to pull my shorts and underwear down. I felt so numb and could barely shake my head yes as if answering his question would make him stop. He asked me if I had ever ejaculated before, and again, all I could do was shake my head. This prompted him to begin stimulating me, and suddenly he took me in his mouth. As much as I wanted to get away I could not bring myself to do so. And through it all I felt as if I was watching it all from above. It was not until I was about to ejaculate – which at the time I believed I was about to pee myself in his mouth – that I somehow snapped back to myself and told him to stop and pushed him away. He then told me not to tell anyone about what had happened, and he told me to go back and help my mom. No threats or anything.

To this day, I have no idea what kept me from letting my mom know what had happened. I told my mom I was going to go play video games in my room, and I went to shower. I felt so dirty, and no amount of water could make it go away. For the next month I kept bringing up that we should not be renting to anyone to my mom. I stopped one day when she asked if something had happened, but again for some reason I said no and attributed it to having more rooms available for our family.

I don’t like talking about this unless I feel it will help me relate to someone because as a gay man, I hate the false belief that some people have in regards to gay men having been sexually abused as kids. Before being sexually assaulted I already knew I liked other boys but was trying desperately to be straight since I was raised knowing how my parents felt about homosexuality.

I cannot be sure how much that day has affected my life. I just know that it is one of the several things that has left me the broken person I am today. I say broken because after all I have dealt with for being a gay man and having been sexually assaulted, I don’t think I can ever feel completely safe and I know that I am vulnerable. However, it has been years since I forgave that man. He never got to know this because he died alone and afraid. I feel sad for the life he was forced to carry on with, and while I cannot justify his actions, I can imagine very well how the type of life he carried could make a person insane (which in his case was manifested in a sick way).

To all who take the time to read this, I don’t want you to feel pity or feel rage against the man who broke me. Currently I am one of the happiest and luckiest people in existence, and I could not ask for anything more in my life. What I do want is for you to take away a few lessons. The first being that if you have children, be ever so careful with them. What happened to me occurred in about ten minutes. The second lesson is that if you have been fortunate to never have had been sexually assaulted or raped, do not spend too much energy thinking about why the victim was not able to do this or that to defend his/her self. The paralysis I experienced is something beyond anyone’s control. People are not wired the same, and each person has different defense mechanisms that help the mind cope. The third lesson that I want you to take away from my story is that rape, sexual assault, and whatever other descriptive nouns exist for engaging others in a sexual act without their consent, can happen to anyone. It is not just women who can be victims: men can be victims too. Both are equally important issues to tackle, and neither should ever be diminished to something that is not taken seriously.

15.  Growing up I dealt with a parent with mental health issues, so even though my parent loved me, home still was unsafe sometimes. Well, I met one of my best friends when right around the time I was born. We both had older siblings so we were kind of forced into friendship. We were two pees in a pod. Well, in middle school my house became really bad, so I started spending a lot of time at her house. In the summers I would sleep there 3-4 times a week, so I could get away from my home life. One night I woke up at her house to her touching me inappropriately. She was molesting me. At that moment I decided I would be okay with because it was better than going home. So I let it happen. From the ages 10-14 I was molested by my best friend… A lot. Half way through my freshman yr of high school, I told her I wouldn’t allow it anymore. She was mad or embarrassed or anything and cut me out her life. I never told anyone what happened, because she was my best friend. The affects of this event still haunt me today: I am a virgin. Sexual activities scare the hell out of me. I don’t want to be taken advantage of.

16.  When I was 19 years old I went on a date with my friend. He made me dinner and we hung out at his apartment. When he asked me to spend the night I didn’t think anything of it because I was innocent. Well, apparently he wanted sex and he was going to get it any way possible. He tried raping me. I escaped before he could, but he was able to molest me. At first I didn’t understand what was happening. He was an international student and a different race than me so I just thought it was a cultural thing. I was wrong and thankfully I escaped before he raped me, but this event still shaped me. I only spend the night with people I trust. When telling people what happened they kind of brushed it off, so sadly I learned to just brush off this event.

17. I knew it was rape but my rapist said it wasn’t, it was the law.

In early 1970, when I had been married about 10 months I came down with a horrible flu/virus and was out of work for about a week. My mother-in-law had a big dinner set up on Saturday evening at a fancy restaurant for the family to celebrate her birthday. Near the end of the week questions started coming in if I were going to be able to make the dinner or would we have to reschedule the whole event and disappoint everyone. It took everything in my power to go to the dinner as the sickness weakened me, but I pulled myself together and faked it so as not to hurt anyone’s feelings. I did not drink alcohol or eat much that night though I did manage to keep down what I ate. By the end of the evening I was extremely weak. I could not wait to get home and get back to bed. I wanted to just collapse and regroup; but that would not be the case.

My husband decided since I could get up from a sick bed, manage to look presentable, and carry on at a social event I was better and he called for my “wifely duties.” I begged off relations with him that evening because of exhaustion, but he countered that he had done without sex all week and if I were well enough to party I was well enough to take care of his needs. He proceeded to “have his way with me” in a drunken, abusive manner that pinned me down with force. I said no, pleading that I would do whatever he wanted in the morning; but I knew fighting him was hopeless, so I laid there, tears streaming down my face and took his thrashing of my body until he climaxed.

When the act was over I went into the bathroom and scrubbed myself raw trying to get his conquering marks and fluids out of me. I wrapped myself up in a warm, furry bathrobe, went into our bed, turned my back to him and cried myself to sleep. He proceeded to watch television and eat a snack.

The next morning I awoke, still hurt and astonished that my “beloved” husband would do such a thing to me. I knew I had been raped and at the least wanted an apology or perhaps an explanation that involved blaming the alcohol for his actions. Not only did that not happen, but he confidently brought up the sex and warned me not to go to either set of parents, or anyone, and cry rape as he had every right to my body because according to the law he could do with me as he wished.

He assured me that everyone would agree with him because I was his wife and that was the law. He was right about the law. At that time no state in the union had a law against forcing sex within marriage. The criminalization of marital rape in the United States started in the mid-1970s, prior to that marital rape was exempted from ordinary rape laws. While I kept silent, not even telling my closest confident, he also managed to get me to believe there was no defense for me. In the future whenever he demanded sex I came across because I felt hopeless.

We managed to have three children. I did not believe I had a way out of the marriage and tried to make the most of the situation. I vacillated between loving him and hating him. I wanted him to be the man I thought I had married. I lost myself and my self-respect.

One morning while watching the Phil Donahue Show I heard Phil talk about the horrible offense of spousal rape. Some states had started to change their laws by that time, but the state I lived in still allowed martial rape. I sat fixated to Donahue’s argument to change the law and for the first time since the day following my rape I admitted to myself that yes, I had been raped. I knew it! It was rape, no matter what my husband, society, or the law said. It was rape! Very sadly, I sat there all alone in my family room, I cried with the realization that the person I had devoted my life to, who I trusted beyond anyone else had violated me and abused that trust.

Still I stayed in the marriage for twenty-five years and never shared the story of my rape. It wasn’t until I returned to school in the mid-1980s and began to think analytically that I found a way back to true self. I begin to dissect my life, especially my marriage and found the courage to seek a divorce.

Before my marriage I never would have married my rapist, but once raped within my marriage I continued a relationship with the man who raped me. We think the abuse cannot happen to us and if the horror did occur it would be some dark stranger in the middle of the night. For me, it was within my inner circle and after that first night it could come at any time day or night. Force or threats would no longer be necessary because he controlled me while the law backed him up.

This was really hard to write. I’ve never written about this as publicly as I have just now, and I think that is a testament to how far I’ve come in terms of dealing. (And I have dealt! I’m pretty good these days!) And I don’t want notes of sympathies because honestly, I am more recovered from it now than I have ever been. I am writing this for those of you who think you are alone out there. You are not alone. You are totally not alone and I–and so many others–are there for you.

Here goes. I went to my graduate school as a pretty confident person. Because fuck yeah I just finished another advanced degree and fuck yeah everything was awesome and fuck yeah I was going to run with this new degree program and all that shit.

The first part of my school year was fine. I met a lot of awesome people, broadened a lot in terms of thinking about the world, etc etc. I also had a study group, composed of people I mainly gossiped and hung out with.

One of the people in my study group was K. I thought we were friends. We had a similar way of zippy dancing, a similarly energetic attitude towards life. We had the same birthday. Like I said, I thought we were friends.

Then came our student LGBTQ group party. Me and K and whole lot of other friends went to that. I drank too much, passed out (not proud of that). I woke up to K finger fucking me. While I was slipping in and out of consciousness. Like I said, not proud of the amount I drank that night. But, given my state at the time, I couldn’t stop what was happening to me. Because I wasn’t particularly coherent.

