Thursday, July 24, 2014

Six weeks and forty pounds

That is my statistics after weight loss surgery. Until last week, I was on a liquid or pureed diet since the day before surgery. As a dear friend says, what goes in....comes out. My energy levels were low for the first month. Weight loss sugery is a significant surgery. It's not a quick nor easy procedure, like the surgeries I had last year are considered (and ironically both of those were part on in part because of my increased weight). So, recovery felt very slow. I was exercising as soon as two days after surgery, but sometimes thirty minutes of walking slowly around my house in ten minute increments was all of the exercise I could manage.

Today, I am nearly recovered from the surgical procedure, which is what I was most focused on getting through. I am slowly rebuilding my core strengthening exercise routine daily, and I am up to walking a mile a day as well. Four and a half months of non-stop sick this spring made me lose almost all of the ground I had gained in two years of consistent exercise, so while I have the pattern of a habit, I am starting over with building endurance.

However, there are things that are dramatically different already. I put on just over twenty pounds in those four and a half months of non-stop sick. By the time I was no longer sick and tried to talk, my entire body hurt and I was gasping for breath. I went from walking two miles per day to gasping with half a mile. That changed instantly after surgery. First, I lost that twenty pounds in the first week after surgery, and the other twenty pounds have come off in the last five weeks. That twenty pounds were not familiar to my body and it wanted them gone. As soon as they were gone, my body did not hurt as much anymore. I was able to move, and to walk again. I still have to build my cardiac endurance back up, but I was able to start at half a mile and in a month have built to a mile. Eventually, I intend to build to three miles, which is what I walked when I was in peak physical shape in college. I'm not a runner and I'm not interested in jogging or running, long, endurance walks are my style. I might attempt to retry speed walking, but that would be the most intense joint impact I would attempt.

Immediately after surgery, I was able to discontinue my maintenance asthma medication. I have only needed even my rescue inhaler once since surgery, and that was due to an allergen exposure, not an exercise induced attack. I had forgotten how great it feels to truly breath, it had been four years since I had been able to do that. I love filling my lungs with oxygen and being able to again.

I had to go off my Humira in order to have surgery, and I had to go off all NSAIDs as well. It was the first time since the joint symptoms started at Micah's death that I was off *all* treatments for them. We were able to confirm that I do, indeed, have Psoriatic Arthritis. My Dermatologist is fully aware of this and feels that since I started treatments prior to joint degeneration, he can manage this without having to send me to a Rhuematologist. He is not only board certified (unlike the guy in New England) but he spent a decade practicing Dermatology with the Navy in Betheseda Navy Hospital. He is top notch for the field, and I have high confidence in his skill. My surgeon also cleared me that I can take NSAIDs if necessary for the athritic pain, provided I use chewabale or liquid and I put something in my stomach with them. Once I restarted my Humira, the joint pain is back under control (but now it's not mysterious and I *know* where I have arthritic pain to watch for now) and my intimate psoriasis is cleared up. I still have the two patches on my head and one ear stubbornly keeps having small breaththrough patches. But, this is the most controlled my psoriasis has been since I developed it. The two patches on my head rarely bother me, though the ear situation can be painful but I continue to use ointment on it and I am hopeful that it is simply a stress response from surgery and will clear up soon.

The only medication I have been taken off of is the cholesterol medication. My surgeon felt that since I had just started it, and my cholesterol had not been elevated long-term, it was best to discontinue it prior to surgery. I am still on my blood pressure medication. However, the physcian who treated me when I first went on blood pressure medications felt I needed to lose to a certain level before I would come off blood pressure medications and I'm still forty pounds from that marker still. It seems to be common that most patients come off blood pressur medication around six months post-op.

I am down a size in clothes, and approaching a second size rapidly. It seems that despite my decision four years ago to remove all smaller sized clothes as not mentally healthy for me, I still have some in my closet. I'm wearing clothes I haven't work for a decade, and I look good in them. When I go for my on campus orientation for Nurse Practitioner school next month, I will need to buy some pants in what my actual size is. For now, I'm about to buy a belt and stubbornly wear baggy clothes, simply because I know I will end up smaller than this and I hate to spend money on clothes I will get less than four months of wear out of before I outgrow them.

I started solids in the last week. Yes, it's different than what I did prior to surgery. Unlike many patients, I am not on strict dietary requirements. I am required to take multi-vitamins, and to maintain a minimum of 60 grams of protein per day. However, beyond that I was cleared to simply eat balanced and healthy. For me, the surgery was about a metabolic reset more than anything. The reset is definitely working. I have noticed that if I consume less than 500 calories in a day, I do not lose weight, and I feel shakey and weak by evening. I typically hit around 500-600 in a day, but sometimes go as high as 800 calories. Long-term, as my body recovers, I will likely end up back where I was previously in calorie consumption, but that typically takes about three years to get there. I will have to pay attention to calories as I move into that maintenance phase, especially given that I was not getting sufficient caloric needs previously. I will need to find what calorie range my body will maintain weight now and then keep my lifetime caloric intake at that level.

