#MeToo: No More Silence

Trigger warning: This entry contains personal references to sexual abuse, sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape.

I’ve been trying to publish this since I wrote it almost a month ago, but it’s been difficult for obvious (and some not-so-obvious) reasons. I’m publishing it today because I can’t stand to be silent any longer. Especially because the deluge of revelations from so many brave women and men has not slowed down in the time since the “me too movement” began. So in solidarity, I say, “me too!”

“Me too.” Who knew two tiny words could be so powerful?

Source: pixabay.com

Me too…

I know what it’s like to be looked at. But not just looked at… Looked through, as if you don’t really even exist as a person.

I know what it’s like to be stared at in a way that makes you feel like you want to crawl so deeply inside your own skin, no one will ever see you again. I knew what that felt like even as a little girl, too young to know why their wandering eyes made me so uncomfortable.

Me too…

I know what it’s like to have someone who is in a position of power and authority use it to make unwanted sexual advances toward you. It’s terrifying when it is someone you have to depend on for any reason.

I know how it feels to think you have no choice but to “deal with it” or “suck it up” because “that’s just the way it is.” As if “dealing with” someone else’s inability to control their impulses is somehow the responsibility of the victim.

Me too…

I know what it’s like to have despicable, demeaning, degrading things said to you about your body, and be helpless to stop it. I can’t even count the amount of times I’ve been reduced to body parts in my life.

I know what it’s like to be commoditized and dehumanized, not only by an abuser on a personal level, but also as merely a collection of female body parts on a societal level. I also know this perpetuates rape culture because it’s easier to use, abuse, and oppress someone who’s not really even a human being in your eyes.

Me too…

I know what it’s like to be gaslit into believing it’s no big deal when men and boys say “those things” about girls and women because “boys will be boys” and they don’t really mean anything by it. Somehow there’s always an excuse for the offense, yet being offended is inexcusable.

I’ve felt the confusion of wondering if my discomfort with the way a man was looking at or speaking to me was an overreaction. I know how it feels to jeopardize your own safety because you’ve been convinced you’re “just being silly.” And I know what it’s like to blame yourself for jeopardizing your own safety afterward.

Me too…

I know how it feels to be taught my consent was not necessary, and, essentially, my body was not my own. We teach children they don’t have the right to choose whom they will bestow what types of physical affection upon every time we insist they hug their uncle or kiss their grandma. (That’s all it takes to send that message to a child.)

I know what it’s like to be grabbed and touched in a way I did not choose, nor did I want or “ask for.” And I know what it’s like to believe it was all my fault.

Me too…

I know what it’s like to choose what I wear carefully, so not to arouse any male interest, because society tells me it’s my responsibility to control how a man acts on what he “feels” when he sees me. I also know it does not matter what I wear in the least, because I’ve been sexually harassed while wearing a large sweater or t-shirt and baggy jeans with no make-up on before.

I’ve felt the burden of analyzing every look, word, and move a man makes in an attempt to discern his intentions and keep myself safe. I’ve learned the painful lesson that you can’t always tell who wants to hurt you, no matter how analytical you may be.

Me too…

I know what it’s like to wake up in the middle of the night being groped by someone you thought you could trust. I know the sheer terror of trying to pretend you’re rolling over in your sleep so maybe he’ll stop, because you don’t know what else to do.

I know how it feels to have no one to turn to, because they’re the ones who taught you it was your fault when these things happened to you in the first place. It’s a kind of terrifying loneliness I can never seem to put into words.

Me too…

I know what it’s like to be raped. I know how it feels to have someone you thought was your best friend violate you in the most intimately brutal way.

I know how it feels to be told “I love you” repeatedly while being raped. I can’t describe the horror of being trapped beneath a man who claims to love you while simultaneously stripping you of your power and humanity with each unwanted, unwelcome thrust.

No More Silence

There are far too many of us whose stories, like mine, run the gamut between being leered at lasciviously and full-on rape. No one should have to feel the soul crushing weight of being objectified and dehumanized. Ever.

It’s time to let go of the shame we feel as victims, because we are not the ones who should be ashamed. We can and must speak up, and stand together as survivors and allies against these predators who have bullied us into silence for too long.