It took me at least a day or three to realize it wasn’t particularly consensual. WTF, why didn’t you realize that right away?, you might ask. But when you’re in that moment, it’s hard to understand. It’s a lot to process. It’s hard to figure out. It’s just, well, a lot at once, and if your brain is like mine, you would just rather think about other things and just ignore it all instead.

Which is what I did for a few days. Until I emailed K about it and was like, you know, I really didn’t consent to any of that.

K’s response? “Yeah, if I were a guy, I guess it’d be rape.”

And so here’s my response. Which is enumerated because it’s easier to think about things in terms of enumerated lists.

  1. It was still rape.
  1. There’s no “if I were a guy about it.”
  1. You’re totally out of our study group.

And, along the lines of enumerated responses, here’s the rest of how it affected my life. Which was COMPLICATED.

  1. No, I never did report it along any official channels. My rational calculus part of me was all, well, where’s the evidence at this point? What kind of hassle would it be to go through official channels? And I do believe in the whole presumed innocence thing and I couldn’t figure out any information I could present to overcome what I thought would be the appropriate burden of proof. It made me really wrestle with my commitments to criminal law/innocence standards and personal effects.
  1. I was in PTSD mode for a long time, and there’s still a little bit of that now (even though it generally doesn’t affect my everyday life, for the most part–it’s just that I can’t handle the feel of fingernails anywhere. Nailbiters are welcome!) That is, I was freaked out by all short, redhaired ladies. I had intimacy/friendship issues with many women. It was oh so hard for such a long time. And I still can’t handle the feel of fingernails. But otherwise I’m fine.
  1. I went into a mode of not wanting to be physically attractive to people, because I didn’t want to fear RAPE. Because my god that sucked. (I know, this is not a real factor, according to empirical studies I’ve read.) It probably affected subsequent relationships, and that’s too bad. It didn’t help that even before all this, I never thought of myself in terms of visual appeal (and thought of my “self” as more my mental machinery), but holy shit did this exacerbate those previously held leanings.
  1. I found it harder to trust women. You know the discourse of “oh all these women are men-haters because they had one bad experience, they shouldn’t generalize?” Well, I sort of felt like that, but in the reverse. I had steeled myself up for the “male threat” ( *that* stuff is in the papers and all) but this came out of nowhere (in my mind) and it was awful. It probably wasn’t till at least five years before I could make any new emotional bonds with another female.
  1. It threatened my masculinity. I mean, I’ve always identified as more genderqueer/male than female, which is why I’ve been sharing more stories of female on male rape. Because I so identify with those stories. I was all, wtf, how did this happen to me??? This only happens to females!!!! (Note: it also made me later think about internalized misogyny.) I felt not so me after that. I felt like an integral part of me had been destroyed. I was wrong, of course; I’m a totally awesome me and have totally rebuilt my dudeliness, but that’s how it felt at the time.
  1. It destroyed the primary relationship I had at the time, and maybe made me form other bonds. I will not go into that here. Suffice it to say that it was a pretty world-changing thing. (And that I will be eternally thankful to one of the people with whom I formed bonds for being there for me.)
  1. It made me go into ignoring mode, which, in a way, was actually helpful for my career. That is, rather than being usual fun party me, I descended into workaholism. I fucking rocked the shit out of working in law school. But that was because I wanted to ignore stuff. It’s probably not the best way to “succeed” with one’s psyche intact. People are always, how the hell did you manage to do all that you managed to do in school? This was how. All of that–ALL OF THAT–was so much better than thinking about this.
  1. It made me closer to the friends in school I’d already made. Because I needed some safety. These close friends were almost all entirely male. This was not a coincidence.
  1. A ton more people have been raped/subject to sexual violence than most people would think. That is, since telling this story privately, I’ve heard stories of “whoa, XYZ happened to me, too.” These figures are seriously underreported. We just don’t like/feel comfortable talking about this stuff. I know I didn’t/don’t.
  1. I became more cautious and fearful of stuff than I’d been before that. (See, e.g., PTSD comment above.) Thank goodness I am mostly over that now.
  1. I had my first instance of really really wanting someone dead, and I didn’t like that about myself. I mean, it was to the extent that when 9/11 happened, one of my first thoughts was “I HOPE SHE’S IN THERE I SO HOPE SHE’S IN THERE.” I don’t want to be that person. I didn’t want to be that person. I am better now.
  1. It really undermined my confidence. Holy shit did it do that. Because I was no longer the invincible me I thought I was. I was VULNERABLE. It took me awhile to get back to me again. I’m glad I’m me again.

Other observations:

  1. Rape does feel worse than other violent crimes, I think. There is some weird intrusive body thing that makes it especially awful, though to what extent our culture exacerbates that, I do not know. But here’s this. Two people have attempted to mug me–once unsuccessfully (I resisted), once successfully (at gunpoint). Neither experience was nearly as bad (because hey, I can COMPARE DIRECTLY). When people are all, “oh rape has to be violent for it to be Real” they are so fucking wrong. Violence is really not so bad compared to this weird integral thing.
  1. The aftermath in the “conventional feminist” community really sucked. That is, so much of the discourse is about males as the perpetrators of sexual violence, and I get that, that’s statistically the case. But that excludes other people, and makes them feel even more alone than before. So so isolated and alone. I remember going to feminist conferences and just getting mad and angry and also just *shaken*–in a mental trauma kind of way–by how rape was *only* talked about as a thing that men do to women. I don’t want anyone to feel that way. That said, the intersectional/glbtq community is much more understanding.
  1. Professors who pay attention to the emotional life of their students really rock. I would’ve probably continued ignoring stuff had it not been for one of my mentors. There was this event he had organized that touched upon my own experiences, and during that event, I couldn’t breathe and ran out of the room crying. He came after me, and talked to me, and was all, you know, you should consider therapy. To this day, I am thankful for him, because I don’t know that I’d be anywhere near where I’m at now without his intervention. I hope to be able to be there for other students the way he was there for me.
  1. I seriously am better now. It’s been well over 15 years. Please do not send me notes of condolences. I waited till I was back to being fully “me” again to write this.
  1. It pisses me off when people write as if those talking about their rape experiences are trying to get some sort of cred for writing about it. Seriously, it took me 17 years to manage to write a public-ish post about it. Everything weighs against disclosing it. There’s no big plus side except hoping to make others who have gone through stuff like this feel less alone.

19. The first time it happened, it was with my boyfriend of three and a half years. After downing some vodka with friends and consoling future roommate who had almost cheated on her boyfriend, we were finally alone. He hadn’t eaten all day, but only drank a vodka red bull and the majority of a bottle of Jameson. Alone in my apartment, we headed to my room. What began as a consensual affair quickly turned violent. Things were happening faster and more painfully than I was comfortable with, so I told him to stop. Whether he didn’t hear me or didn’t want to was unclear, and despite my begging and crying, he didn’t stop. When it was over, I rolled to my side, traumatized and sobbing, as he passed out.

A few hours later, he threw up everything in his system, to the dismay of my roommates, and we went to his apartment. Hungry and upset, I tried to talk to him about what happened, but it was pointless. It was all a blur to him, and although he was sorry, it wasn’t as big of a deal as I had made it out to be. We went to sleep in the same bed, not touching, and I knew that a part of me had died inside.

In the resulting days, I discovered my blood-stained sheets (which he said I must be exaggerating, but never saw) and a new sense of emptiness I had never felt before. He was my best friend and boyfriend, he informed me, so who would I talk to about it? I didn’t even have the words to describe it. We had drunken sex before, so it was basically the same thing. Trapped in an emotionally, psychologically, and now sexually unhealthy and detrimental relationship, I began to hide inside myself.

The resulting summer was a blur of hatred–for myself, for him, and for what was to come. I buried my unhappiness in alcohol, experimenting with smoking pot, and letting my boyfriend further degrade, disrespect, and abuse me.

When, at the beginning of my semester abroad, he revealed a complex and devastating lie that he hid from everyone including me and his parents, I finally ended it. Little did I know that my troubles were not ending, but about to explode.

Suddenly, my newly ex-boyfriend said everything I had always wanted in an effort to win me back. Surrounded by supportive friends and family, they convinced me to keep myself detached, although it was difficult at first. It came to a head when I met a new guy at a music festival with friends, who subsequently tried to make me feel comfortable through his words while physically pressuring me. It was oddly familiar, and we seemed to connect instantly. By the middle of the following week, we had already started dating.

What followed wasn’t pretty–a confrontation with my ex that threw me into a sobbing fit, him insulting me more than he ever had, me running to my best friends from home in tears. With an abrupt severing of the ties from him, I felt lost. My host mom was distant and uninterested in getting to know me, so the attention from this new guy felt nice. I jumped in head first.