The biggest dietary change I have made is my breakfast. Because I have to maintain such a high protein consumption, and have such a low volume capability, I need to consum protein rich foods prior to anything else I eat. However, I still need all of the daily requirements of fruits and vegetables. Those who maintain healthy and not suffer malnutrition after surgery accomplish that from getting a real food, balanced, healthy diet. Furthermore, I had this surgery to be healthy, not dependent upon supplements and gimicky foods. So, how do I fit in 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day when I can only consume just over 500 calories and need 60 grams of protein? I drink a green smoothie for breakfast. I use protein powder and unflavored greek yogurt to ensure that the smoothie still gives me 20g of protein for breakfast, but then I blend at least 3 of my daily servings of fruits and vegetables in my smoothie that I drink. I can drink liquids far better than I can eat food options, so I can get a smoothie down for breakfast, though it generally takes me an hour to accomplish that. Truthfully, they are foul and disgusting--and I love fruits and vegetables normally. However, I don't drink them to enjoy them. I genuinely hope that I will acquire a taste for them, because they are really hideous right now. I drink them because that is how I get the majority of my fresh produce into me. On that front, they are priceless. There are days I only get one other serving of produce in the day due to my protein requirements. However, I figure four servings is still a strong start to meeting my daily nutrient needs.

When I was being discharged from the hospital, the Bariatric nurse coordinator informed me that I would absolutely regret surgery at some point, and that is normal. Thus far, she was wrong. I have absolutely no regrets for having taken this step to reclaim my health. Furthermore, at only six weeks out, I am seeing exactly the progress and positive response from my body that led to my decision that this was the drastic step I had to take to reclaim my health. It will take two to three years to see the full changes of this surgery, but the majority of them will be visible by the one year mark.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Suffering and powerlessness

I completed all of my requirements for my BSN last month. However, my school will not actually confer the degree until mid-August. So, I figured I would take an elective course this month. I have never actually taken a nursing elective, so I figured it couldn't hurt and might help. I am taking a spirituality and healthcare class.

The good news is that I'm taking this course with a professor who I took a course under last summer. The better news is that she was aware last summer was the first anniversary and remembered that this summer is two years. Fortunate, since the class has at times been gut wrenching for me to engage in.

This week took that to a whole new level. There is nothing quite like having to academically discuss suffering and powerlessness in the week that you already reliving your own. Simply put, it is impossible to maintain your participating at a strictly academic discussion when it becomes such a personal process of unpacking and reliving your past suffering.

I cannot remember that I have outright cried in school, since probably my elementary years. However, twice in class discussion this week, which I had the fortune of being a voice discussion rather than the written word where I could disguise the flowing of emotions, I have in fact cried.

The only thing I can hope that this week has brought is not some greater understanding on my part for what suffering is like, as that is not possible. I hope that by exposing my own pain, I have made it more real and more personal for my classmates. That was all I truly had to offer to the discussion at the end of the day.

Furthermore, I broke my own rule. I quoted one of my posts here about the last days of Micah's life in the paper I submitted. While I referenced myself sa a journal, I imagine if my professor chooses to search, she will find this blog. I can hope that she does not, as I deeply crave my privacy to journal in a manner that my words are present should someone else need to hear them, but without exposing me personally. However, if she does, then the best I can at least accept is that this is my final BSN class and I move onto a different University this fall so I will fade into annonimity just the same.

Yet, when the week's lessons are over, I am still left with the fog of my own suffering still spread across my psyche. It will fade. The emotions that I keep locked in their box except when I deem it safe to unpackage them will slowly over the next day or so be shoved back in and the lid slammed back down. Still, having had to not only open the box but examine those feelings for a week, they linger now, mocking my life I have created in the last two years, haunting me that on my horizon that suffering is ever present, ever capable of crushing me. It leaves me exhausted.....and all for the sake of allowing others to learn from my experiences for a week.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Another year passes

I have had tremendous trouble getting blogger to cooperate so that I can compose anything again, unfortunately. I'm not even sure this one will work as I attempt it now.

This has been emotionally difficult for all of us this month. Of course, we passed the second anniversary of Micah's death last weekend. Last year, we went camping, but we were still greiving hard. I decided then that we should not face this anniversary alone. This year, we extended an open invitation to all of our friends and family to join us in camping.

Not surprising, not one person in my family even acknowledged this anniversary. They didn't acknowledge it last year. Frankly, they barely acknowledged it when he died. I had low expectations for them, and they delivered in spades.

However, our friends and community which we left when we moved to New England, was there to surround us this last week. Seven friends came with their families. At least that many more wanted to come and simply could not make it. Of those families, three of them were in the circle of friends who were the most steadfast to support us during Micah's life.

There was something so much different to connect with those who loved Micah and came to remember him with us. Rather than the tears and isolation we felt last year, we laughed, we sought joy, and when we remembered it was with fondness and laughter. Micah was one of a kind, of that there is no doubt. These were the real, tangible community that knew him and loved him in life. It felt right that they stood with us to remember him now.

