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My body remembers

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[TRIGGER WARNINGS: Rape and Abuse]

As many of you know, in highschool I spent a year in an abusive relationship. Some of my memories of my abuse are vague and foggy. But then other memories I remember well. The ones I remember the most clearly are the ones I remember not only in my mind, but in the rest of my body as well.

As I think about my connection with my body, and I think about my commitment to reconnect with and love my body for Lent, I also have to think of the ways my body has been hurt.

And I have to take care of it.

Because my body remembers.

Somehow in my path to healing I got the idea (though I don’t remember where from) that the pain from the physical abuse I’d suffered had healed already. Therefore, it was the verbal abuse I had to worry about.

After all, one only hurt my body. The other hurt my soul, right?

So, until the past two years or so I’d avoided even thinking about it.

But no matter how well my physical abuse has healed, verbal abuse isn’t the only thing that sticks with me. Again, my body remembers.

There aren’t any scars except the ones I gave myself–and those are fading. But even those are part of the body that is me now.

The body that carries in it the experiences that are part of who I am.

My story.

My survival.

Most of what my body remembers can’t be seen. My face remembers the stinging pain of the one and only time he slapped me.

My arm remembers the time when I tried to walk away from him and he grabbed it so tightly that it left a hand-print-shaped bruise. The bruise is gone but sometimes I still feel that hand, gripping so tightly I wanted to cry.

Sometimes my brain tricks me into feeling his hands at my sides ready to tickle me until I couldn’t breathe and started to cry. And I think about it and start to laugh and my ribs start to scream out in pain.

My body remembers when he forced me to perform fellactio on him and how he held my head down. It remembers the taste and how it felt when I threw up afterward. And I still carry mints or cough drops everywhere because sometimes I’ll just be at school or at the store and I’ll remember and the taste will be so real and so awful that if I don’t have something to help me forget I’ll throw up again.

Sometimes I’ll just feel his body on my body, hurting me all over again. I’ll feel his hands and I’ll want to push them away so badly but they aren’t there, and so I end up looking like I just walked into a spider web.

Physical abuse, like verbal abuse, goes deeper than the scars and bruises. My body remembers tastes and smells and touches–some that my brain can no longer even attach to a specific event.

And in my attempt to separate Me from My Body, I’ve dismissed the pain I’ve felt as something in the past. I’ve let myself feel ashamed for still feeling pain that is not “real.”

But today, for Lent, I’m affirming that pain. It’s real and it’s legitimate, even if it’s just a phantom.

I can cry over it. I can hurt from it. I can carry my cough drops and use them when I need to. I can tell Abe to stop touching me if his hands are reminding my body of another set of hands.

I survived with my body and I remember with my body and somehow, I’m going to learn to heal with my body.

I can say to my body, “It’s okay to remember. It’s okay to hurt. You are a survivor too.” 


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No, REALLY, I’m happy.

Yesterday, I wrote about how, for the first time in a long time, I really do feel happy.

And with this cat on my head, how could I not be?

And with this cat on my head, how could I not be?

Funny, though, how the happier I get the more people insist that I’m not happy at all. 

I get that a lot. “You’ve become so miserable and bitter.”…”Ever since you left church [read: the fundamentalist church] you’ve just been miserable.”…”Remember when you loved Jesus and church and you were so happy?”…”You’ve just become an angry feminist! Can’t you just enjoy your life?”

Last year at this time I might not have had an answer to those statements. I was miserable. When I first began questioning my faith and became a feminist, I had to go through an agonizing period of detox (something that I plan on writing about in more detail another time). Such words might have tempted me to go back.

But I didn’t go back. I pushed through to freedom.

So now when someone tries to tell me that I’m miserable, the only way I can respond is, “No, I’m not.”

But I get this now and then. Sometimes from people who haven’t seen me in years and don’t really know me well enough to make such a comment, but usually from people close to me who really should know better.

I’ve been pondering reasons why this could be and have come up with a few possibilities.

1. Maybe the mask I used to wear really was that good. Maybe, back in my fundamentalist days when you had to be “in-right, out-right, up-right, down-right happy all the time” in order to be a good Christian, I just did that good of a job pretending I did have the “joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart (where?).”