In the resulting dates, a similar pattern emerged of too much alcohol, pressure to do things that I wasn’t comfortable with, and words that made me feel wanted and cared for. When we went back to his apartment one night, he showered me with compliments, and we started to do what felt familiar…until he began to do things I didn’t want. I asked him what he was doing, but as had happened with a previous situation with him, he began without my permission. After my protests of discomfort and pain, he told me, “You can scream as loud as you want to.” Needless to say, my screams went unnoticed by neighbors in his building. When it was over, I was again paralyzed. And like my ex, he told me he was sorry, that he cared for me, and that he didn’t mean to hurt me. The confused and empty feeling returned, and I stayed silent.

The relationship ended shortly thereafter in a haze of physical sickness and alarming symptoms, both psychological and physical. When talking to my best friend in my program about it, she calmly told me that it didn’t sound like a consensual experience. After taking that information in, I informed her that it had happened to me in a similar way, just five months before.

Being abroad, I needed to see a doctor, and was at a loss for what to do. Because I had mistakenly trusted the guy I was with, I asked him for help, which only led to a fight and the proclamation that I was crazy. So I went to my academic director. After lots of talk and crying, there was a string of missteps. The domestic office of my program was never told of what happened, I was never given access to their legal or psychologic services, and I was convinced that pursuing a case would be fruitless anyway. My director didn’t know the legal process, or if this even qualified as assault, plus he was wealthy and there was no real evidence. So I told my parents, went to a doctor who mistakenly diagnosed me with an STD, and began seeing a male psychologist who told me that my experiences did not count and were my fault. Needless to say, it was a miserable and painful two months until I came home.

Thankfully, I had roommates and friends who were supportive, who helped me to have good times despite the tears and nightmares. I had a former internship supervisor who helped me with some resources about sexual violence. Unfortunately, after speaking with the Title IX coordinator at my school, she told me that I could report the incident with my ex (which occurred on campus) but that they couldn’t proceed with any type of trial or consequences unless he was readmitted as a student, since he had failed out. I felt powerless, knowing that the legal and judicial services that were supposed to serve me were unable to offer any help. But I had a lot of people who had experienced similar assaults before, both friends and new acquaintances whom I met after I started talking about what happened to me. They guided me through, helping me feel sane and less alone.

When talking about sexual assault to people who have not experienced it, it is extremely difficult for them to grasp. The flashbacks, the PTSD, the words and situations that trigger you. That many girls and women are hurt in the deepest way by those that they are told love them, care for them, believe in them. There is not a right or wrong way to deal with it, because in my experience it’s all been a mess. But also led to a new and healthier chapter of my life.

When I started dating my ex, I was in the midst of an eating disorder, struggling with the drama of high school girls and senior year. The way that he talked to me, I felt cared for in a way that I craved. The messages that I was receiving from others around me made me feel unwanted, unspecial, and like I otherwise didn’t matter. When other sources of encouragement and self-worth felt inconsistent, he was always there. Always acting in ways that hurt me, he constantly apologized while making me feel that I was in the wrong. Due to his depression, anxiety, and lack of friends, I was the only person he cared about–even though I was the last that he seemed to respect or prioritize.

Constantly bombarded with messages from the media and my friends who knew him, I felt like I was doing what I was supposed to. So what if he hurt me? It was my own fault for expecting him to be there for me, to make me feel better, or to comfort me when his problems were clearly more important.

Finally, after almost four years, I felt that I had broken out of his spell. But three weeks later, I fell right into the arms of his older, foreign twin. The patterns of inflicting abuse and then speaking lovingly felt so natural to me that I once again accepted this man’s lies as care, fooling myself into believing that I was just crazy not to be happy in such an environment. Until it all came crashing down, and with the support of a few amazing friends, I started to find my way out.

When I began telling people what had happened in both situations, there was a mix of reactions. My academic director doubted me the whole time, refusing to give me help that she was trained to give me and instead throwing me into extremely triggering situations, only later wondering if I was affected. My mother told me that this was the result of premarital sexual activity, of rushing into things too quickly, and that I needed professional help because she could not adequately address what was going on. My father was supportive, but generally silent–his biggest fears and worst nightmares were realized, creating a whole new wave of his own stress and anxiety that was difficult for him to verbalize. My sister avoided the topic, and generally pretended nothing happened–it was too much for her to handle.

Once I got back home, waves of panic attacks ensued. My parents didn’t know what to do, and told me to “stop thinking about it.” My hometown friends were extremely supportive, but I was at a loss for any way out of the waking terror that I experienced.

Going back to school became another challenge–faced with a service trip to New Orleans with people in my scholarship program and returning to the same city where the first assault occurred less than a year before, I was at a loss. I made it through the trip until the last night, where anxiety and too much alcohol led to a panic attack, vomiting, and the result of all of the people I was intimidated by and uncomfortable with in the program talking about what had happened to me.

Back at school, I faced my ex, who lived down the street, as well as an extremely unsupportive roommate who tended to make matters worse and a couple professors who refused to be accommodating to my psychological challenges. The semester became a blur of support, hurt, group therapy, individual therapy at with two separate people, endless doctors appointments and mental breakdowns. I don’t think I have ever spent more time in bed or crying in my life, but it helped me to figure out who my true supports were.

Despite it all, I made it through and graduated, a feat that both exhausted and scared me. I began to spend more time with the friends who were there for me, cutting out toxic relationships and situations. I started to manage my anxiety, depression, and PTSD in ways that put myself first and allowed me to heal. I talked to my ex about that night last year, one that he had supposedly blacked out for, and explained the trauma that resulted from that and the incident abroad. I contacted the student affairs office from my abroad program and told them about my situation, which they informed me they had never been aware of. (Thankfully, the academic director on my program had already been fired.) And although it hasn’t been perfect, I’ve begun to move forward. With a new job in a new place, I have been filling my time with true friends, my family, the career of my dreams, plenty of outdoor/physical activity, and a lot of feminist movies, books, and television shows that remind me I’m not alone. Once in a while, I begin to feel panicked or triggered, and it’s difficult. But I finally feel free from obligation to the two men who hurt me and the trauma they caused, as well as anyone who stands in the way of my health and happiness. Although it is a struggle to remind myself who I am and what I need to thrive, I’m starting to do it. And by confronting the thing that terrified me the most with the people who truly support and care about me, I am finally fearless. On to a healthier, more confident life that is only defined by me.

20. I was raped on my 14th birthday by a nearly 40 year old man named Eric, who was the father of two young girls. My friend Ashley regularly babysat for Eric’s daughters when he worked the overnight shift at the casino in Nekoosa, WI, but this night she already had other plans, so she asked me if I would like to make some money. I asked my dad if I could take the babysitting job, and he approved, requiring only the telephone number and address of the residence in which I would be working.

The night went by quickly and without any problems, and at about 6:30 a.m. I awoke on the couch to Eric returning home. As we discussed how the night had gone with the girls, he took his shirt off and put a Nirvana CD on. He told me the album we were listening to was very exclusive and that he was friends with a band member. He offered me a cigarette, and although I had only ever tried a puff here or there with friends in parks, I accepted. I wanted to impress him.

When he asked me if I was a virgin, I lied and said I had had sex a couple times before. He grabbed me by the hand and led me into his bedroom, where he undressed me and took his clothes off. It hurt when he entered me, and yet I tried to mimic the women I had seen in porn before, thrusting my hips and smiling. He told me to stop moving.

He finished, and handed me my clothes. I got dressed and joined him in the living room to listen to music and smoke another cigarette. He asked if I knew much about the Chicago mafia; I lied and said I did. He told me that he had a lot of family in the mafia, and that if I ever told anyone about what we had just done, his cousins were going to come to my house and break my legs. I laughed as though it were some sort of joke, and he looked at me severely, and told me that everyone in my family would suffer if I ever uttered a word about what we did.

Even at the age of 14, I knew this was a lie, and yet I didn’t tell anyone about it for years. I have still never told anyone in my family what happened to me. In fact, when I rode my bike home that day to celebrate my 14th birthday with my family, I pretended I was crying because I missed my mother whom I had not seen in several years. I didn’t tell my dad because I thought I was partly to blame; I thought that if I hadn’t lied to impress this guy, then this never would have happened. I knew my dad would be furious, and that he would probably yell at me. I knew he wouldn’t trust me again. And I knew from other girls at school that doing what I did made me a slut. I kept my secret buried for a very long time.