As I embraced one of my closest friends Saturday at the picnic, I realized that I hadn't seen any of these friends in at least two years, most for two and a half years. Moving to New England was so isolating for me, even though the children were happy there. I left my community in the south when I moved there. I have come home now.

Sadly, one of my children is not handling their grief, no more than they are handling other deep-seeded struggles from before the grief. We have some very tough decisions to make and this child has an entire team helping us navigate these waters. Even annonymous in my blogging, I am simply not comfortable sharing details about this child's struggle, for the sake of that child's privacy. However, we traveled to vacation with only seven children, and we continue to navigate with this child's needs for as long as we must do so.

We continue to focus on healing and progress for the entire family, and I'm terribly grateful that we have navigated the anniversary once again without breaking--even though it often feels like we might break as we grieve. So, we focus on moving forward. In one month, all but one of my children will be in public school. It will be my oldest child's last year at home, and my youngest child's first year of school. I will start graduate studies this fall, and II continues to do phenomenonally at his new position. Children are involved in sports. They have friends. We have a grieve center where they get support groups and individual therapy as needed. I have not secured a paying job, but given that I will be in graduate studies full time for the next three years, I am no longer looking for a paying job and have choosen to focus on my non-paying job at the low income clinic. I do intend to put my name in the substitute nurse list for the public schools. Otherwise, I am going to focus on homeschooling my last homeschooler and doing well in graduate school so I can learn all that I need to learn to be a Nurse Practitioner by the time I am done.

Friday, June 20, 2014

I am big enough to be a man

This afternoon, my son, my S, my precious child who was beaten down and destroyed for the first 15 years of his precious life, called his second mother.  When he could take it no longer, he fought back against his abusers, and there was a local family that was instrumental at getting him out and to freedom.  His second mother is that woman.  She and I are tremendous friends, and he calls her when he feels lonely and like he wants to have some contact with his past.  She's far safer than calling the abusive woman who called herself mother and never was a mother to him.

Anyway, S was trying to convince his second mother to come visit us when we go camping in July to mark Micah's second anniversary.  They cannot come, but she has promised they are going to try to come next year when S turns 18.

In this conversation, S declared, "I am big enough to be a man."

A man.

Such a strong, yet bittersweet concept for this child of mine.  He is only now safe to fully being a child (and boy does he show it sometimes such as his favorite Disney movies). 

For ten years of his precious life, he was in a war zone.  There was no place to be a child.  This child of mine actually used to run away from the orphanage and was part of a street gang.  I'm familiar with his orphanage.  I'm familiar with the information that the directors at that time were selling aid food in restaurants that marketed to Westerners in Liberia, leaving the children with next to nothing to eat.  For as long as he could survive, he was part of the orphanage blackmarket system.  Tough children would fight, and the other children would bet their food wages on the winner of the fight.  The winner got a take of the bets.  Eventually, that was not enough for him, and that is when he joined a street gang.

The first American family used this history to condemn him.  They actually informed him he was not a "real" Christian because of this history.  It makes my blood boil to remember both what he had to do to survive, and what they called him for doing it.  He was never a child soldier. Somehow, that was a fate that he escaped.  It might have been that he was from Monrovia and typically it was rural boys that were conscripted as child soldiers.  I don't know what it was, but I am grateful that the hand of fate that saved him from that additional trauma.

Then, he spent four years in the absolute worst environment he could have found in the U.S.  The only benefits he found here was no war, no gangs, and marginally more food, but most of that was not accessible to him.  However, the verbal and physical abuse escalated dramatically there.  He spent four years fighting to survive in a world where he did not understand the rules, and where any attempt to learn to be a child was used as a weapon to hurt him further.

Two years and two months ago, my baby got his freedom.  And he has struggled mightily to understand what that freedom means.  Weekly therapy for two years has helped him slowly and surely blossom.  He is getting there.

Yet, when we moved the first of this year, he had this mental block that when he turned 18, it meant he was able to simply leave and didn't have to care about us.  As a child who is fighting tooth and nail to recover his education, who legimately needs about six more years of covering under our wings before he launches into adulthood safely, it terrified me to worry that he might disappear in the night and not able to find him.  I let his second mom know, if he shows up at her house, please let us know.  I then began grilling him.  If he goes, don't sneak out.  Say good-bye, take your cell phone, take your medications and check in.  We cannot make you stay.  But, we are still your family, we still love you, and we will worry about it.

He did one spectacular episode of running away.  We tried for over an hour to get him home, but the low that night was 20 degrees and ultimately we were forced to call the police.  When we got him home, a police officer lectured him for half an  hour, telling him so many things I have thought but cannot say to him. 

That experience was LIFE CHANGING for my son.  He no longer fantasizes about leaving the moment he is 18.  Instead, he has become focused on what it will actually take for him to become an adult, with a job, and able to care for himself.  He has been very clear that his intention when he is done with schooling is to return to New England.  I don't know if that will change, but I certainly understand his desire to go back there.