We must break the societal cycle of victim blaming by holding those actually responsible for the crime accountable. It is the perpetrators who should be blamed every single time. Never the victim! Rise up. Stand together. Speak out. Fight back.

This was also published on Huffington Post.

I’m Just Too Much Work

Warning: Possible triggers for survivors of all kinds of abuse. Oh, and some venting & cursing, too. 

Source: pixabay.com

Remember how I said this blog would get really real, and that I was going to share some of my story with you as it was happening? Well, yesterday was quite a day… 

Unfortunately, I still have to be in close contact with my… wtf do I even call him anymore? “Soon-to-be ex” isn’t completely accurate, because he is my ex now. It doesn’t matter that we’re not divorced yet. Our marriage is over, and there is no chance of ever going back. So, “ex” it is. Anyway, we still have to share some very significant things: most importantly children, and for financial reasons at the moment, we share a car, and unfortunately, a living space. (I’ve been working really hard to gain my freedom as soon as possible, though.)

Now that we are living as “roommates” (who have to co-parent and were supposedly trying to “learn to be friends”), he’s taken to purposely picking fights with me. He intentionally started the second fight we’ve had this month yesterday morning, and he said some of the most vile things he’s ever said to me during it… Things you definitely wouldn’t say to a friend, let alone the mother of your children. Or at least you wouldn’t think.

I’m sharing this with you today because I want you to have real life examples of how these abuse tactics are used against targets (I refuse to use the word “victim” anymore). I want you to understand what toxic people do, and why they do it. I want to empower you through my experiences. If I had/have to suffer through them, I want someone else to also benefit from what I’ve learned.

The first fight he instigated took place the morning after our daughters and I went to see one of our favorite bands. We had the best time! We got to meet them, take pictures with them, actually talk to them about music and gigs for a few minutes, and they gave us their set list as a souvenir. During the show, one of my daughters was serenaded, and the other one got to sing a line into the lead singer’s microphone. Pretty cool, right? All in all, it was an awesome girls’ night out, and I’m so grateful for the memory…and pictures! But toxic people can’t let anyone have fun or positive experiences without making them pay for it, especially during a breakup. That’s why he started a meaningless argument with me, which rapidly devolved into a deluge of narcissistic abuse, the very next morning.

I don’t exactly know why he started the argument yesterday. I have some guesses, but nothing as obvious as the first one, so I won’t speculate right now. All I know is that it spiraled out of control quickly. He used the playbook: minimizing/trivializing, sweeping generalizations, gaslighting, twisting my words, outright insults, interrupting, stonewalling, and in an ending no one should be surprised by, he attempted to become my victim. At one point, I asked him why he keeps claiming he wants to work on our friendship when he clearly doesn’t, because friends don’t treat each other the way he was treating me. His response was, “you’re too much work!” Yes, that must be it. Being my friend is too much work, because I’m such a pain in the ass.

But that isn’t the worst part. In fact, I won’t give any more details about anything else, because I don’t want to distract from the major lesson. 

Yesterday I learned that I have been a “bad wife” (and that I am “not even wife material” / no one else will ever want me). His reasons are stunning:

1. I’ve “never” liked him.

2. The anxiety disorder and C-PTSD I have from all of the abuse I am trying to heal from with no help has adversely affected his life.

3. And here’s the kicker: the sexual abuse, assault, and rape I endured throughout my childhood and teens have also affected his life for over 20 years, and I don’t even care about that because everything is always about me.

Obviously, I know these things do not make me a bad wife (or any kind of sense whatsoever, for that matter). The fact that he thinks they do, makes him a bad husband (and he is beyond “bad husband material”). I get that. However, it doesn’t make it any less detrimental to my recovery process to have someone consistently trying to spin my head like this, and particularly using my past abuse against me as if it’s something I’ve done to him. And I don’t think he really wants to change anymore. I used to believe he did, but he’s a compulsive liar, and I’m an eternal optimist, so I’m pretty sure I was believing what I wanted to for no good reason. I know better. I should only believe his actions; never his words. I think he’s bent on torturing me until I can finally move out. I hope I’m wrong, but that seems unlikely.