21. The Understanding I Never Wanted

It will never happen to me. That’s what I used to tell myself. I was a victim advocate working for several counties in Wisconsin supporting survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. My job was to care for people in crisis over the phone, hold hands at the hospital during Sexual Assault Nurse Examinations, assist survivors with navigating the legal system, provide support on campus, and welcome people with loving arms at the domestic violence shelter. I also was a community educator at a University of Wisconsin school planning events and educating the campus community on consent, sexual assault, domestic violence, ways to support loved ones who experience violence, and available support resources that existed. Taking control over someone else’s body was one of the most dehumanizing acts I could imagine, but in these positions, I had opportunities to empower survivors to regain their power, provide hope and support during moments when hope may be hard to find, ensure survivors did not feel alone in their experiences, and ultimately educate the community on ways to prevent violence. I loved my jobs, and I was driven to make sure people knew that no one should have to navigate the aftermath of violence alone. I never thought I was going to need the services I was offering, but I guess no one ever plans on becoming a victim of rape.

Knowing the red flags of potentially dangerous situations was part of my job. I routinely followed all the absurd, victim blaming rules our society had implemented even though I thought they were ridiculous and often criticized their purpose and validity during my community presentations. I tried to not walk anywhere alone at night; my drink never left my hand; I carried flip flops with me to the bar; I looked in the backseat of my car before I got into it; I carried my keys between my fingers when I had to walk alone for self-defense; I used the buddy system; I crossed the street when there was a man walking towards me if I was by myself; and I told my friends where I was going with first dates, what their names were, and what time my friends should start getting concerned if I hadn’t contacted them. I did everything I thought I could do to keep myself safe, or at least I did everything we are told we should be doing as women to ensure our safety. But all of these precautionary steps ultimately didn’t matter because the only way to completely prevent rape is not to rape anyone. Yes, it’s that simple…

My rapist was a date, a date my mother set me up with (And no, I do not blame her. The only person who I hold responsible for my assault is the man who decided to violate me). Our first date was, and still continues to be, the most incredible first date I have ever had. My cheeks hurt from smiling and laughing for three hours straight from the amazing conversations we had over dinner. I was 21 at the time, and up until that point in my life I had only ever kissed two men. I genuinely thought the fireworks analogy the movies referenced when two people kissed was a bunch of bullshit that Hollywood made up to make love more appealing. And then my date kissed me.

**Cue fireworks, butterflies, and excitement like I had never experienced before from a kiss.**

After our date ended, I think I smiled, giggled, and glowed constantly until the next time I saw him two days later for our second date. For people who personally know me, this is not a normal response for me. In fact, I tended to be on the far other end of the spectrum experiencing much ambivalence about dating in general at that point in my life. I was saving myself for marriage and did not have much dating experience at all. But this guy was charming, very charming. I was falling faster and harder than I had ever fallen before.

The day of our second date arrived. Since he had already met my mother, we met at my parents’ house. My sister begged us to go out with her and her friends; however, these particular friends are rarely welcoming to people who are different than they are. I advocated for us to go elsewhere so my date did not have to deal with ignorant comments and attitudes. He explained he wanted “to prove them wrong” so he requested to go out with my sister and her friends. That night my date surprised me and sang several karaoke songs. Wow, what an incredible, smooth voice! He had everyone in the bar swooning over him. Even my sister’s ignorant friends loved him and repeatedly told me how lucky I was to be with him. What a perfect reflection of his ability to charm.

Throughout the night I had been drinking. At that point in my life, being an overly nice Midwestern girl who could effectively hold her alcohol, I drank whatever my date drank. He was drinking Patron and Watermelon Vodka straight on the rocks. Retrospectively thinking about it, my pint glass was never empty. The bartender continuously made sure it was full. I’m not sure if my date paid him off, but I know I never reached the bottom of my glass. If I had to guess, I probably drank 4-5 pint glasses of straight, hard alcohol within two and a half hours, but I was not actively paying attention to that throughout the evening. I also did not notice that he had stopped drinking early in the night. Just before 1am, my date asked me to leave the bar to make it back to my parents’ before bar close so that there would be less police presence on the road.

I was starting to feel my intoxication more and more, but I was still very coherent. I would assess my felt level of intoxication as a strong buzz at this point. When we got into the car he had a smirk on his face. I asked him what he was smirking about. He started giggling and expressed that my mother had told him something funny about me, but he didn’t believe it. He proceeded to explain that my mother had told him I was a virgin, but in his words “there’s no way that could be true.” When I asked why it could not be true, he stated, “because you are way too beautiful.” I asked him how those two things were correlated. He just laughed and kept telling me that there is no way I could be a virgin. Annoyed at this point (both at his ignorance and at my mother’s decision to disclose that information to a someone she had just met), I just said, “okay” and tried to drop it. But he kept badgering me about it for the entire 45 minute drive back to my parents’ house. He was in utter disbelief that “someone as beautiful as [I am] could be a virgin.”

When we pulled into the driveway we kissed goodnight. While we were kissing, his hands kept sliding to places on my body that were not welcome. When this would happen, I would stop kissing him and lay out very strict boundaries about where his hands were welcome. Repeatedly his hands would slide down past my stomach and I would redirect him. Eventually, after about the fourth time, I explained that if he could not respect the boundaries we could end our date at that point. We kissed for a little while longer. I said goodnight, and he asked if he could come inside. I laughed and said no. I explained that this was my parents’ house and nothing was going to happen anyway. He started guilt tripping me with questions and statements like “Really?” “Now it’s close to bar close. I don’t want to get pulled over.” “I’m tired and have about a half hour drive home. Can’t I just stay here?” And there were (empty) promises, like “I promise nothing will happen.” I maintained my decision to not allow him to sleep at my parents’ house. He eventually expressed understanding and asked if he could walk me up to the door. Again, the polite, Midwestern girl responses kicked in so I said, “Fine.” When we got to the door, he sweetly kissed me goodnight. I said goodnight as well. Then the guilt tripping began again. Finally I gave in. I reiterated that nothing was going to happen. In fact, he would be sleeping on the couch upstairs and I would be in my bedroom downstairs. He agreed and he promised he would be gone before my parents awoke because he had to get up early to leave for work.

When we went inside, I got him set up on the couch with blankets and a pillow for the evening. I sat down next to him and he began kissing me. He leaned me back, and I attempted to sit back up but he assured me that it was okay. As each minute passed, I was becoming more and more intoxicated and my responses were slowing. I was losing physical strength, and my verbal no’s were being ignored. I fought him for a while, but the harder I resisted, the more physically restraining he became. Eventually, my body froze. I stopped fighting, and as much as I tried to will my body into resisting, it wouldn’t move. I had lost all control. The first thing he stated after I froze was, “I need to see if you really are a virgin. I still don’t believe you.” That was the beginning of almost three hours of different forms of rape. The time dragged on and minutes felt like hours. Eventually I checked out and dissociated. I remember seeing my face and watching the rape happen. Intermittently I would feel various physical sensations, my very first orgasms, and pain; however, for most of the rape, I was alternating between observing what was going on and mentally sunbathing on my favorite beach in beach in Costa Rica. The whole time my parents were sleeping ten feet away on the other side of the wall. I tried to keep quiet, as I didn’t want them to wake up and see what was happening. I was already feeling so much shame. And yet, there was a part of me that was hoping that my dad would walk to the fridge half asleep for a mid-night snack just so that it would end. I didn’t want my dad to see what was happening, but I figured if he was asleep enough, he wouldn’t realize what was happening and his presence would make my date stop. I just wanted it all to stop.

When my date finished I pulled myself into the fetal position and sat up. My body was uncontrollably shaking. My date crawled over to me and put his hand on my leg. I flinched. He soothingly said, “Baby, why are you shaking? I did this because I love you. I did this to make you happy.” The next few minutes are a blur. I’m not even sure I responded. The next thing I remember is walking down to my bedroom in a haze. I looked at the clock: 4:47am. I laid down and used his words to justify his actions. He didn’t mean to hurt me. He loved me. Maybe I didn’t say no enough. Was I giving off the wrong signals? Maybe sex is more expected in your 20’s. I stopped fighting early on. If I really didn’t want it, wouldn’t I have fought harder? Maybe I did want it. I made myself believe what had just happened was okay, and I went to sleep.

At 6:55am my alarm went off to wake him up so that he could leave for work. As I was walking him to the front door he had the same smirk on his face as was plastered on his mouth the night before. Again, I asked him what he was smirking about. He replied, “Do you even remember what happened last night?” I was infuriated by his question and curtly responded, “Yes, and if for one second you thought I may not remember, you had no right to do what you did.” The smirk very rapidly disappeared from his face. All he said was, “Oh.” He then kissed me on the cheek, and quickly walked out the door explaining that he would see me later that weekend.