S felt safe for the first time in his life, and made real friends for the first time in his life in New England.  He wants to live there as an adult.  He wants to be back in that place where he felt safe and free.  He wants to be near those friends who taught him how to be human. 

He knows we aren't going to move back there.  However, he also knows we understand and are totally okay with him moving there as an adult.  We simply asked him to consider staying here with us while he finishes his education.  Right now, he's pretty determine that this is a good idea and he will do this.

Today, S's dream, and his goal, is to finish his high school diploma, something he still has to fight for and cannot take for granted after his history and the damage that first U.S. family did to him.  However, he has advocates from us, to his teachers, to his high administration, all the way to the Superintendent of schools when we discovered this month that New England completely messed up his education and left him NO transfer credits for his freshman year that can be credited to his diploma efforts.  He's now in summer school, fees waived, with a personal tutor, to earn the two credits he must have to be a sophomore, all because the superintendent has heard how hard HE has fought for his education and has declared that she will not leave him without the resources.  In fact, she has told us she intends to be there to watch him graduate WITH his class in three years. 

So, he's going to finish his education, even though this means he gets up at 5:30 every weekday this summer (since he must go do his football weight training before he goes to class as  he is playing football this fall as well).   When he's done, he intends to earn an Associates degree in Criminal Justice at the local community college.  He has the brains to earn a Bachelor's, but he has decided that is just too many years for him at this point.   We expect it will take him three years to earn that degree, as he will still be battling some deficiencies, sometimes we don't find them until he's already lost in his education they are so deep for him.

Then, he intends to find a job as a corrections officer, a police officer, a parole officer or a probation officer.  One of the ones he is most interested in is becoming a Juvenile Probation Officer.  He wants to help others who stood on the precipice he stood on and made the wrong choice, by showing them by example and by tough love that he made the right choices, and he wants to make a difference in their lives because having someone in his corner is how he has turned it around.

So when I hear S declare he is big enough to be a man, I also hear him acknowledging that he's close....but he's not quite there yet.  He knows.  He knows how close he came to losing everything.  He knows being an adult is not that magic 18 years that the first family taught him.  He knows maturity and growth and making realistic plans for being an adult are what it requires now.  I hear a child so close to truly being a man he doesn't even realize it.  Because I remember the scared 14 year old who was dumped at my house, and I know better than probably how far he has come to make a statement like that so casually. 

I smile and I realize....he's going to be okay, even if I have to keep winter gear to visit him at his home and see my Liberian-American grandbabies for the rest of my life.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

A scary step of reclaiming

I've hesitated to post this, because at one point I know the crazy nanny and those who bought her story of lies were lurking on this blog.  Then, I realized, she has no power over me.  Life cannot have worked out well for her at this point.  She cannot find me now that we have moved and the honest truth is that I don't care if she is still lurking and reads this.  This blog is about my life, laid open so that others can maybe see an opportunity to relate, to see value themselves, and to fight to rise up from the ashes they find themselves mired in.  I can't do that if I hesitate to share something honest and personal just because someone who tried to harm my family might see them here.  Since moving, she cannot possibly harm my children again and with that move any power she had in my life was removed.  So, I'm working to get back to being transparent again.

To that ends, I have worked for nearly two and a half years trying to fight to reclaim my health now.  I started when we moved to New England and it has been a continual battle.  I can truly and honestly say that for the first time in my life, I have not backed off, have not refused to follow any path because the time or funds were more than I was worth.  I have truly, truly fought for health and healing for me.

I'm just not winning the battle. 

When I was a teenager, my egg donor used to smirk at people who had bariatric surgeries and make nasty comments about how they were cheating and no one should ever have surgery because they are too lazy to lose weight.  Even then, I told myself if I ever hit 300 pounds, I would absolutely have exactly such a surgery.

The irony is that I have not hit 300 pounds, and that line in the sand from my teen years has held me back from considering this step for a very long time.  Yet, I am clinical obese, and nothing I have tried will bring the weight done.  It is certainly not for lack of trying, despite the stereotypes that society throws around.

Last year, as we had to bump my blood pressure medicine over and over again to get it under control, I started thinking.  Then, the lab for diabetes started creeping upward.  The cholesterol levels jumped.  My doctor and I agreed that I could take six months to see if diet and exercise would fix them, and they crept up higher.  I asked for one more attempt to fix them last fall and started Niacin, which is known and sometimes prescribed to lower cholesterol.  Instead, they jumped even higher.  My psoriasis requires a biologic to contain.  My asthma continues to accelerate.  My knees that woke up hurting the day after Micah died, continue to get worse.  Because the knee pain responds at least some to the biologic, we believe there is a psoriatic component to the joint pain.  But, the reality is that there is also a weight component.

Since last summer, it's been very clear that the only thing I can truly do to improve my health struggles is to lose weight.  It's been clear far longer than that that I am not going to successfully lose this weight without something radical and life altering.