I suppose it wouldn’t help to tell people that I cried on my bed every night asking God to save me over and over, just in case I didn’t do it “right,” because I was terrified of hell.

I guess it wouldn’t help to say that I was being abused by a Christian man and sexually harassed by a pastor’s son, but couldn’t tell anyone. That I had to stuff down all the hate I had toward those men, even after I escaped both situations, because I thought I had to “forgive them.”

I suppose it wouldn’t help to say that during my first two years of college (at a Christian school) I was addicted to self-injury.

People see what they want to see and remember what they want to remember. I had some happy moments “back then,” but “happy” wasn’t a word that would describe my everyday life.

2. Maybe some people equate my outspokenness against abuse as unhappiness. When I was a fundamentalist, it was a sign that you loved Jesus and were happy about what Jesus did for you (whatever that was) if you were loud and in-your-face about it. Every Facebook status had to be a Bible verse or some note of condemnation against the enemies of happiness (atheists, homosexuals, democrats, you know…).

Now, when I talk about the things that make me happy (feminism, Universalism, a belief in love and justice), or call out “enemies of happiness,” (abusers, misogynists, bigots), that’s equated with unhappiness.

I guess I can see that. My talking about the injustice that exists in the world doesn’t put a smile on my face, that’s for sure. But I’m happy, and I want everyone to be happy to. That’s hard when so much injustice exists. I could never truly find happiness until I started working against that injustice, calling it out, doing whatever small part I can to fight it.

3. Maybe I just can’t be happy (in their minds) because my happiness is too threatening. Growing up as a fundamentalist, I learned that anyone who was not a “Christian” (read: a personal-salvation-believing, KJV-only, Independent Fundamental Baptist) couldn’t sleep at night for fear of death and hell. I learned that everyone outside of the IFB church had a God-shaped hole in their heart that could never be filled until they trusted Jesus as their personal savior, burned their rock music, converted to Republicanism, and otherwise conformed to the IFB way of thinking.

We had to talk about those who left “the faith” as if they were miserable–like the prodigal son, friendless, starving, eating pig slop out of desperation. Even if they seemed happy, we had to imagine them crying into their pillow at night, or turning their hearts into stone.

We had to think like this, because if those “outside the faith” were truly, sustainably happy then our extremely exclusive religion fell apart. If other people could be happy, maybe we weren’t the only ones who were “right with God.” If other people could be happy, maybe other people could be “right with God.” Maybe other ways of living/seeing the world were viable.

That was just too much for me to accept, for years.

So, maybe those who deny my happiness have the same “house of cards” faith that I once did. Maybe my existence as a happy person is a threat to that.

Who knows? But the fact is, I’m happy. I may not convince everyone that this is true, but you know what? To hell with convincing people.

I’m happy. Others’ disbelief isn’t going to change that.


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Healing

 

Trigger warnings for rape and for a slightly gory picture

I was raped.

Sometimes I just need to say those words. They hurt. Every time I say them they hurt. But they’re true, and someday I’m hoping that truth will set me free.

I haven’t always been able to admit that I was raped. At one time it was actually safer to think that it had been my fault. It was easier to blame myself than it was to admit I’d been powerless, because, to me, powerlessness was far more terrifying than penetration.

So, instead of dwelling on the fact that I’d said “stop” over and over and over, I would dwell on the fact that I’d said “yes” to other things.

Instead of dwelling on the fact that I’d tried to push him away, I’d dwell on the fact that I didn’t kick him or hit him.

Instead of dwelling on the fact that I wasn’t ready for sexual intercourse yet–that I was too afraid–and I’d told him so and he didn’t listen, I’d dwell on the fact that I had been sexually attracted to my rapist and had wanted to sleep with him eventually.

The lies I told myself were safer. Blaming myself was safer.

But I’m at the point in my life where I need to peel off the Band-Aid of self-blame that I’ve been wearing for six years and look at the wound that my rapist caused me.

(A note to the squeamish: this is not real)

Neglected, ignored, covered up and hidden, that wound has festered. It’s warm and red, oozing with pus and blood, swollen and painful to the touch. The years of denial allowed the infection to spread, and now, it must be dealt with or it might kill me.

