The Fertile Void: My last blog post


Most of my life, I’ve been someone I didn’t want to be, who did things she didn’t want to do.

I didn’t understand why and I didn’t know how to change.

Through lots of therapy and reading, I came to learn that I was the way I was because of my upbringing, because of abuse and neglect and assault. These things — trauma, in other words — made me who I was, made me do the things I did, took away my control.

When I decided to take back control of my life, when I decided to heal, I thought that because I wanted to change, I would, just like that. I thought wanting was enough to stop doing things I didn’t want to do and stop being who I didn’t want to be.

But things don’t work like that. These are learned behaviors, natural responses to danger, coping mechanisms that kept me safe and sane and alive. They didn’t just disappear when I faced them. I didn’t become someone new overnight.

It started with one thing, one step. I did one thing that I wanted to do, with intention and purpose. One thing that was representative of who I wanted to be.

Then I did that one thing again. And again. All the other things stayed the same. Until I did another thing that I wanted to do. And then I had two things, I had taken two steps.

And it went on like that, until my life was more things I wanted to do than not. Until I was mostly the person I wanted to be.

I’m not completely there yet. But I’m somewhere different than I was.

Sometimes I still do things I don’t want to do. I’m still a person I don’t want to be, some days. I’ve learned to forgive myself, and quickly, for those times. They are not missteps or backslides. Every step is now one in the right direction, because I’m on a new road, a different one than the one I was on before. And I know where I’m going.

I want to thank you for coming on this journey with me. For being able to hear and see things that are uncomfortable, maddening and sorrowful. I hope being able to hold space for those things is something you want to do. I hope it’s part of who you want to be: someone who listens and feels and doesn’t turn away from pain.

I’m going now, to figure out what my life looks like now that it is my own. This is the fertile void, the culmination of my effort. I’ve planted the seeds of my life, now I wait and see what grows.

I wish you all love and healing and happiness and a life that is true to who you want to be.

Autobiography In Five Short Chapters

Chapter I

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost… I am hopeless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

Chapter II

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in this same place.
But it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

 Chapter III

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it there.
I still fall in… it’s a habit… but,
my eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

 Chapter IV

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

Chapter V

I walk down another street.

– Portia Nelson


The Boy and the Tree

Kindly Destroy Yourself For Me This Is Why I Cheat

Will you kindly destroy yourself for me?

Turn off your needs and desires so that I might have an easier time.

It’s been fun watching you drive. You’ve done very well and I’m proud of you.

But can you please go back on auto-pilot? Hand me your keys?

Let’s just coast for awhile

or maybe forever

It was too wild of a ride

with you in control

too crazy for my comfort.


Would you be so sweet

as to tune down your emotions?

and power down your self?

It was starting to demand things of me

that I just won’t do.

Shut up your feelings.

In fact, just shut up

if you wouldn’t mind.

The things you have to say

are too hard for me to hear.


And could you maybe stop thinking

about yourself?

Why don’t you take your mind off things

and come help me out instead?

I’ve been feeling neglected

while you were busy

taking care of you

there was no one to take care of me

but me

and I wasn’t going to get around to it.


If it’s not too much trouble

I really would appreciate you

burning those bridges you built.

It’s been so cold and lonely, you see,

without the warmth

I normally get from you.

They would really make a nice fire

with which to warm my hands.

Throw in those fences, too,

the ones you placed

to protect yourself.

You’re not going to need them anymore.


Now that I think of it,

my skin feels a little raw

from all the truth

I’ve been exposed to.

Your’s seems pretty thick.

Could you peel me off a slice or two?

to patch my wounds?

My heart feels a bit worn, too,

I could use another one

to back it up.

You’re not using yours, right?

Mind if I borrow it for awhile?


Your bones would make a nice cage for me

to keep me safe

in case you decide

to need anything else.


There now, isn’t this nice?

Doesn’t it feel good?

to be needed?

This is Why We Roar: When Women Aren’t Heard

this is why i cheat why we roar when women arent heard

When I was a little girl, my parents used to yell. Not screaming matches of hurled insults and shrill accusations, the kind you see on reality TV shows about dysfunctional families and rich housewives.

But they were full of their own kind of heat. Voices were raised; gestures became wilder, words more venomous. It was a slow buildup to the inevitable surrender by one party, followed by hours or days of imposed silence on the whole house.

I used to say to my parents, when these arguments began: Please stop yelling. Please stop yelling.

They would scream back: WE’RE NOT YELLING!

It could almost be comical if it wasn’t so tragic. Maybe they weren’t yelling; they certainly weren’t calm. ‘Animated’ is how they would refer to it years later.

