This Shit Has Got to Stop
At the same time that I am pursuing ambitious athletic goals, there has been another, parallel, journey that I’ve been taking.
Since the time that that worthless piece of human garbage, Brock Turner, was brought to my attention, I have started to feel more comfortable talking about my own rape at the age of 25. But it’s a slow process—many people still act very uncomfortable when I tell them about it, or maybe they know, but they think that once they know, that I should never talk about it to them again. Or perhaps it is me that feels that they should know what to do for me once I’ve told them.
I told a bit about my own story on someone else’s Facebook page where they were discussing guns and how/whether being armed actually prevents certain crimes. In my case, the answer is NO. I was accosted by 2 men at the entrance to my apartment building and immediately seized around my waist and neck. I was outnumbered, and I felt a knife blade at my throat and a metal thing at my temple, which of course, was a gun.
I was then made to go into my apartment and was held down and made to feel helpless with the gun and knife on me for about 3 hours, and the two men took turns raping me. Then they alternated one controlling me and raping me while the other ransacked my apartment looking for anything of value.
On that Facebook page discussing guns, a very thoughtful woman recommended 2 books to me that I have purchased and begun reading one. I’ve only read about 25 pages of “The Body Keeps the Score—Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma” by Bessel Van Der Kolk, MD. But I already learned something new about myself. The way I have described how I managed to keep myself alive during that horrific event (convincing these people to NOT kill me and just leave) is that I blocked out my physical sensations and focused on trying to manage my rational thought, such as it was. The term in the book is depersonalization. So now I know that I took a very well known pathway to dealing with the trauma I was experiencing. And I now know that I reuse this technique over and over whenever I feel threatened, but that I also sometimes have reactions akin to PTSD where I lash out at someone that I feel is threatening me either real or perceived bodily or psychological harm. In the last 2 weeks, for example, I’ve taken to saying to people in a what I *think* is a jocular tone, “Don’t do that or I will punch you in the face.” I’ve noticed it gets their serious attention, and I wouldn’t really do it (at least I don’t think I would), but it somehow feels good coming out of my mouth. But as I write this, I realize that probably sounds psychotic to the recipients, but at least I know why I was doing it. I will not do it again.
As I said, with the whole Brock Turner thing, I’ve felt a little more comfortable talking about what happened to me, but I’ve also started to pay more attention to how I react to things, and now I’m starting to realize I am utilizing coping strategies that probably aren’t healthy. I won’t go so far as to say the endurance training is unhealthy—because as part of that journey, I’ve learned to meditate, to focus on staying present in the moment, to manage my breathing, and to remain calm in the face of huge obstacles. All of those things are very valid strategies towards healing. I'm not a total mess! My younger sister, Lisa (who currently won’t speak to me isn’t that just sad?), said to me just before my Dad passed away in 2007, “If you couldn’t exercise so much you would go crazy.” Well, fuck yeah that’s true. But she really has no idea why that is true.
Another thing I’ve learned from my brief foray into this book I’m reading is that what I really needed right after I was raped was for people who loved me to just hug the shit out of me and let me talk about it, even though it would make them feel however that would make them feel. But none of that happened. My boyfriend at the time lived in St. Louis (in medical school) while I was living in Chicago. When I told him what happened, I remember asking if he could come and spend a few days with me. He said no. I did go and stay at my parents’ house for a few weeks (and was told by a very understanding employer to take as much time off from work as I wanted, which was 2 weeks), but as had been the case for most of my childhood, Mom and Dad figured I could take care of myself, and they left me to my own devices, and so I just stewed in my own bad feelings thinking I had to try and make them go away. I surely could have used them hugging me and holding me and letting me cry at least once a day--probably more. I remember a lot of staring at the walls and wanting it all to stop.
I don’t know how or when, but I know that Mom and Dad told my 2 brothers and 2 sisters what happened to me, although I’m pretty sure it was short and sweet—Sheila was raped--or whatever words they used. They wouldn’t know or tell any more than that because they didn’t ask me because they didn’t want to know because that would tap into whatever bad feelings they might have relating to other bad things that happened to them. I think I felt at the time that it was Mom and Dad's duty to break the news, and then I hoped that the recipients would reach out to me.
None of my siblings ever asked me about what happened or came to spend time with me right after it happened or offered to just listen to me talk on the phone and let me cry or come over and sit with me. Maybe there was a little of that--I don't really remember--but it certainly wasn't enough to make me feel safe and loved.
4 years later when I got married, he knew about it but never asked me about it after I first told him. One time during foreplay he took his belt off and wrapped it around my neck playfully and I lost it. I told him to never ever do that again and I wondered how he could be so insensitive. Was I just supposed to forget that I’d been effectively enslaved for 3 hours straight? I will say that I think I have overcome many sexual aspects of the rape, although maybe if I find the right therapist, he/she will say I haven’t. The fact that I haven't dated in quite awhile probably says something about this.
Now my closest friends I think know how much I love hugging them and being hugged. It can’t make up for the hugs I never got when I needed them, but it sure helps. There is no possible amount of excess hugging in my book! They also know how to support me in my athletic endeavors—they don’t baby me, but they acknowledge my true victories and big accomplishments--past and current.