I started researching and tried to start the process for surgery last summer.  Four times I made an appointment, and four times something happened at work and I had to cancel the appointment.

Then, we moved back to the south and several children began to destabilize.  The increased stress of caregiving caused my weight to creep upward again.  I got put on cholesterol medication.  And, my diabetes marker is now at the point to diagnosis diabetes.  It requires that level two checks in a row.  So, literally, the only thing standing between myself and a diagnosis of diabetes is one more bad blood test.

I refuse to take diabetes without fighting everything I have left to fight with.  And, this precipice has galvanized me into action.  I started the process this spring, and have completed all of the pre-surgical requirements to have bariatric surgery.

Next week, I will alter my life forever.  There's an out of pocket expense to this, and it's been excruciating to give myself permission to spend healthcare funds on me, when I know the children are still going to need funds spent on them.  I feel horribly guilty that I am taking away from the family.  It's odd.  I never felt this way when II had Lasix surgery several years ago.  Somehow that cost, which was significantly higher than what this will cost, and was purely cosmetic, was fine.  But, giving myself permission to make my health this level of priority has been hard for me.

I'm doing it anyway.  I am very realistic about this experience.  Surgery will not fix my thyroid. Though, less weight will lower the stress my body undergoes and might help it stay more stable. It won't cure my psoriasis, though the stress of less weight might help, and the less weight on my knees might help them tremendously.  It won't cure my asthma, but I only required a rescue inhaler for my entire life until I put on weight.  Reduced weight absolutely helps with managing asthma symptoms and control.  It will make a difference in my blood pressure, my cholesterol, and my diabetes risk factor.  Those are the conditions that are urgent and potentially life threatening, and for those surgery will reverse most of the risks, and reduce their presentation if not eliminate them outright.

Two and a half years ago, I said I was on the edge of a cliff.  Either all of my fighting was going to get me backed away from that cliff, or I was going to have to do something drastic to stop myself from falling over that edge.  I'm doing something drastic.  I want to live to see my children grown and I want to be a grandmother to grandchildren in ways my children have never experienced.  I'm doing this for me, but I'm also doing this for them.

And for anyone who thinks this is about laziness, you are wrong.  In order to have surgery, I have had to go through quite a bit of testing, including tests that calculate my metabolic rate and my lean body mass versus fat tissue composition.  What my testing shows is that I have an insanely high metabolism.  That means that when I stop eating under stress, instead of losing weight my body gains weight.  The crazy theory my last doctor in New England had that I wasn't eating enough when I average 1400-1600 cal/day was right.  Except, I won't lose weight at the 1800cal/day she encouraged me to force myself to eat either.  I have to consume 2100cal/day to even start losing weight.  I see no way that I can maintain that for more than a day or so.  Yes, on a rare stressful day, I can consume 2500cal or so.  But, day to day I rarely hit above 1600, and even forcing myself to consume 1800 was triggering childhood abuse issues for me.  On top of that, it turns out I have fully normal ranges of lean muscle mass.  I just have high levels of fat and water weight on top of it.  When you read even negative remarks about bariatric surgery that say for a small percentage of people surgical options are really the only thing likely to be successful--yeah, I'm in that percentage.  Every step of this process, the nutritionalist has been surprised that the surgeon has altered his normal requirements and parameters and put in my chart that none of those steps are possible and therefore not necessary for me.  Yet, he recognized quite quickly what my oral history and the testing all told him.

This is what it is.  Next week I take drastic steps to ensure my health and longevity.  I just hope and meditate on it being paid off with good results and not the small risks.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

If I had Twitter #YesAllWomen

I don't have Twitter, but I am following the conversation.  Misogyny is such a huge factor in my life, like so many women...far too many women, all women.  Misogyny was a huge component of the fundamentalist religious practices I was escaping when I started this blog.  It's part of what I fight against every day that I have walked in reclaiming who I am.  It's integral to this blog as an undercurrent, and has been from the beginning. 

Since I don't have twitter, and I'm not going to register on Twitter just for this, I was going to facebook all day today on this hashtag.

Then, I realized, some of my stories will drive a wedge between myself and family members that I love.  Some because I know of at least two family members who will get angry and accuse me of attention seeking.  I know of one family member whose own trauma from rape is so severe that it drove her to alcoholism and some days she barely holds onto her sobriety now, and seeing that in my facebook would be traumatic for her all over again.  Others of my stories involve family members, ones that I genuinely love, but have caused significant pain with misogynistic behaviors themselves.

Instead, I'm going to compile what I would tweet, or post on Facebook here.  Call me a coward.  The reality is that the rape victim who has only seen two years of sobriety, and my father, who did one of the most painful acts, likely unintentionally on his part, are the reasons I will talk but do so anonymously on this blog instead. 

At the end of today, after I've posted all that I can think of, or have the heart to post, then I'll hit publish to this.  Because Yes, ALL WOMEN endure these acts.  We just don't always talk about them. 

#YesAllWomen I began experiencing the world of cat-calls when I was thirteen.  Every day of eighth grade, I had to walk through the litany to get to my schoolbus stop.