Now, with time and distance, I can see what they could not. That I, in my own way, was attempting to put a voice to what my body was feeling, though my 8-year-old vocabulary wasn’t adequate enough: I was scared.

I felt fear and tension. I felt stress. (I feel it now, typing this — just the memory of my parents’ fervent speech and angry faces is enough to quicken my heart rate and shorten my breath.)

Those exchanges were my earliest experiences with the denial of my truth. My parents shouting to me ‘WE’RE NOT YELLING’ was my first lesson in what would become a fully ingrained belief: What I think and feel not only does not matter, it is not real.

Many more followed, from classmates and coworkers telling me I had no reason to be angry, sad, scared, hurt, offended or upset. Boyfriends telling me that what I felt as cruel and abusive actually wasn’t. And, most insidiously, countless men telling me that my no’s weren’t really no’s at all, but confused, ill-informed edicts about what I really wanted.

The first time I was assaulted, he didn’t even bother asking my permission. So I thought, next time, I’ll say something before I get into a situation like that.

I was upfront with my next boyfriend. I told him no to x, y and z. But he must not have heard, or else misunderstood, because he kept asking. Again and again. And each time, my no’s became weaker and weaker until they were so quiet that he could ignore them and pretend they hadn’t been there at all. We both pretended they hadn’t been there. And while I lay on the couch next to him bleeding and weeping, he smiled in a satisfied way. And he never asked again.

The third guy didn’t ask for permission either. He just waited until I was incapacitated and took what he wanted. Probably he sensed that there was enough strength in me to say no had I been given the chance. I was a slow learner to the fact that a woman’s no didn’t have that much power.

What I had failed to grasp twice before was fully imprinted on my body and soul now. Third time’s the charm, I guess.

And so I stopped saying no, to anyone. In a strange way, it probably saved me seven years of heartache and pain. Because there were so many regrets, but that’s all they were: Regrets, not rape, because I had given up on the idea that I had a right to say what happened to my body.

Years passed, and I got some help. I learned that not only could I say no, I should. And I did: I started drawing a line at safer forms of sexual contact. Kissing, groping. I was reclaiming the power I hadn’t had since that first guy at age 13. It felt great.

Then Joe happened. He, too, could probably sense my power, my strength. And so he, too, took what I was not able to give freely. Swimming in a state of semi-consciousness, my alcohol-soaked brain registered only the rough surface of the sheets, the heaviness of his body, and the sense of complete failure: Once again, I had failed to say no loudly and plainly enough so that he would be forced to listen.

This time to me was the most devastating. I developed PTSD after this attack, though after none of the others. There was something so much more violating about having some small  power and still being conquered. I had never been defeated before, because I had walked in surrendering.

There are a hundred factors that contributed to me being there that night. Over the past two years, I have worked on as many of them as possible. It would be easy to write off that experience, all those experiences, as the evil works of warped men and boys. But to do that would be to ignore the societal forces that shape us into individuals that can easily fail to hear the voices of our most vulnerable citizens.

The perfect demonstration of this came at the hands of one of the only truly nice guys I dated during those lost years. Kind, respectful to women: He felt guilt over the one girl he slept with in college without the intention of dating her, even though she was a willing participant. Just to give you an idea of the thrust of his moral compass.

His father had told him, as he relayed to me, that the best advice for sex was: Never do anything with someone who doesn’t want it as much as you.

And yet he, too, one night, did not hear me. We were dating, and maintaining a fairly normal sex life. At that point, I still hadn’t realized all the myriad ways my past had fucked me up.

He was trying to fool around. After a few half-hearted attempts, I said no thank you. I wasn’t in the mood. Still, he persisted. Kindly, gently, he persisted. He touched me in all the places I normally like to be touched. And so, falling back into my old patterns of compliance, I surrendered.

I disassociated during, and after, I cried. Did I not want to? he asked. Why hadn’t I said something?

But I HAD said it. Plain and simple, but there: No.

Was it assault? Maybe not, but was it ethically, morally and every other way wrong to ignore my no and proceed as planned? Hell. Fucking. Yes. Because if the roles had been reversed and he’d said no to me (which has happened before) I would not have persisted: I would have respected his decision and left him alone. To do anything else would be unthinkable to me.*

That was it for me, the turning point. When I realized that the story we tell ourselves about sex and women is one of games and scores and conquests. Not a mutual, shared activity with two equally enthusiastic participants.

And the story we tell ourselves about gender roles and power is one of male vs. female, bosses vs. bitches, emotional vs. rational — a thousand lies that add up to one devastating truth: What women think, feel and want does not matter, cannot be trusted as valid.