I would really like to be able to say that moment was the last time I saw him, but I can’t. After he left, I cried all day. I am not a crier, ever. When my mom asked me what was going on, I told her I was scared that things were moving “too fast” with this guy. There was no way I was going to tell her what had happened the night before. I felt dirty and disgusting, and I was supposed to be saving myself for marriage. I had convinced myself it was just sex at that point and was telling myself I didn’t assert myself enough for him to know that I did not want it. It was my fault. He loved me. And yet, I still cried all day for some “unknown reason.”

I was so good at convincing myself that it was just sex that I went on another date with him. This time I did not drink anything; we went bowling. At the end of our date, he again guilt tripped me telling me that he drove an hour to see me so he should get to spend more time with me. I had a paper due the next day and told him that. He convinced me to let him come up to my dorm room to “just watch one movie.” Watching the movie lasted about ten minutes before he started kissing me which escalated quickly. Initially I froze again, my boundaries were ignored, and he started assaulting me. I was so frustrated with myself. At that time, I could bench press 150 lbs, but my body wouldn’t move to assert my boundaries. Then it connected with me that I was not intoxicated and would have more strength then I did last time. I pushed him off of me onto the floor and asked if he had a hearing problem.

He left after the movie. Because I lived in a residence hall, he was still my responsibility until he was out of the building, so I had to walk him out. All the way down the nine floors it took us to get to the ground floor, I told him all about what I did for a living and how many connections I had in the community in law enforcement, the DA’s office, and county response agencies. He was planning for me to spend the night at his place the upcoming Friday, and I was anticipating something bad was going to happen if I went. I still was not identifying anything that had previously happened as assault.

I went inside and showered. Then I wrote my paper.

I ended the “dating relationship” the next day. After 11 phone calls, 2 voicemails, and about 25 text messages following our conversation explaining I will not be dating him anymore, I had to explain that if he contacted me again, I would file a restraining order. He left me one more voicemail and attempted to contact me one more time the following week via text, but then he left me alone.

I went on with my daily routine of going to work and classes. I continued responding to the hospital to support survivors of sexual violence and answering crisis calls while continuing to deny my own experience.  That lasted two weeks until I was standing in line to get food at the University’s cafeteria and a guy wearing the same cologne my date was wearing during both dates walked past me. The sensory stimulation threw me into a flashback. I’m not sure how long I was in the flashback, but I was definitely not oriented to the cafeteria at all during that time. Working in the field, I knew exactly what that was. I knew I had to deal with whatever it was if I wanted to continue working in the field.

I walked upstairs and paced around the study lounge trying to figure out what I could do. My available resources both on campus and in the community were coworkers. I also worked with victim advocates in the county next to me and in both counties above me. I was still experiencing some denial as well. I deeply did not want to believe that I was assaulted. And yet, I couldn’t justify the presence of flashbacks if it was just sex. I needed someone else to define it for me, so I called a rape crisis hotline in a county where I did not think I knew anyone who would be answering the other line.

When the advocate answered the phone, I explained I needed her to define an experience for me. She listened intently to my scattered babbling and attempts to justify that he loved me or that I wasn’t assertive enough, and responded with “Oh honey. That’s rape.” It was solely a confirmation call. There was a part of me that knew that what happened was not okay, but so much of me didn’t want to believe it. My heart sank, my shoulders dropped, I started giggling (that’s what I do when I am anxious), I responded with an expletive, and I genuinely thanked her for listening and assisting me with defining what happened. She then asked me where I was calling from. I told her. She started telling me about what options I had for emotional support, legal response, and overall health. I thanked her and explained that I am familiar with the options because I am a victim advocate for the county I live in. Through nervous laughter, I described that I am the resource. Her response became more concerned and she explained that she and the rest of her team would be there to support me in whatever ways they could whenever I needed it. She asked if she could write down my name so that she could update the rest of her team on my story so they would be familiar with my situation if I were to call back. I thanked her for her care, and I gave her permission to write down my first time.

We hung up. Then I went to class. I never called her back.

I was trained in sexual violence response. I educated others on consent and assisted others in understanding the definition of sexual assault. Yet, the power of denial overtook everything I logically knew. I deeply did not want it to be true that I could be a victim of the violence I advocated against so wholeheartedly on a daily basis. I was afraid of what being a victim meant for my current jobs, my career, and the way people would perceive me. And having to admit that I was raped shook my sense of safety to my core.

I pushed off being screened for STDs, HIV, and pregnancy until I had a pregnancy scare two months later. My very first annual exam ever followed my assault. Let’s just say that it was less than pleasant, and the test results were less than perfect.

I also chose not to report or pursue legal options. Yes, I worked in the field, and I chose not to report. I knew the system, and I was confident my case would not go anywhere. I watched the legal system routinely tear survivors apart, especially survivors that had experienced date rape. Plus, I would have to report to police officers I worked with on a daily basis, and a DA I had very little respect for would be determining whether or not to try my case. I also would have to report in two separate counties and if I chose to report to the University, I would be reporting to people I worked with. I saw the way some of the officers and other professionals looked at victims in the aftermath of their assaults. I did not want their pity, and I was so afraid they would question my ability to do my job effectively without bias. As much as it kills me to say this, and as much as this should not be true, I was afraid I would be discredited professionally because I was victimized. Even though it may not make sense to an outsider that I would care, there also was a part of me that did not want to get my rapist in trouble. He had a five year old daughter who would also be affected by his decisions if anything happened to him. Making this decision not to report tore me apart. I felt like a hypocrite. I did not want to be another statistic who was silenced. I did not want to put other women at risk of being violated by him. I also was selfishly concerned about the way this could affect my career and realistic about the minimal chances of anything productive happening legally if I chose to report. I knew I had issues with the system I worked within, but this was a true wake up call for me about how much I did not trust the system as it was set up. This fueled my passion to improve this system and become more engaged in community-wide advocacy.

I am a victim advocate that became a survivor. I educated others on sexual violence, consent, trauma responses, and healthy relationships. I supported survivors in the aftermath of violence. But when it came down to my personal experience, what I cognitively knew didn’t matter. My body responded the way it needed to respond to survive and process the experience, and I was just as prone to being victimized as other people in my community. No matter what I understood about sexual violence and trauma, my body exhibited the exact same common trauma responses that I supported other survivors through. And no matter what I tried, I could not rationalize myself out of these responses. As much as I blamed myself in the aftermath of my assault, especially with the confusing (and common) experience of freezing, since I’m still here, my body was successful at keeping me as safe as possible given the circumstances. I understand if I would have continued fighting, the situation may have gotten worse. As much as I hated my response in the moment and in the days, weeks, and months following my assault, my body took over when I couldn’t protect myself to help me survive.

Being victimized provided me with an understanding of sexual violence I never wanted. That understanding has been challenging to work through. There are days and moments that are more difficult than others, and physical intimacy continues to present challenges for me at times. At first I was pretty resistant to being vulnerable in therapy. However, I was eventually blessed with an amazing therapist who helped me process the things I could not process on my own. She made me feel safe and assured me through her actions and responses that she could hold what I had to share. The healing power of human connection, validation, and processing is incredible.

As much as I would never wish sexual violation on anyone, my experience has provided me with an understanding I never could have learned from a book or a class. I have developed an ability to support survivors at a deeper level and identify thought processes and feelings that would have been hard to understand or explain without experiencing violence first hand. When people ask me what I do or comment on how challenging working in this field must be, I frequently explain that I see some of  the most horrific aspects of human life, but I also get to see some of the most beautiful, resilient aspects of human life simultaneously. Being raped gave me an understanding I never wanted, and it also showed me how powerful community and human connection can be. My experience both personally and professionally has repeatedly proven to me that none of us ever have to walk our journeys alone which helps provide me with comfort and hope, even amidst pain and struggle.

22.  Freshman year, a group of us, five to be exact, went to the coolest frat on campus. We were amazed when they offered us cups of Wop (jungle juice) instead of the crappy keg beer. That was usually reserved for girlfriends/brothers/sorority sisters. We dutifully obliged and took our cups of very potent red liquor. After some time, two of my friends went home because it was getting late. The rest of us stayed behind because one of our friends was acting very much out of character and very sloppy drunk. She could barely stand up right and was being propped up by a fraternity brother. We went up to him as the party was winding down to say we would take her back to our dorm when we got cornered by three other brothers. It was now 4 upper classmen versus two freshmen girls and our friend who was completely incoherent. We adamantly said we were not going to leave her alone with them at the frat house. They continued to tell us they would watch out for her and make sure nothing happened to her, we had made a promise at the beginning of the year that we would never leave a friend behind. My friend and I were sticking by that.