Here’s what I want you to know:

1. My ex claimed I’ve “never” liked him because, first of all, sweeping generalizations are difficult to argue against. Second of all, narcissists and other toxic people are the ones who basically “always” behave in an abusive manner; therefore, they are projecting when they use generalizations against others. (My “never” liking him was in reference to the number of times throughout our marriage when I would actually stand up to him because I’d finally had enough of his laziness, irresponsibility, and lies.) And finally, now he’s the victim and his recurrent abuse of me is justified in his mind.

Here’s the reality, though. I bent over backward trying to be his best friend and make our marriage work, and I’ve done (literally) all the emotional heavy lifting in our relationship, because the only emotions he seems to experience with any consistency are negative. Everything was always fine…as long as I kept my mouth shut and let him do whatever he wanted, which was almost never what he should have been doing. Occasionally, I’d become sick of it and try to get him to do something he didn’t want to do (like, wake up on time for work), and it would turn into a nasty fight because I was such a “nag” or whatever. Again, he is my victim and does not have to be accountable for his own irresponsibility or abusive behavior. See how that works?

2. My anxiety disorder and C-PTSD have made his life “more difficult” because he’s incredibly selfish and abusive. The reality is, he is not a supportive person, so I’ve never depended on him to comfort me in any way. (I learned to self-soothe at a very young age from being left to care for myself after instances of abuse, or any time I was upset about anything.) So, how have they made his life harder, exactly? Easy. His abuse triggers me, and that’s super annoying to him. That’s really been a horrible hardship, I’m sure. Doesn’t your heart just break for him?

3. He blames me for his internet porn addiction and “having to masturbate for 20 years” because, you know, sweeping generalizations again, and not wanting to take responsibility for his own actions. The reality is, I’ve had plenty of sex with him. Sometimes when I didn’t really want to because I felt obligated. Sometimes it felt an awful lot like rape, because I would start having flashbacks during it, and it didn’t really matter. I’m not saying he raped me, but he didn’t always stop fucking me when the flashbacks started either. He usually pretended not to notice somehow; meanwhile, I’d end up frozen in fear, or crying and shaking fairly violently, and in extreme cases, vomiting.

That’s what impacted him, incidentally. The times he couldn’t ignore it, and would have to stop. He even had the nerve to tell me he stopped having sex with me altogether because he “cares” about me and didn’t want to cause my flashbacks, when in actuality, they were annoying and inconvenient (much like me). That’s why he turned to porn and serial masturbation. It’s all my fault as far as he’s concerned. He said I’ve “robbed him of 20 years” of his life all because I couldn’t fuck him the way he wanted me to all the time. That’s what our life together has been all about for him. I’ve been made to feel guilty for not wanting to, or not being physically able to (i.e. during pregnancy, flashbacks, illnesses, etc.), “perform” for him.

Reality Check

If I’d had a loving, caring partner who supported and encouraged me, instead of abusing me and making me feel like I had to earn his love (and never quite succeeding), maybe I’d have felt a little more like being intimate. Maybe if I hadn’t had a husband who ignored obvious signs of distress while having sex with me when he knew my history, we could have had a healthier sex life. Maybe if he wasn’t constantly caught in lies (some serious; some stupid)… Maybe if I didn’t have to worry about my mistakes, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities being thrown in my face all the time, or if the effects of my childhood abuse and his abusive treatment of me hadn’t been leveraged against me as signs that I’m deficient… I could have trusted him at all. Maybe if he wasn’t abusive, I could have felt safe with him. Maybe our lives would be different… No. Everything would definitely be different. 

If this is happening to you, please know you are not alone. It’s happening to me right now, even though I ended the relationship, I have a pretty decent understanding of why it’s happening, I know it’s wrong, and I’m well aware it’s not my fault. I’m still sort of trapped in it, because we literally can’t sustain two households at the moment, and it continues to hurt me. All of my efforts are going toward changing these circumstances as quickly as possible, but until I do, I have to live with him, and so do our children.

I allowed him to steal a day from me. I let him sabotage me once again, and it makes me angry. Because I had to recover from a three hour long attack on my character and all-out assault on my overall recovery, I lost an entire day of work (he would say I was making excuses), which certainly doesn’t help me move out any faster, and that is what I desperately need at this point. Every time he does this, it reinforces the very abuse I’m working so hard to heal from, opens some of my wounds, and it always ends with me comforting him. (Every. Single. Time.) Because I can’t stand to see anyone in pain, even if they just gutted me. (This time he cried, which may explain why he accuses me of using my tears to manipulate him. And I fell for it. He got me to comfort him in the end.) All of this keeps me trapped here in this sickness. With him. Coincidence? Doubt it.