I don’t blame myself for ignoring the pain. I was in no situation to heal myself the past six years. Denial was all I had, and the fact that I used it when it was my only option is not wrong of me.

But it’s not working anymore. I have to peel off the Band-Aid. I have to clean out this wound, touch it despite the pain. Let the poisonous pus run out even if other people find my seemingly endless stream of pain and anger to be unpleasant, even disgusting.

Yes, I was raped. I’ve talked about it before but I’m asserting the truth of that fact right now.

Not only that, but I’m mad about it. Fucking mad.

And I’m hurt and sad and bitter and hateful. I’m not happy. I’m not okay. I’m not ready to forgive. Why fake it? Why pretend that there isn’t a gaping, bleeding, infected wound in my heart? Why slap another Band-Aid on and pretend it doesn’t exist?

I won’t pretend I’m not in pain just to make you feel more comfortable.

I need to clean out the poison or this wound will never heal.

If you think my wound is gross, don’t look. If you can’t stomach the “bad” feelings that have been gushing out of my soul lately, then don’t speak to me.  I didn’t ask for this pain, this infection, despite what lies I may have told myself these past years. I didn’t ask for it.

But now I’m going to heal, and it’s going to be messy. If you don’t like that then all I can do is ask you to get out of the way.

 

 


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When I can

People assume that healing from abuse is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint – it’s more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly… time-y wimey… stuff.

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Doctor Who quotes aside, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “It’s been years. Why don’t you just let it go?”

Image by Allie Brosh

Image by Allie Brosh

I can’t always get a hold of it, for one. Pain is like a greased pig–I can’t even get a grip on it in the first place most of the time, much less “let it go.” It’s not that I’m bitter and hardened, clutching my pain to my chest like a prized possession. It’s more like I’m running around in circles trying to catch it–to find the source–so I can tackle it and throw it out for good.

But that ain’t easy, folks.

So, go easy on us–we the abuse survivors. Don’t ask us to heal on your schedule, and don’t ask us to cope in ways that you see as acceptable. What concern is it of yours what path we take toward healing? What concern is it of yours how quickly we are able to move along this path?

Your pressure is an added burden to an already overwhelming load.

Your “Get-over-it-already!”s cut deeply and make us question ourselves.

“Why? Why can’t I get over it? What’s wrong with me? Am I not good enough? Not strong enough?”

Your “Get-over-it-already!”s bring back the words of our abusers.

You would not chastise a person with a broken arm. You would not ask why his/her bone is not healing more quickly.

Why do you ask such questions of my broken soul?

I will let go when I can.

I will let go when I can


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Last Valentine’s Day…

Last Valentine’s Day was hard.

I had had plans, of course. I was going to continue the tradition that my boyfriend and I had started two years earlier where we give each other President’s Day cards instead of Valentine’s Day cards. The card was still sitting in my desk drawer. It said, “You baRACK! You’re da oBAMa!”

But now the plans were cancelled because there was no one to give the stupid card to anymore and the student union was rubbing it in my face with all the hearts on the walls that said things like “URA ZERO,” and I couldn’t decide whether to put the obligatory Christian Valentine’s Day facebook status about how God loves everyone or to make some bitter comment about how this day was meant to remember a priest who was beheaded anyway and…

oh…

I had an email.

But wait. It was just another notification from that stupid Christian dating website. Ugh. Christian Cafe? Really, Sarah? Why would you sign up for that? What possessed you (besides crippling loneliness and desperation and four days with no sleep) to join Christian Cafe?  It was some guy with the screen name Gnomad something or other, and he thought I was cool because I had a picture holding a toy stuffed Link from The Legend of Zelda. He seemed like a nice guy and he was really cute which obviously meant he was probably really a 60 year old creepy man using a fake photo (because everyone on the internet is, or so I’d been taught). Or maybe he was just a fake account set up in order to lure me in so I’d buy the Mocha Grande Payment Package (seriously, folks) after my free trial was up ’cause no one that attractive would be on Christian Cafe (and then I thought, “Wait! I’m on Christian Cafe! Lovely. Just lovely).

And with THAT, I closed my computer and resumed the break-up routine that had been going on for a few weeks now: listen to Relient K’s Forget and Not Slow Down all the way through,  cry, eat about a million beefy crunch burritos from Taco Bell, try to sleep, fail, repeat. That was last Valentine’s Day.