At this point two other friends had shown up and were now making it known we had no intention of leaving our floor mate behind at a skeezy fraternity. This is when this went from sketchy to flat out shady. The frat brothers flipped it on the four of us. They told us if we walked into our dorm with our friend that inebriated, the public safety officer would write us up and we would face the housing board for violating under age drinking regulations. We didn’t know any better and were terrified of facing disciplinary action, so we decided to not leave her and much to their dismay asked to sleep at the house in a room with her. The showed us to a room with one mattress on the floor with no sheets, which we gave to our sick friend. The rest of us piled in to the cramped space and found ways to curl up and get some sleep, albeit we slept in shifts so as to make sure nothing happened to anyone.

When we woke up the next morning, earlier than anyone’s every woken up ever, we realized we were in a room that was filled with crates and crates of pornography. It was literally filling the room from floor to ceiling. I honestly don’t know how the five of us fit in there. We gradually woke our friend, she was still out of it, but better, and walked the 4 blocks home. It wasn’t technically a walk of shame but it felt dirty and sordid nonetheless. We looked around the frat in the morning light and it was even more dirty that one could imagine. Our friend was sick for the rest of the weekend and several days after, it was at that point she realized she had been slipped something. She has no recollection of the evening whatsoever. I still feel guilty for not realizing she had been slipped something. It honestly never even crossed my mind that something like that could happen to me or my friends. However, I am eternally grateful for our little pact amongst friends to never leave a girl behind. It ended up being the best idea we had as freshmen. That fraternity eventually lost its charter for actions very similar to what happened to my friend a couple years later. I guess the saying a leopard never changes its spots is true, and I will never cease to be amazed at the fact that they tried to blame us for letting her get drunk and allow her to go home to be safe.

23.  My roommate was friends with several of the Evans Scholars, they always bothered me but I let it go. One night, after going there for over a year, my roommate came home in tears because she was confused and not completely certain she understood what had just happened. Her friend, who was very blatant in his crush on her, but she was very clear in setting boundaries by explaining she had a boyfriend; had put his hand down her pants and up her shirt when she fell asleep on the couch watching a movie. He took her placing her head on his shoulder as an open invitation to molest her while unconscious. Clearly, this is not the case. It eventually was reported by my roommate to the university and they conducted an “investigation” that turned into the classic case of “he said/she said” and my friend had all of her former friends at the Evans house turn on her because their buddy was on the verge of losing his full ride scholarship. He never copped to it and never apologized. A year later at a party in our apartment building, he walked in and my roommate became an absolute mess. A crying, stuttering mess. I realized too late who had walked in and approached her, by the time he was within 15 feet I had managed to get her and our two other roommates out the door and I was in his face (my southside Irish temper flaring) and I unleashed the anger I had at him, at the university for covering a crime, at his buddies for their complacency, at the Evans House for ignoring a major issue, and a those who have to suffer in silence. Was it the most practical and effective method of dealing with things, no; but it felt like in my tiny way I was vindicating my roommate and for a tiny moment I saw a smile flash across her face in a long time.

24. I was a 19 years old, and rather naïve. I was a student at the local university. It was Friday night and I was going to party at a friend’s house like many college students do. I had just enough to drink to lower my inhibitions. I was introduced to him a few weeks before by a mutual friend and we had been spending some time together. It was no secret among our group of friends that he really liked me and his libido was off the charts.

As the evening drew to night he motioned me to the bedroom with head nod and a wink. Shy and not wanted to lose his attention I followed him to his bedroom. I’ll never forget his room was so messy that he laid a sleeping bad down on the floor. Junk was strewn about on each side of me, he pushed everything aside rather quickly to make room. I was nervous but at the same time I kind of liked the guy. Kissing and touching quickly evolved into my pants being pushed to my ankles. Things happened so quickly, next thing I knew my wrists were pinned to the ground by his massive hands. His broad muscular shoulders, and large biceps were pumped as he forced himself on me. It hurt, I was a virgin after all and completely unprepared for what was to come. I told him no. I said please no, no I don’t want to and he said I owed it to him. I remember laying there with tears rolling down my face as he thrust himself toward me in complete domination and pleasure.

I blacked the rest of it out, I simply can’t remember… Maybe I just don’t want to remember.

Did I owe him that? Was I a tease? Did I deserve what I got? That wasn’t rape, I was kind of into that guy so it doesn’t count right? Did I owe it to him? I should have known what I was getting into. I should have yelled no and kicked and screamed, it was my fault. It happened when people around so it can’t be rape. Or can it?

Shame and guilt entombed me in silence, and lead me down a troubled life path.

One word of advice to survivors, don’t let the silence destroy you. Speak up and absolve yourself of this burden, let the healing begin.

25When I was growing up, I assumed that my life was seemingly normal for a child growing up in a broken home. I was always caught in the middle of everything and everything that went wrong in someone’s life was automatically my fault (even though it wasn’t true, I believed it). Things changed significantly when I was 12 years of age. I cared for my father a lot when I was young because there was no rules when I was visiting him. As a kid, I really enjoyed the freedom. My cousin was staying over for the night because we grew up together so he was like a brother to me. I was on the computer and he was watching tv in the next room. I walked out of the computer room to get a drink and his pants were around his ankles on the couch and he was pleasing himself while watching cable porn. I told him to quit it and he did. I scolded him and told him that it was inappropriate and rude. I got a drink and then went back on the computer. I heard moaning noises so I walked back in there and he was doing it again. I yelled quite loudly but there was nobody there because my father is an alcoholic and was never home when I was visiting my father. I was really pissed off at him but I got over it.  He asked to use the computer to play some games so I said sure and I went into my bedroom to play some video games. After quite some time has passed he told me that I got a message on MSN Messenger and someone wanted to talk to me and he was done on the computer. I went into the computer room and started typing to my friend. I put my hands/arms on the armrests, and my hand was in something sticky. I got really pissed off instantly and screamed at him and threw up. I washed up and demanded that he cleaned it up. He did and everything went fine after that.

Several hours later, my father comes home in a drunken stupor, which was normal. He walked passed the fridge and thought that one of us was taking sips out of his liquor bottle. He was enraged and started beating me because it was “my fault.” After I was beaten he sat us both down and forced us to drink the entire bottle of Jim Beam Rye, both of us were 12 years old. We ended up finishing the bottle, just the two of us, and we were not in good shape. I just remember standing up and everything spinning. I flopped on the bed to go to sleep. I awoke shortly after that being thrusted forward at a set pace with someone behind me. I was in so much pain, and I couldn’t do anything at all. I was so drunk that I couldn’t move. I could only lay there suffering through this traumatic event. I tried to yell but I just threw up. My cousin punched me in the head several times as he continued. I was completely powerless and couldn’t do anything. He finally finished but the pain was far from over. I laid there unable to move, bleeding, and in an immense amount of pain. Already being suicidal for 6 years prior to this event, it was that much worse after that. I started cutting myself, I frequently contemplated suicide on a daily basis and stopped talking completely. I made several attempts to take my own life, to no prevail.

Fast forward a few months. This same cousin and I were spending the night at our grandparents house. I woke up in the middle of the night and was walking around trying to find a light, but was having trouble doing so. I had a really bad headache and I told my cousin about it because he was playing video games. He told me that he would go upstairs and get me some aspirin. He came back down and I took the “aspirin” and went back to sleep. We were sleeping down in the basement, because that is where the guest rooms were. We were sleeping in different rooms, because I remembered what happened the last time. I remember also locking the door. I woke up really sedated and again, not being able to move. I tried to yell to wake my grandparents up, but nothing was coming out. The same thrusting motion was happening from last time, and the pain was all too familiar. I just remember not being able to move, and hoping that it would be over any second, which seemed to last for days. He left the room and I could only lie there being unable to move, but being uncontrollably tired. I was up the rest of the night, in pain and bleeding. My grandma came downstairs several hours later and asked if I took any of the sleeping pills that were opened and left on the bathroom sink. I told her no. She then saw the blood and I told her that I accidentally punched myself in the nose and must have bled on the sheets/blankets. She dismissed it and life continued.

My life after that got increasing more difficult with the constant physical and mental abuse. Partner those two forms of abuse plus sexual abuse, with an already suicidal preteen. I started doing horribly in school, I hated myself more than anything, and everything seemed to be myself. Even the two rapes from my cousin, were my fault at the time. I did something that I shouldn’t have, and I “deserved” what happened because I was so trusting. I started getting in a lot of trouble and shortly after started smoking at 13 years old. I started talking but I was one of the most hateful people on the planet. I hated everyone and everything. I was miserable and treated everyone terribly. If I couldn’t trust family, who the hell could I trust?