#YesAllWomen Two years ago, my grandmother posted a fake picture of a fetus on Facebook and said, "The only choice a woman should have is to spread her legs in the first place."  At least three of the women in her own family who saw that post were victims of rape. (And she knew that before she ever posted it.)

#YesAllWomen After my grandmother's post, I spent days comforting my sister in law, who was barely sober at that point, because of the trauma it retriggered of a rape she has never fully faced and the child my brother raises as his own because the biological father is in prison for her rape.

#YesAllWomen I was apparently a precocious child and liked to play with my own body when I was a toddler.  I have no memory of this, but I know this because the rest of my childhood I was told by my egg donor that I was a slut because of that behavior.  I was less than three when I did this.

#YesAllWomen It was only when I became a mother myself that I realized all toddlers explore their bodies and there was not something inherently evil and dirty about me.

#YesAllWomen Maya Angelou was one of my heroes.  I read I know Why the Caged Bird Sings the year before my own rape, and throughout my time learning to breath again afterward, I thought of her courage to live after her assault and reminded myself that if she could do that as an even younger girl, then I could find strength as well.

#YesAllWomen I am 5'6" and before my mid-20s when my thyroid crashed from too many pregnancies, my heaviest weight was 150lb.  My normal weight was 125-130lb.  Yet, I was told every day how fat I was, and I truly believed that I was.

#YesAllWomen I remember acting out sexually as young as age four, yet rather than trying to find out why such a young child was acting in a manner that SCREAMED she had been assaulted, I was called dirty and a slut, labels that haunted me my entire childhood, screamed at me from my own mother and father for years.

#YesAllWomen I haven't spoken to my own father about my rape in twenty years.  The last time we spoke, he informed me that it didn't matter what I or anyone else said, he would always know that I was at least partially responsible for my rape.  I won't speak to him about it ever again because I honestly don't know if he still feels the same way.

#YesAllWomen This weekend, I was giving my birthdaughter advice on how to navigate women's health issues.  She wants something other than birth control pills and the doctor she sees doesn't believe women should have access to anything such as a shot, implant or IUD.  I had to teach her how to find midwives or use Planned Parenthood because she simply wants an IUD.

#YesAllWomen I was shipped off to Hawaii after my rape and forced to live with my grandparents and then bounced around the homes of strangers.  My father told me not to come home until I was no longer pregnant, and he didn't care how I accomplished that.

#YesAllWomen My beloved grandfather, the only male who showed me what it meant to be an honorable and loving man told me the year before he died that I was just so emotional and difficult to handle when I lived with them in Hawaii.  I was 17, raped, stalked, pregnant and thrown away by my family and fifteen years later my grandfather wanted to talk about how I was difficult to handle?  And this was one of the GOOD guys usually.

#YesAllWomen My college best friend was my roommate.  She distanced herself when she started dating a new guy because she could sense I didn't like him.  I couldn't tell her that he had raped his last girlfriend, who was another friend of mine.  It wasn't my story to tell and the victim believed he was a "good guy" and she must have done something to deserve what he did to her.

#YesAllWomen  My college roommate has been married to that man for 15 years and I have never told her what he did.  I hate myself for that, but it's still not my story to tell her.

#YesAllWomen  Another friend from college is an up and coming urban minister in the south.  The friend who was raped by her former boyfriend found healing in her relationship with him.  They loved each other so much, he told her it was as if they were already married and should work on their sex lives as well.

#YesAllWomen  He broke up with that friend because he told her he could never marry any woman who wasn't a virgin.

#YesAllWomen  Another college friend was abandoned by her father at 12 when her step-mother was convinced her father would love her more than his new wife if she stayed.

#YesAllWomen At 15, that friend was raped by the son of the group home director of where she had been dumped (in a series of abandonments over the years).  She was dumped in a homeless shelter in the middle of the night, and told she was a horrible person.  The rapist never had any consequences.

#YesAllWomen Because that friend chose to speak up about the misogyny that had plagued her past, good Christian men in college thought she was fair game to tell all of their dirty little secrets to as well. 

#YesAllWomen She too had the witness boyfriend who loved her so much it was as if they were married and needed to work on their sex lives.  He dumped her because he could never marry a woman who wasn't a virgin too.

#YesAllWomen She married a music minister who was a "great" guy.  He promptly tied her up naked and drove her around the city to satisfy his sex fetish, among other horrific acts she endured with him, all within mere months of getting married.

#YesAllWomen She opted to stay with that man because she truly felt if she left he would sexually prey upon his two daughters, her two step-daughters that she loved.

#YesAllWomen At 19, my good friend's husband came home drunk one night.  She had to leave the house for over an hour at 3am to pick up her sister in law from work, leaving him in the house with their baby and a 13 year old babysitter.  The next day, the babysitter alleged he raped her.  I didn't believe the babysitter because I saw how drunk he was at midnight when I left.  I never was able to find that girl and tell her I am SORRY for doubting her when I realized how stupid I behaved to not believe her.