Then I woke up. Valentine’s Day was over, and I think it was Tuesday because I didn’t have to work and I’m pretty sure I skipped all of my classes and I decided “Hey. It is the day after Valentine’s day and I am going to love myself today.”

And so I walked to my car, because I was going to go to Walmart and buy clearance candy and eat it, damn it!

And then I was going to cut off all my hair, damn it!

And then I was going to dye it red….damn it!

And my car’s tires ended up being frozen to the ground, but I didn’t even care.

I would walk two miles to Walmart in the cold if I had to. And I did.

As I walked, instead of listening to Relient K’s depressing breakup album, I listened to sunshiny 60s pop music (’cause the magic’s in the music and the music is in meeeee!) and I fell in love with me again.

The red hair, and the cheap chocolate, and the fresh air after months of sulking in my dorm room, and the Lovin’ Spoonful? That was the turning point. The point where I untied the chains of that three year long failed relationship. That was freedom.

This Valentine’s Day, I celebrate a personal victory.

I celebrate the seemingly ordinary factors that combined in a magical way to give me the strength to move on.

I celebrate the message in my email inbox that was waiting for me when I got back from Walmart saying, “I forgot yesterday was Valentine’s Day! You seem pretty awesome so this is for you: <3” and I celebrate the fact that I decided, “Oh, fine, I’ll talk to this Gnomad guy. He seems alright.” (he was)

But mostly, I celebrate love and the fact that no matter how broken your heart is, you can still find it–in the clearance section at Walmart or in a box of hair-dye or in a song from the 60s or even on Christian Cafe.

Happy Valentine’s Day, friends.

Let’s celebrate love.


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Lies I tell people: “I love counseling!”

Sometimes I lie about things.

Like counseling.

I pretend I am an advocate for counseling. When someone asks me about it or brings it up in conversation, I say, “Yeah! I go to counseling. It’s great!”

I’m lying.

I go to counseling. That part’s true. The “great” part? Not so true.

Truth is, counseling doesn’t seem to be working for me. If I’m honest, it has only made things worse.

So, why do I lie?

Because I want to like counseling. I want it to work for me and change my life. But I don’t, and it doesn’t.

And I haven’t been ready to admit that until now.

I’ve heard awesome things about counseling. I was excited when I finally worked up the courage to go. I anticipated that counseling would give me a safe place to talk about my problems, let me figure out ways to manage them, and maybe even help me become a normal, functioning human being.

I hated it the first week.

But I thought, “I’ll just give it time. Nothing gets better over night.”

And I hated it the second week…

And the third….

And the forth….

And it’s not that it wasn’t helping. It’s that it seemed like it was doing the opposite. The day before my counseling session, I’d be jumpy and nervous and panicky because of my anxiety about the session. And the day after I’d be depressed almost to the point of incapacitation because of the things that had been brought up in the session.

But I kept thinking, “It will get better. I have a lot of crap to work through. It has to hurt before it can heal, right?”

After five months, though, I’m starting to wonder if that’s true.

It’s Wednesday, which means there’s a counseling session at 1 pm tomorrow, and I’m shaking just thinking about it.

The longer I go without seeing results, the harder this gets.

It’s probably my fault that this isn’t working out, but honestly, I’m trying my hardest. I don’t know what else to do.

Now, when I think of quitting counseling, I think of rainbows and sunshine and kittens and chocolate and the Queen song, “We Are The Champions.”

But if I were to quit, I would feel like I failure.

I’m afraid I would always wonder what I could have done better. I’m afraid I would always wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t quit. I’m afraid that I’d be giving up on my last hope for normalcy.

And still I hear others praising counseling, and I dishonestly join in with their praises, while secretly wondering, “What am I doing wrong?”

My purpose of this post isn’t to knock counseling. It seems to work for most people and therefore, I recommend it to anyone who feels the need to try it.

I’m not trying to give advice here.

I’m asking for advice.

Has anyone else had a bad counseling experience? Did you quit? Did you try a different approach? Did you try another counselor? Did you look for other solutions to your problems?