Several years later I was turning 19 in a couple of months. My high school girlfriend and I just split up shortly before Valentine’s Day. A friend of mine invited me to an Anti-Valentine’s Day party at her place. I showed up to the party, and we were all drinking quite heavily and playing some party games. There were 5 of us at this party and I was on only straight male. There was a homosexual male, and 3 heterosexual females. (I apologize for putting labels on these people) Being the only straight male around this company I was targeted to drink anytime someone had the chance to make someone drink. I got really drunk really quickly. We decided it would be a really good idea to cut my hair at that exact moment. I was told by my female friend to go to the bathroom and we will cut my hair. I was sitting in there and the guy followed me in the bathroom. He started making advances towards me after locking the bathroom door. I tried to leave the room but he pinned me against the wall. He started kissing my neck, and he started touching me on top of my clothes. Being really drunk and sexually confused (because of my past experiences, sexually due to the rapes), I started kissing him back, and I kind of enjoyed the kissing part. He started to pull clothes off and I said no. He kept continuing and I said no again. He just said “Go with it.”

I pushed him into the bathtub and left the room. I went out to have a smoke, and a friend that was there, followed me out. She could tell that I was really mad, and she was trying to calm me down. I was trying to leave the party, but she took my keys and wouldn’t let me drive home. She convinced me to go back upstairs and try to enjoy the rest of the party. I didn’t tell her what happened. A few hours later, everyone fell asleep all over the apartment. I woke up and the guy was behind me trying to cuddle with me. I told him no and to leave me alone. I then went to the recliner and fell back asleep. I awoke awhile later to the guy performing oral sex on me while I slept. I pushed him off me again and told him that if he touches me again, I will hurt him. I pounded on my friends bedroom door because she had my keys. I ended up leaving and sleeping in the hallway of the complex because it was too cold to sleep outside and I was too far to walk home. My cell phone was dead, and nobody lived nearby. My friend woke up and found me outside. I asked if I could sleep on her bedroom floor and she said sure. I remained there for the remainder of the evening. I fell asleep awhile later. I awoke to the front door closing quite loudly, and shot up due to having a nightmare of my cousin. When I finally awoke, my friend was picking on me because the guy told her when he was leaving that him and I had a “great time and he would love to do it again.” I was furious that she would say that, but I never told her what happened, nor have I spoken to her since.

Since these three events have happened to me, my life has never been the same. I haven’t ever felt like “a man” because of what happened. I have been miserable since the first time it happened. I had no self respect, and no self worth. I never felt more worthless in my entire life. I tried for so many years to get over what happened by myself and to regain my lost “manlihood.” I decided to do the most brave, manly, respectably and socially tough things I could think of. I joined the Army. I kept my abuse silent and was dealing with the constant abdominal pains, suicidal thoughts, and violent rage by abusing alcohol. I conducted myself in this manner for several years and had a mental breakdown. I was sent into a psych ward for about 2 weeks. I was then sent to 7 different psychologists and psychiatrists, and I was diagnosed with PTSD, Severe Depression, Severe Anxiety with violent homicidal/suicidal tendencies, and an alcohol addition. I suffered with all of these things for many years, even prior to the military. I joined the service trying to prove to myself that I am still a “man.” “I am tough because I am in the Army. I am a man and just have to bury things and push them out. I will be okay. I will be fine, I am a soldier.”

I was not fine at all. I never spoke of anything that happened to me until about a year ago. I was struggling with my many “mental problems” and the subject of rape came up in one of my classes. We had a counselor come in and give us a list of tendencies/symptoms of rape survivors. I was reading through this list that we received and I broke down completely. I was completely out of my mind and couldn’t do anything but cry excessively. I told a completely random person, (my current and then counselor that spoke to us) what had happened, and after 13 years of hiding everything and keeping it buried, I felt like the world was finally off my shoulders. I was a mess for about a month after that but I have turned around completely since then. That was a year ago. I buried all those emotions, all those memories, all the hate, and beat myself up because if it. I finally realized that everything was not my fault. I am not to blame for what happened. There was no way to know that any of that could have happened. After talking to my counselor about this stuff, I talked to my professor as well, and those two have honestly saved my life. Since then, I have never felt better. Things have been slowly getting better. There are rough days, there are okay days, and there are some good days. Some of the bad days come in patches of weeks but they do pass. I have only told my counselor, my professor, and my significant other about any of this.

If you are carrying a secret such has being sexually assaulted/harassed or raped, please tell someone. Tell someone and get help for it. You are not alone, and it is not your fault. I believe you. I see you. I hear you. I accept you. Know that you are not alone. Know that there are people out there that care. Know that there are people out there that will listen to you. Know that there are people that believe you. You deserve to be happy. I love you. We are all here for you. YOU ARE NOT ALONE! Please, please, please, seek help. You do not have to take on the entire world by yourself. Stay strong!

26.  2002. In one of my college writing workshops, a man shared a rape story written from the perspective of a female victim. The narrative was overwrought but predictable, the language turgid, and we all squirmed during his critique. ‘I’m looking for the surprise, here,’ I said testily, thinking to myself that there is no rape story that’s not clichéd and vowing never to write about sexual assault in the first person, or from any other POV.

1997. I was seventeen years old and had gone to a high school party, the precise occasion of which I’ve forgotten, except that it was late fall and that we’d watched Halloween on VHS. Something dubiously orange, sweet, and astringently alcoholic was passed in big plastic cups, and everyone was over-served. Late in the night, I made my way to a back room to lie down. An acquaintance from the high school band had flopped on one end of the bed. ‘I’m going to sleep,’ I said. ‘Don’t let anyone else in here.’

Sometime later, I awoke to our host. He had partially undressed me and was smashing my face with his own. Hands between my legs, he ground me into the bed with his body. He’s a big guy, a wrestler, and someone I hardly knew. Pinned underneath him, I froze. ‘Why won’t you kiss me?’ he eventually asked. I couldn’t move or speak. He looked confused for a minute, and then he finally stopped, got off me, buttoned his jeans, and left the room.

‘Why didn’t you stop him?’ I whispered.

‘I thought you were into it,’ came the quiet voice from the other end of the bed.

I got up, straightened myself, and looked for some other place to crash. Full of people, this room. Everyone piled on sofas and the floor. I remember again waking to someone digitally penetrating me, and I remember thinking, ‘fuck it, then,’ before passing back out.

_______ and _______ raped me that night, witnessed by one other person at least. I ate breakfast with them the next morning and went home.

1997. I started abusing alcohol and drugs, got into an aggro punk/hardcore scene, and liberally damaged myself in all sorts of ways. I muddled through the rest of high school, managed to pull out a scholarship to my state’s flagship, and muddled through college.

2003. I enrolled in graduate school and very nearly attempted suicide.

2006. I began to experience frequent and severe panic attacks and eventually went into therapy, where I was diagnosed with general anxiety, depression, and PTSD.

2010. I left my partner of nine years, citing, among other grievances, a set of triggering sexual behaviors.

2010. I ended my therapy.

2011. A friend of mine in graduate school and I were out for the evening. As it got late, I decided to crash, as I’d done many times before, at his apartment. Again, I’d had quite a lot to drink, but I was also secure in my decision not to walk through the city alone at two a.m.

When I woke in the morning, he had pulled down my jeans and was entering me from behind. He climaxed immediately, and I stumbled ludicrously to the doorway, tripping over the pants around my ankles and hyperventilating. ‘I wasn’t awake,’ I said, or yelled, or cried, or mumbled.

_______ raped me. I told him so, and then I went home.

2015. These stories share much with one another and with many of the stories already posted here: guilt, shame, self-blame, suicidal ideation, substance abuse, PTSD, therapy, healing, repetition. My narrative also shares anonymity, a string of lacunae in the text where the names of three men should be. I wish that in the telling, I could fill those blanks, and that filling the blanks would heal the wounds these men left.

I know where these men are today, what they look like, where they work. That one of them is a financial consultant, one owns a bar in a no-name town, one sells high-end booze and writes fiction. I know that one of them recently got married, and I hope his wife is a strong woman. I know that one of them has four girls, and I hope that his girls will never know a guy a like their dad. I know that one of them has two boys, and I hope his boys don’t ever follow their father’s example.

2015. I don’t know whether my workshop peer’s story was his own or a friend’s or a fiction altogether. But in hindsight, I do know that, whatever the perspective, whatever the literal facts, speaking these stories is right. That no matter how similar the details of these experiences, one to another, it’s important to admit them, to own them, to share them. That rape narratives sound similar one to another because the systemic violence and inequity that make rape easy to perpetrate and hard to prosecute are so deeply embedded in our social structures. That ubiquity is never surprising.

27. Can rape be soft? Can rape be gentle?

I have asked myself these questions for five months since two nights in a row I was swallowed into the desires of two light-skin men, tired from their own insecurities, buzzed from beer and cocaine.

I say light-skin because for me, both rapes, which happened within 24 hours of each other had to do with my skin color, otherwise I wouldn’t have been called Black girl so many times that weekend. I wouldn’t have had my hair touched the way it was. Both rapes had everything to do with each other and identity and alcohol and drugs all nestled into a complicated thrust. But also if I’m being honest with myself, it had nothing to do with anything but power.