By contrast, I have a “friend” that I feel I must abandon because I see and feel my own reactions to how he treats me and I am sensing that he is dredging up these threatening feelings in me. I forgot to mention that when my ex-husband asked me for a divorce, he said it was because I was, “way too smart and knew it, had way too much energy and you change too much.” All very much who I am, right? And I told him right then and there that he had hurt me to the quick and it felt worse than when I was raped. And it DID feel worse. It felt to me like he was saying that I deserved to be raped because I was a bad person with these bad qualities. But at least I knew logically at the time, although it took me a few years to process and eliminate the physical and mental pain that caused me, that I wasn't a bad person and that I had a pretty fucking neat personality. I secretly believe one of my sisters feels the same way—that I deserved to be raped--that I needed to be brought down from my alleged pedestal. I was, after all, the favorite child of my Dad, which is why he made me his Executor.
Now as to Mom and Dad, they did the best they could and knew how. They let me stay with them. Just having them around was helpful to me. They treated me gently. They didn’t ask much of me. They did want me to stay there longer than I did—but I think that was mostly to help them heal. Trust me—they needed to heal as much as I did. Can you imagine being a parent getting called by the police at 2AM saying your daughter was raped she’s at this hospital please come as fast as you can? I can’t imagine how they felt. I can remember lying on the table in the ER naked with a sheet over me (they’d already done the rape kit) and my Mom and Dad coming in there and I’m positive I looked like a ghost of myself. I felt like I had this blank stare on my face like what the fuck am I supposed to do NOW? I didn’t know, they didn’t know. I remember my Mom and Dad standing over me crying. You never want to experience that. I almost felt dead. But I wasn't.
This “friend” I alluded to earlier is not a bad person. But he does remind me of my Dad’s behavior towards me which was that I did not need to be coddled or constantly congratulated for everything great I did. My Dad expected me to excel at anything I took on. And I did a lot of great things my whole life that I excelled at. I learned to play piano at 4 (taught myself). I taught myself to sew in 7th grade and quickly was better at it than my Mom (although she enjoyed that I was better at it than her). I could (and can still) type way faster than most people--about 125 words a minute--after I took typing in summer school in 8th grade, which led to future job success. I was a straight-A student all the way through high school. I was Valedictorian. I got my first job when I was 15 and starting then, I was promoted regularly in whatever job I held. I got a full 4-year academic scholarship to Northwestern University and worked 20 hours a week to pay for my room and board and belong to a sorority. After I got divorced, I paid off my mortgage, and now I’m retired and doing just fine. I’ve won a bunch of triathlons and done an Ultraman. I’m a good cook and a great seamstress. I’m a good gardener. I try to be a good friend, and I'm always trying to improve on that.
Now, do I expect to be told constantly how fucking great I am? NO. But I think there’s this behavior in me that believes that the more I accomplish, the more I’m deserving of love and affection, and in the end, that’s what I’m really after. So I have a hard time exposing all my talents to men, but then once I do I often end up being treated like I’m some oddity or that I am bragging. Seriously, I’m not bragging. I’m proud of the things I’ve done and can do and the person I am today. But I think everyone deserves to be congratulated for new significant accomplishments no matter how many others they have achieved in the past.
If you are a professional musician, I am sure you appreciate someone telling you how beautifully you just performed one of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, even though it’s the 200th time you’ve played it. If you are an artist that gets decent money for your art, it always feels good to hear someone tell you how much they love the painting of yours that they have hanging in their house. This is what the human experience is, and I like to spread the love to others for their accomplishments. I've attended many Ironman races on behalf of supporting my friends, and I know how much they appreciate it.
There are many friends and acquaintances I have that are very supportive and congratulatory—but this one “friend” is not. I should have red flagged this long ago, and I did for a time, but didn’t recognize what was wrong with the relationship. So here it is:
FUCKING CONGRATULATE ME AND SPONTANEOUSLY HUG ME SOMETIMES, YOU ASSHOLE
He probably doesn't read my blog. But he does manage to sometimes call me and text me and tell me about yet another free item (he makes quite a lot of money but expects free shit) he's received from some (name dropping) well known person. I always manage to say something like, "that's nice" or "that's cool" and "I hope you enjoy it." But, and maybe this is my issue, it comes across to me like, "my life is way fucking better than yours and it's a competition." Well, no, my life is just fine. With or without you. And I have real friends who don't lord their shit over me like they are trying to compete with me. For fuck's sake, I have a lot of younger friends, some male, some female, who are way better triathletes than I will ever be. I am as happy for their successes as I am for mine, and there is no sense in us trying to compete with one another.
Yes, I am a broken person, but I am no more or no less human than anyone else. I will keep setting big goals for myself, and I am grateful that I feel safe in talking about my own personal trauma, and that there are kind, loving people out there who won’t judge me for it or my sometimes perplexing behaviors, but who will gently point me in a direction that will help me if not completely overcome, but at least better understand and hopefully cope with it. And who will support me in my (sometimes seemingly excessive) athletic pursuits, and who will accept me in all my fucked up psychological coping strategies. And hug me. Always hug me!