I'm actually going to stop adding to this list.  I realize no matter how many stories I add, there will simply be more I forget.  The bottom line is that the social conversation happening is REAL.  Every woman in American society (and frankly having been in enough other societies I can say there are places in this world it's even worse than in America but this is where *I* live), has had to face and deal with misogyny.  The deaths this weekend made this glaringly obvious to all of us, but we live with this every single day of our lives.  We don't know when it will crop up.  We don't know when we will be strong enough to say fu when it does.  We don' t know when it will cut to the core and knock us down.

And least a man take offense and cry out, not all men.  Here's the reality.  We are also all guilty of falling into misogynistic patterns as well.  That 13 year old?  I believed her rapist even when the DNA came back he was guilty.  I was just as guilty that day, and I can't make up for that.  My college roommate, I still feel tremendous guilt that she's married to a man who raped someone she to this day considers a good friend.  Yet, I cannot tell someone else's story openly and so still I say NOTHING about that situation.  My own husband was utilizing massage parlors.  Maybe he could tell himself that the prostitutes were free agents and exercising free will, and most likely the ones he used were.  But, he can never tell that to himself about the massage parlors.  My friend who married the sexual sadist?  The only way we can remain friends is that we never talk about that dark secret.  She's a national child advocate and known even on capital hill, and I know her secret and simply keep it, because again it's not MY story to tell.  My friend who helped calm me after my rape?  We ended up in an abusive trainwreck of a relationship when I was 19, one which he has asked me to not blog about because he is a college professor and a women's studies professor at that. 

We are not black and white caricatures.  As women we are not immune from subjecting other women to misogyny and stereotypes either.  We are human.  Each day, we encounter opportunities to make a choice.  We can choose righteousness, or we can fail.  We get that choice each time we encounter it.  Most of us are not fully evil, nor fully pure and good.  It's a daily choice we make. 

If we listen to our stories, we can hear the hurt, we can learn to be aware that it exists, that this bombards women every day, and I cannot even speak to what my LBGT brothers and sisters encounter because it is SO far beyond my comprehension that if I encounter misogyny that can threaten to tear my life apart for being a common variety female, what horror they must endure for being so much different, something that society still refers to as deviant and aberrant (they are NOT, do not confuse my words, but they are referred to in this manner by far too many).  I'm not excluding what they endure in this.  I simply recognize I cannot speak to their experience because I cannot comprehend it.

We must listen.  It is in listening and realizing it permeates us and all around is, only then can we be aware.  Only in realizing that these thoughts, these acts, these experiences are REAL can we learn so that we can change the conversation, and we can choose better for ourselves the next time we come to a crossroad where we have to choose.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Things they don't tell you

Rape.  Yes, I'm going to talk about it again.  I'm talking about it because I am one in four.  Yet, I have enough years after my assault that I'm not afraid, and I don't have any of my identity tied into what anyone things about my assault anymore.  As a society, we hide rape in a shroud of secrecy.  It is spoken in hushed corners, someone knows someone who knew someone who got raped once upon a time.  Once in awhile, a celebrity comes forward and speaks of their history and for a brief moment we give this thing a face.  Then, it fades back into oblivion and we go back to the hushed tones again.

One in four women.  We're not talking about something rarely seen here!  We're talking about 25% of women in our society.  This crime is something we are woefully unprepared to face.  We see it as an act, a one time event that is frozen in time.  (And I am not even speaking to the concept of male sexual assaults that we barely even have a handle on as a society now.)

Except...it's not.

I remember that day like it was yesterday, and yet it is clouded with the fog of memories and time now.  I remember being stunned.  I was so groomed in the concept of being polite that never did I at 16 understand anyone would hear me say no and not honor it.  It was so far outside my sheltered, groomed little world that it took my breath away.  How could I say now and he respond as if I said nothing.  Why didn't I kick and scream and bite and run?  Because I was told to be polite and I didn't want to make a scene.  Yet, in not making a scene, my no, while firm and consistent, was completely disregarded.

The next day, I was left shocked, puzzled, desperate to understand what just happened...and then the horror of feelings the pangs of ovulation two days after the assault.

Yes.  I knew him.  I agreed to go on a date with him.  He gave me the creeps but my father was the pastor of the church and his mother was the youth minister.  I was told I had to accept his invitation and I had to be polite.  Go on one day, and then I was off the hook and could find a way to distance myself from him.

No one told me after that day he would just SHOW UP wherever I was, pawing all over me, acting possessive, touching me in ways that made me want to vomit, even in front of my own family.  I still trenched in the polite rule that I would move away, and he would follow.  I would go to the store, and he would suddenly be there.  I would avoid his phone calls, and he would be standing outside my house.  I would ask my parents to quit telling him where I was, and they would shrug their shoulders.  I would get into my locked car, and there would be yet another letter waiting for me.  I would wash my clothes and my underwear would be missing.

He declared that I belonged to him.  He wrote letters daily, and even more than daily, telling me that God had promised him I belonged to him, and I merely needed to realize that truth.