I’m a girl who loves power.

And for the first time in my life, I was completely and utterly powerless. For an entire weekend. And I was stunned because it happened at the beach in the midst of a full sky with stars and beautiful music, and all of these things were supposed to be safe for me and they were ruined. I was stunned because I could not say anything even though I pride myself on being eloquent, bilingual and assertive. And I was stunned because I’m an adult and I have been for years and I could not leave. There was nowhere to go.

When a really soft feeling of falling in love with a certain moment turned into a soft feeling of terrifying vulnerability, there was a certain flame of hope that died inside of me that made me realize none of us are really okay. It made me realize I wasn’t really okay. My relationship with my dad suffered after this happened. Actually my relationship with all men suffered and still suffers. My trust in people reached rock bottom. My hope in humanity is nonexistent.

The second boy who raped my was a beautifully strong and passionate activist. He loves plants and poetry. He used to feed me mangos while we sat in trees. I remember watching him snort cocaine off his arm at 4 am while I lied on on a hostel mattress without underwear. He was crying and kept apologizing and saying he didn’t know why he couldn’t stop crying. Boys don’t want to rape. No one does. No one likes fucking people up and fucking themselves up but it happens because we live in a capitalist hamster house that loves no one and exploits all labor- physical, intellectual, emotional until there is nothing left but a raw necessity of power.

Yes. I Suffer From Mental Health Issues. I’m Not Ashamed. You Shouldn’t be Either.


Yesterday, I woke up feeling overwhelmed, sad for absolutely no reason, and just wanted to stay in bed and cry all day.  I haven’t had an episode like this in quite a long time so it scared the absolute shit out of me.  I texted a few very good friends who know me well and who would know exactly what I needed to hear, I took my medication, and slowly, throughout the day, things got better.  I still felt exhausted.  I still felt sad.  I still felt anxious about being sad but today I’m better.  Rationally, my brain knew this would be temporary, but physiologically, I was already in that head space, and there was nothing I could do to “snap” out of it.

My old therapist used to call this “getting on the bus.”  She said to me, “Kelly, if you saw a bus being hijacked, would you choose to get on the bus?”  I said, “Of course not.  That seems really dangerous.”  She said, “then why do you keep choosing to get on that hijacked bus?”  And that’s what it feels like.  It feels like you’re on a hijacked bus and you can’t get off.  Over the years, I’ve learned how to “not get on the bus” with the help of a great support system and wonderful counselors, but sometimes, your body just REALLY wants to get on that bus, and once you’re on, you’re Sandra Bullock and Keanu isn’t going to save you or anyone.

The worst part about suffering from mental illness is that even though I know far more people who suffer from depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and other illnesses than don’t, no one wants to talk about it.  There is still such a stigma surrounding it.  It’s also difficult when you’re in a relationship with someone who doesn’t suffer from anxiety or depression to try and explain what it feels like to them.  I have a wonderful, caring partner, but his brain doesn’t work like mine.  He listens to me, cares for me, and does everything he can to try and “fix it” when I’m having one of my moments, but it’s all so irrational it’s almost impossible to explain.  I’m reminded of the scene from “Masters of Sex” when Virginia Johnson is trying to explain to Dr. Masters what an orgasm feels like:

Johnson:  “It’s like trying to describe salt to someone that’s never tasted salt.”
Masters: “I’ve tasted salt.”
Johnson: “Not the way I’ve tasted salt.”

Your partner may have felt sad before, anxious, worried, etc., but not in the same sorts of irrational ways you do.  So they can sympathize and be there, but unless they’ve gone through it, it’s exactly like explaining what salt tastes like to someone who’s never tasted salt.

I’ve probably suffered from anxiety and depression my entire life, but it didn’t manifest until graduate school.  I started having panic attacks so I finally went to see a psychiatrist because it was to the point where I wasn’t able to function normally.  I was afraid to go on medication.  Would it change my brain chemistry to the point where I can’t think like I used to?  Would it change my personality?  I’d heard horror stories of people turning into zombies, unable to feel.  I didn’t want that.  I’d seen a close family member drooling in a mental health facility because they’d put him on some cocktail of  meds to keep him from hurting himself.  I had every reason NOT to get the help I needed.

And I was ashamed and embarrassed.  I was ashamed that I couldn’t just “suck it up.”  But I went ahead and took medication anyway.  My anxiety subsided.  I was able to function.  No more panic attacks.  But even then, even though my life was remarkably better than it was before I began getting help, I had people in my life questioning my decision to get on medication.  I was told to “just run it off.  Exercise more and that will cure you.”  I was told that “maybe this will only be temporary and you won’t have to be on this medication forever.”  On days when I just didn’t want to get out of bed, the answer was, “Well, just get out of bed.  Get some sunshine.  That’ll do it!” I felt as though I was doing something wrong.  I was “giving into” taking pills to solve my problems and being shamed for it.  I felt weak.  I felt horrible.  And at that time, I didn’t know others who struggled, too, so I felt very alone.  That didn’t help things.

My point in writing all of this is that though there are many articles on destigmatizing mental health issues and illnesses, I live in a world where I have friends who still feel as though they cannot discuss this openly, who live with their deep dark secrets for fear of being judged.  We don’t treat mental illness the same way we treat other illnesses.  If I had a heart condition and was told to take medication for it, no one would judge me whatsoever.  In fact, they’d be grateful I was being treated.  But not so with mental health.

On paper, my life seems pretty perfect.  I have a wonderful partner who loves me (even on days like yesterday), I have a good job, I can pay my bills, I have a great support system of family and friends, and I consider myself successful in my career.  This doesn’t mean that some days, I’m going to cry for no good reason at all.  That my lovely friend, depression, isn’t going to just decide to wake up and say, “hey, I’m going to make you feel awful all day and there is nothing you can do about it.”  That my anxiety will manifest into OCD and I won’t be able to sleep unless I meet a deadline or disinfect the tops of every soap dispenser in my apartment.

So much of what I struggle with is irrational.  Being on medication helps me see the irrationality.  It helps me choose to not “get on the bus.”  Not always, but most days.  Being on medication helps the logical side of my brain kick in and understand what is happening to my body.

I see too many people in my life either not getting the help they need (in whatever form that takes), or feeling like struggling with mental illness is still something we should all be ashamed of.  It isn’t a matter of strength or weakness.  It isn’t a matter of “praying away” the horrible sadness and anxiousness.  Sometimes, you just need to get help.  Sometimes that may involve medication; other times not.  But in the end, can we please stop shaming those who do suffer from mental illness?  Can we please look at this like the disease it is and talk about it openly instead of suffering in silence?  Can we please stop telling people that just “jogging it off” will cure what’s going on inside their heads?  I exercise.  I eat well.  I take care of my body, and yes, all of those things are great habits to get into.  But they don’t cure my depression and anxiety–at least for me and my brain.  Do they help?  Absolutely.  But I could jog 24 hours a day every day for the rest of my life and some days, I’m just going to feel miserable, or on edge, or like the world is just too much.  And that’s ok.  If you have felt like that–that’s ok.

So to all the people in my life who supported me yesterday, who have been there for me on the worst days, and who have listened without judgment, I would not be where I am without you.  To all who recognize or struggle with mental illness, I’m with you.  I hear you.  It is unbearable but having people in your life who love you and support you help.  And if you find yourself surrounded by those who don’t, who don’t try to even understand what it’s like to spend one day in your body and in your head, it’s time to cut ties.  Let’s stop the shaming and admit far more of us live lives that aren’t perfect in any way shape or form–and that’s ok.  We need to stop being embarrassed or ashamed of what we perceive as failures due to our brain chemistry.  We’re not “less than.”  Our brains just function differently.  And there is no shame–nor should there be–in difference.

The 2015 Official UW-System Faculty Exodus Update Part 3: The “ Why Everyone’s Leaving” Edition

More thoughts on the why educators want to leave their professions:


I quit teaching2 for real

The other morning I opened my email, as I do every morning, to find this lovely message:

“I saw online that you are leaving UW because of working conditions. I had a look at your ‘areas of expertise’ and I have to say I am delighted you are leaving. People with your ‘areas of expertise’ are like roaches, destroying what used to be great in American universities. I hope other states copy Governor Walker’s reforms — they may actually save higher education. -Rachelle.”

Yes.  You read that correctly.  A complete stranger tracked down my email address and sent me this message.  I did not reply to her.  I guess “Communication Studies” is now what is destroying great American universities. And, to those of you who don’t believe that those in education aren’t harassed on a daily basis, demonized, and have to put up with this *simply because we are teachers*…

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