I won’t let that happen, though. I’m determined, and I am unequivocally stronger than he is. I can’t change what happened to me, or even some of what’s happening to me right now. All I can do is continue to learn how to control my reactions to this type of abuse. Honestly, at this point, you can’t rattle me if I don’t care about you. For some reason, I still care about my ex. That makes me mad as well, but I’m trying not to be so hard on myself. Someone needs to cut me a break for once. It should probably be me.

My hope is that reading this will help someone else (ideally, before they are sucked too far into the narcissistic vortex). It is never okay for someone to hold things that are out of your control against you, especially if they are the result of abuse. If someone makes you feel like you are hard to love, they are the defective one. It’s because they don’t know how to love. It has nothing to do with you. They are sick and using you for supply. You can take back your life, and so can I. It’s not going to be easy, but it will be worth it. I believe in us. We are the strong ones, and that is why they must try to tear us down and hold us back. They fear us, because they should.

Handling Sex Daggers and Other Intrusive Energy as a Highly Sensitive Person

Warning: This post is long, deals with mature topics of a sexual nature, contains a little swearing, and may also be a potential trigger for some abuse survivors. Additionally, it was written from the perspective of a cisgender, heterosexual woman relating to cisgender, heterosexual men. I apologize in advance for my inability to be more inclusive on this particular subject. Please feel free to contact me if you have suggestions on how to correct any inadvertent cissexist language.

You know the feeling. You’re being watched. You know someone’s eyes are on you because you can literally feel them. Everyone has had this experience at some point.

The eyes are central to communication. They give us important cues about other people’s intentions and emotions. And, as it turns out, human brains are hard-wired to actually detect another person’s gaze. Studies have recorded that certain brain cells fire when someone looks directly at you (even if you cannot see the person).

Source: pixabay.com

In addition, our eyes have evolved to have a much greater contrast between the sclera (the white part) and the iris (the colored part), which makes it easier to tell where a person is looking. It also makes our eyes much more expressive. Such features would be a disadvantage in many other species, most notably in predators. However, human survival relies on cooperation and communication; therefore, it is to our advantage to communicate certain things to others through our eyes. Simply put, sometimes you can convey more information with just one look than you can with your entire vocabulary.

Knowing someone is looking at you gives you the opportunity to determine their intentions towards you. Are they friendly? Are they dangerous? Do they want to take what you have? Do they want to share what they have? Are they “throwing sex daggers out of their eyes” at you? (Gratuitous Gilmore Girls reference)

If you are a woman, chances are you are even more attuned to other people’s gazes. After all, we have a lot more to figure out, specifically if the gaze is coming from a man who might be sexually interested in us.

First, let’s assume you are also attracted to said man, he isn’t giving you any weird or creepy vibes so his attention is welcomed, and you lock eyes. What happens next? To get a little science-y on you for a minute, it sets off a chain of chemical reactions in your brain. You can’t control this. Before you even have time to form a conscious thought, your brain has sized the other person up and basically decided if they are a biologically viable candidate for you to…well, mate with. But I digress. This could become another article altogether. Let’s just say, “it could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship,” and leave it that, at least for now.

Source: unsplash.com

What happens if you are not attracted to the person gazing upon you? Hopefully nothing. You take notice, maybe even feel a little flattered (you’ve still got “it”), and you both move on with your lives. No harm, no foul.

But, what if the gaze makes you uneasy? What does it mean when you feel violated simply because of the way a man is looking at you? To be blunt, it’s probably because his thoughts are sexually aggressive and he’s “throwing sex daggers” at you with his eyes.

Can someone you are mutually attracted to throw them at you? Sure. Being attracted to someone does not automatically exempt them from being a predator. (Wouldn’t that make dating, and life in general, a whole hell of a lot easier, though?) If you’re actually attracted to a predator, you are more likely to ignore or explain away your discomfort to your own detriment.

The word “daggers” implies, at the very least, that the man wielding them is penetrating you with his eyes, so to speak. And he’s probably not having a “run-of-the-mill” fantasy about you either. More than likely, he is imagining dominating you.