I hope to hear from you! I know there are some awesomely smart people who read my blog and I’m sure most of you know a lot more about life than I do. Thanks, readers.

Until then, I’ll ponder the question that’s been in my head for weeks now concerning counseling…

Should I stay, or should I go?


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How Kittums, Smeagol, and Princess Buttercup taught me to love

Please read this article by Ben DeVries on Kurt Williams blog. It has a wonderful, beautiful point, and adorable animals. You can’t lose. Read it!

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/2011/09/14/the-nonviolence-of-the-kingdom-towards-animals-ben-devries/ 

This post of mine is a response of sorts.

I’m an animal lover.

There’s no denying it.

If you don’t believe me, check out my Facebook page. Chances are, my profile picture currently has at least one cat in it. I love animals.

It’s actually weird for me to say that.

I used to hate animals. I used to think they were smelly, and kind of stupid and they gave me allergies.

Come to think of it, I used to hate people.

But God used three cats to change my heart. To teach me how to love.

How to love animals AND people.

In high school, I had some bitterness issues. No…that’s a nice way of putting it, but it’s not really accurate. I’ll be honest, I was hateful, cynical, and cruel. I wrote bitter, nasty things on the internet. I beat up my siblings when they bothered me. I said horrible things about my friends behind their backs.

The world had hurt me, and I was going to hurt it back.

And, sadly, I probably did a pretty good job of that.

Then, one day, a stray cat showed up on my parents’ porch and never left.

I tried not to love Kittums (….a bit of a cruel name for that poor animal, but it just stuck). But I couldn’t help it. She was ferocious. Fearless. She’d walk around on our neighbor’s roof like she owned it. She’d attack your leg in the middle of the night when you got up to go to the bathroom.

But then she’d curl up in your lap and look up at you with those big, beautiful green eyes that say, “Love me!”

So I found room in my tightly closed, heavily fortified heart to love one cat.

“Just one…” I said.

And then, Kittums became a mommy.

She decided to have her babies in the ceiling of our basement. I guess she thought they’d be safe up there. But she was wrong.

One little guy managed to find his way out of the ceiling. He fell about ten feet and landed on his head.

I saw it happen, my stomach dropped in sickening horror.

I hadn’t even met it and I loved it already.

Smeagol somehow survived that fall. We named him Smeagol because, well…because he looked like this when he was first born:

Smeagol needed a little extra care. He was a little slow and sometimes he walked into walls. And then backed up. And walked into walls again. And then backed up…

So I decided there was room in my heart for one more, and Smeagol became my baby.

And then there was Princess Buttercup, the other kitten that we kept. She was a princess alright. She constantly wanted attention, she loved to eat Cheese-Its and Cheetos, and she had the smelliest farts ever.

here she is with her head stuck in a Cheetos bag...

 

I didn’t realize I loved her until she ran away and didn’t come back.

I remember crying after finding out that she still wasn’t back after a month and thinking, “What’s happened to me? I’m crying over a damn cat!”

By the time Princess Buttercup showed up at our doorstep again, half starved to death and as needy and smelly as ever, I knew how to love.

Three adorable cats had somehow snuck their way into my heart and unlocked it from the inside.

The change from who I was then to who I am now has been drastic. I can’t even describe the difference in words.

If I could take a basket and put my old hatred and bitterness in it and then hand it to you…

…and then take it away…

You’d understand.

But I can’t, so you’ll just have to trust me when I say I can’t describe this in words.

Love and compassion, for animals and humans, comes easily and naturally to me now. I’m a pacifist. I haven’t gotten in physical fights with my siblings in years. I’ve stopped cutting people down with my words (though, I’ll be honest, this one’s still a struggle sometimes). I can’t even bring myself to kill spiders anymore (my 3 year old cousin and I like to think of them as “small, eight-legged kitties.” Spiders need love too!).

I know how to love. I know how to love like I was made to love.

I guess if God can knock down the walls of Jericho with some marching and some trumpets then he can knock down the walls of Sarah Moon’s heart with a few adorable kittens.

Say, “Aww.” You know you want to.

 So, readers, how has God used animals to change your life? Let’s spend some time thanking God for making animals! Oh, and if you want to see more ADORABLE pictures of kitties, take a look at my facebook page!