No one told me that if I admitted I was not a virgin, I would be called a liar.  I had exactly two sexual partners before my rape.  One was a long-term, long distance boyfriend for several years.  The other was a long-term boyfriend that I dated for my entire Junior year of high school.  Yet, the minute I admitted I was nota  virgin, I was no longer allowed to say I was raped.  I learned VERY quickly to lie about my past and claim to be a virgin.  It was the only thing that made my rape legitimate.

No matter how many times I told him to leave me alone, he was still THERE.  I got really loud with my no's.  I met and dated another guy, who was the only person who seemed to grasp what was going on.  Yet, I think I overwhelmed him that I was acting out sexually in ways I never did before.  I am forever grateful that that guy protected me from what I didn't understand was going on by being the brakes for both of us.  He was also the only person who seemed to grasp I was being stalked, and how freaked out and scared I was.  He was more than willing to step up and get this creep away from me, but he was the only person in my life who got it, and who was trying to help me.  I had only met him within days of my rape.  He reads my blog.  You know who you are, CM.  Thank you.  Thank you for being the only safe thing in my life after my rape.

Three weeks after the rape, I found out I was pregnant.  It was the second worst day of my life, and my 17th birthday.  It meant I had to tell my parents about the rape, that I so desperately did not want to tell anyone.  I contemplated just getting an abortion, but I didn't know how and I didn't have the money to do so.  I was also fully indoctrinated in the pro-life concept that it's never okay to abort.

I was thrown out of my home.  My father wanted to hide what happened.  My egg donor wanted to get her hands on the baby.  My friend, he had to go back to his life as he had only been local for the summer.  To his credit, he offered to claim the baby, to marry me and to take me back with him if I wanted.  He had known me for three weeks.

They don't tell you that may want to kill yourself after a rape.  They don't tell you that you cannot remember to breath, and everyone and their brother thinks it's their business to demand you tell them what has happened.  They don't tell you that for the rest of your life, people will ask if you were a virgin when you were raped.  What the hell does that have to do with anything?  Does no mean something different because you weren't a virgin?  Absolutely not!  Yet, you will be asked, as if people think they have a right to even ask, much less know the answer to that question.

They don't tell you that you will wake up in cold sweats for years after the assault, reliving the details of that assault all over again, as if it was happening again.  They don't tell you that twenty years later, while in a long-term relationship, you can make love to your husband and STILL trigger back to that moment.  They don't tell you that this trauma is not dependent upon whether you were a virgin, whether you knew your attacker before the event, nor whether you fought loud and hard enough to earn the right to call your assault rape.    This legacy doesn't come because someone deemed your rape legitimate.  It comes from the act of having your own body violated and your control over your body ripped away from you by someone who thinks they had some right to do that to you.

They don't tell you that twenty years later, no matter how much you love the child that came from the nightmare, you can still look at them and see HIM.  They don't tell you that your own child may one day tell you, it would have been okay if you had aborted me.  They don't tell you that love and guilt will forever mingle in that child for you.

They don't tell you that if you don't keep the child, your other children will have to learn about rape so very early as you grapple with how you help them understand you will not get rid of them simply because they know you placed another child for adoption.  My oldest was three the first time she asked me if I was going to get rid of her.  All of my children heard of rape younger than I ever wanted them to hear, simply because it was part of who I am.  On the one hand, it means my children are aware of violence against women in this world.  On the other hand, there are times you simply cannot protect their innocence when you live in the aftermath of sexual assault.

Yes, you will find your strength. You will not be a victim but a survivor, and you will choose your own path and embrace your voice.  But, they don't tell you that it will never leave you.  Sexual assault becomes ingrained into the fiber of who you are, it becomes part of your psyche.  It presents a trauma that can be retriggered the rest of your life, no matter how much you are convinced you are "healed" or "over it."  It's still there. 

I was told to be polite.  I was encouraged to ignore my own instincts and lectured on not embarrassing my parents.  I was never told that you should never be polite when it comes to protecting your body.  You should not care what anyone else thinks.  If your body is threatened, you fight to protect it.

There's something else they don't tell you.  They don't tell you that if you find your voice and speak up, others will follow.  They don't tell you that when you stand up and say I am every woman, others will stand up and say me too.  They don't tell you that you are stronger than this assault, and that you have a right to speak up.

July 17, 1993.  That was the day someone made me a victim.

I can't give you an exact date of when I became a survivor, but I AM a survivor, because he violated my body.  He could not take my soul.  That is mine and only mine.  He hurt me, somewhere deep inside where the scars are permanent, but he did not destroy me.  You are not alone.  If you are one in four, know that.  You are not alone.  And while there is deep trauma and pain, there is also incredibly strength and fortitude inside of you as well.  You are not the sum of what was done to you, but the totality of who you are when you rise up and fight back.

We are your sister, your daughter, your mother, your friend.  We are still here.  We have a right to be safe, and a right to demand society pay attention and know this must stop.