“Sex daggers” are not to be confused with “fuck me eyes” which tell someone they can “have you” if they want you, and can be achieved by both men and women. When you gaze back into them, they are not sexually aggressive or threatening in any way, and they definitely do not appear to have thoughts of domination behind them. If anything, they signal a sort of submission to you. They are meant to say, “take me, I’m yours” (or something). “Sex daggers” (the way I’m talking about) are strictly thrown by male predators, and it’s imperative to remember that not all men do this. If a man makes you feel violated solely by the way he looks at you, listen to your instincts. They are there to protect you. (I am learning to take my own advice, but more on that in a bit.) This is where it can become complicated and confusing if you are like me, even more so when you are also a highly sensitive person. (I’ll touch on the complications later.)

What does it mean to be a “highly sensitive person” (or HSP)?

According to Dr. Elaine Aron, “the highly sensitive person (HSP) has a sensitive nervous system, is aware of subtleties in his/her surroundings, and is more easily overwhelmed when in a highly stimulating environment.

But the key quality is that, compared to the 80% without the trait, they process everything around them much more—reflect on it, elaborate on it, make associations. When this processing is not fully conscious, it surfaces as intuition. This represents a survival strategy found in a [sic] many species, always in a minority of its members.”

If you are the kind of person who likes self-tests, you can take this one (and probably others) to find out if you might be (online tests are not conclusive) a highly sensitive person, but my guess is you already know if you are. 😉 (My total was 19 in case you’re wondering.)

Source: pixabay.com

Some who are considered highly sensitive also identify as “empaths” or “empathic” and tend to be “tuned in” to the emotions of those around them. When they say they can “feel your pain,” they really mean it. These are the people who tend to go out of their way to make others more comfortable. I am this way, and I don’t mind admitting that it’s a little self serving. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want you to be uncomfortable either, but let’s be real for a minute. If you’re uncomfortable, I’m uncomfortable. I’m going to do my best to alleviate the discomfort for us both.

If you feel like we’ve suddenly entered “hooey” or “supernatural” territory, I assure you we have not. Everything discussed so far can be explained scientifically. All animals rely on instinct for survival and, I hate to break it to you, but Bloodhound Gang was right: “You and me, baby, ain’t nothin’ but mammals.” We can’t escape biology.

I won’t pretend to be an expert on this, but I understand it well enough to feel confident saying that anything people tend to view as “intuition” or even “psychic ability” can likely be chalked up to firing brain cells and chemical reactions all going on undetected, (as well as other things I don’t understand well enough to try to explain, but you can google it if you’re bored later), and probably a host of other things we have yet to discover and make sense of. All I can say is, nothing that occurs naturally should be considered supernatural or unnatural.

What makes someone an HSP?

Again, I am not an expert. I’m merely someone with an intense interest in understanding pretty much everything (including myself), and a compulsion to gain as much knowledge on any given subject as my brain can hold. (Evidently, some of it is stickier.) I’m pretty sure this is where a “nature versus nurture” debate could begin, but that’s yet another article.

I can tell you what I believe the contributing factors were in my case. Aside from perhaps having a personality that is conducive to hyper sensitivity and empathy, I was conditioned to be this way from birth due to narcissistic and other forms of abuse. It is a survival mechanism.

You may have learned that 7% of communication is verbal, while the other 93% is made up of vocal variety (tone of voice) and nonverbal cues, such as eye contact, facial expressions, body language, and even things you can’t consciously detect, like pheromones. I don’t necessarily put much weight behind the percentages because I think it’s nearly impossible to measure such things accurately. Improvable statistics aside, however, let’s look at it logically. Is it easy to lie with words? Generally, the answer is overwhelmingly yes. Is it easy to control your body language? Not so much for most people. This is probably because the majority of it goes on “behind the scenes” so we don’t even realize what we’re doing. I pay more attention to people’s actions than their words for this reason. For example, when someone tells you they don’t mean to hurt you, yet they keep doing things they know are painful to you, they are lying. Believe their behavior, not their words.

Source: pixabay.com

When you grow up in an abusive environment, particularly if you have a decidedly volatile authority figure, it is in your best interest to learn that person and assess their mood based on their demeanor as quickly as possible to keep yourself safe. When you never know what will set them off, you have to get good at figuring out their moods, and more importantly, their mood swings. If they are already in a bad mood, you avoid them because they will take it out on you. Unfortunately, you can’t always prevent it, though. Some severely toxic people will quite literally be fine one moment, then a raving lunatic the next, for no apparent reason. It is due to their own warped perception and disordered thinking, which is a serious oversimplification, but you get the idea. Circumstances like these programmed me to evaluate other people’s moods within seconds and adjust my behavior accordingly.

Another contribution to my high sensitivity, specifically in regards to sexual energy, is having been sexualized at a very young age. I am not in a place where I’m ready to publicly write about this in depth, but here is what I’m comfortable saying for now. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t acutely aware of my own sexuality and the “power” it possessed. In fact, I was conditioned to believe that was the only thing even remotely “special” about me before I ever hit kindergarten. I was raised on the belief that women are secondary to men, irrational, quite often stupid, and really only good for one thing. Further, if someone “couldn’t resist” me, it was my own fault for being too sexual. (Small children don’t sexualize themselves. Adults do that to them.) I think you probably get enough of the gist without requiring any more details.

Why does everything have to be so complicated?

Remember a long time ago, when I said I would explain the complications for people like me later? You finally made it to later. Because of my childhood, as well as sexual assaults and a rape during my teens and early adulthood, I am much more sensitive to other people’s sexual energy if it is directed at me in particular. It’s probably supposed to protect me. Unfortunately, it all feels like a violation. Even if it’s a totally innocent, involuntary chemical reaction. And it doesn’t even matter if I find the man attractive either. I could be totally digging his treats, but if I get the impression he’s thinking about how I fuck, I’m out. I can’t deal. I don’t want to feel objectified in any way, by anyone, even if I like the person. I know this is not a healthy reaction to have to a healthy sexual interest, though, so I’ve been working through it.

Here’s a little confession I hadn’t told anyone until recently: I’ve never seen another human being and thought, “break me off a piece of that” (or whatever people think when they find someone attractive). In other words, the mere sight of someone has never triggered me to have a sexual thought or even just a feeling. (From what I understand, most people experience this naturally due to the rush of chemicals that occurs when they see someone they like. And now I sound like a total alien, but oh well.) I have the same response to every attractive person I see, regardless of gender. I think some variation of, “now that’s a symmetrical face,” or “wow, isn’t he aesthetically pleasing?” Yeah, I’m just that much of a nerd I guess. Of course, that’s not to say that I’ve never experienced sexual attraction for someone before, but I’ve never experienced it first. The other person has to show an interest in me to begin with…to get my neurons firing or something? (Still not an expert.)

Plus, because of my past experiences, I have a lot of trouble trusting men. Sorry, fellas. Logically, I know you’re not all bad, but I guess I feel safer assuming you are, if I don’t know you. I’m working on that, too, along with everything else.

What’s my point? I am constantly at war with what I’m perceiving and what I think about myself. So, when I get the feeling someone is into me, I automatically talk myself out of it for all of the reasons laid out above. Additionally, narcissistic abuse causes you to second guess yourself on everything. With gaslighting as its backbone, it manufactures self-doubt in its victims. It makes you believe your memory is wrong or that you’re overreacting. When this is a constant in your life from day one, it takes an unimaginable amount of strength and tenacity to rewire the circuitry of your brain, if you can even recognize the necessity for it in the first place. Then there’s the tiny matter of always being excruciatingly uncomfortable with any kind of attention (you don’t want attention from narcissists), but especially that kind. All of this makes determining a man’s intentions towards me almost impossible, and that combined with everything else is why I can’t bring myself to trust them. See? I’ve done a lot of work so far, but there’s so much more ahead of me. It’s daunting to think about it all, so I have to take it one step at a time.

This brings me to the same conclusion my last article did. It is crucial for me to be single and focused on healing myself for a long while. I don’t just have baggage. I have a complete set of beat-up, mismatched luggage that carries way more than you would think… No. Scratch that. I don’t have luggage. I have an entire bag of holding.

I, like everyone else, am a work in progress. I just happen to have been saddled with a lot more work than most. Though it is mind-numbingly frightening at times, I am genuinely grateful for this journey. I don’t know where it will lead me yet, but by the time I get there, my bag of holding will be full of invaluable lessons learned and tools I can use to help others transform their lives for the better.