For me, this story began at the feet of parents, begging them to please calm down. They could have done a million things: left the room; put us to bed; taken a deep breath; or simply sat me down and explained to me that sometimes people get upset, but it doesn’t mean they don’t love you, and it doesn’t mean they are going to hurt you.

That story — that my fear wasn’t real; that my body was lying to me about what felt safe and unsafe — became the framework for how I treated myself. And it is that framework that I must strive to dismantle if I am every to fully realize my right to autonomy.

Changing the story — for women, for kids, for minorities, for LGBT individuals, for the disabled and disenfranchised — begins at home. It begins with allowing others to speak their truth about their experiences.

It baffles me, has always baffled me, that when discussing the plight of women and sexual assault, or minorities and police brutality, or LGBT rights, we so often turn to straight, white, old men for guidance.

What the hell do they know?!? How can they speak with authority for what it is to be a young woman in college or a gay man in the workplace?

When I see groups marching on the streets for an end to police shootings, when I see a girl carrying her dorm bed mattress around campus, when I read about a gay couple suing a cake baker, I think: I get it.

These are wild stunts. They are loud. They are abrasive. What they do for the cause is debatable. But the passion behind them — and the necessity for them — is undeniable.

We march because you did not see us walking quietly by.

We yell because you did not hear us plainly say, ‘Enough.’

We roar our disapproval because our first hundred no’s went unheard. Because nothing less than a shouting, screaming, kicking victim is  acknowledged as a victim.

I would love to not be roaring. I would love to calmly state my case and be taken at my word. I would love my motives and competence to decide for myself what is wrong to not be questioned. But we aren’t there yet.

When you can’t go to the cops because you were drinking when you got assaulted, we aren’t there yet.

When you get called a bitch, cunt, whore and worse for speaking up, we aren’t there yet.

When you make less money and hold fewer positions of power because people — including other women — don’t like taking directions from a woman, we’re not there yet.

And when even a nice guy can still not hear your no, we’re not there yet.

I am woman, hear me roar
In numbers too big to ignore
And I know too much to go back an’ pretend
‘Cause I’ve heard it all before
And I’ve been down there on the floor
No one’s ever gonna keep me down again

You can bend but never break me
‘Cause it only serves to make me
More determined to achieve my final goal
And I come back even stronger
Not a novice any longer
‘Cause you’ve deepened the conviction in my soul

I am woman watch me grow
See me standing toe to toe
As I spread my lovin’ arms across the land
But I’m still an embryo
With a long, long way to go
Until I make my brother understand

Oh yes, I am wise
But it’s wisdom born of pain
Yes, I’ve paid the price
But look how much I gained
If I have to, I can face anything
I am strong
I am invincible

I am woman


*I just want to acknowledge that although I do not characterize this unpleasant experience as rape or assault, I do not speak for anyone else or their experiences. If you read this scenario and it feels similar to an assault you experienced, I have no right to decide for you that it wasn’t. This is not a court of law or a criminal proceeding, and in your own healing, only YOU get to define what was OK and what wasn’t. 

You Always Liked Me Best

You Always Liked Me Best This Is Why I Cheat

You always liked me best when I was lying at your feet

but you never reached a hand to help me off the floor.

You always liked me best when I was suffering defeat

but you’re the only one who was ever keeping score.

You always liked me best when I was sounding the retreat

but you always tried to stop me from walking out the door.

You always liked me best when I was crying in the street

but you never figured out what I was dying for.

You always liked me best when I was suckling at your teat

but you liked to turn me down if I ever asked for more.

You always liked me best when I was howling from the heat

but you never missed a chance to label me a whore.

You always liked me best when I was lying at your feet

but that’s the one place you won’t find me anymore.

Rape in the Newsroom, Part 2: in which nobody says nothin’

Rape in the Newsroom This Is Why I Cheat

My co-workers have been talking about my rape in conversations that didn’t include me. It’s something I’ve long suspected, since I wrote this post more than a year ago. But my suspicions were only recently confirmed. Now I’m trying to figure out why no one has said anything to me in the more than 12 months since I disclosed.

Some of them still hang out with him. Maybe they don’t know. Probably they don’t care. Not my business, they’d say. Not my place to know what the truth is.

Except it is.

It’s our only place in this world, to learn the truth. I know lots of journalists; none of them make much money and most of them work too much and bitch all the time. There’s no job perks except that you get to do the thing that drives you as a human being: Find the truth and write about it.

So I can’t believe that they wouldn’t want to know the truth about this. In that way, I’m not surprised they gossiped about it, discussed it among themselves. Maybe I’m really angry because I’m afraid they’ve found the truth and it isn’t mine.

Maybe that’s why they didn’t say anything. Because they’ve looked at the evidence and concluded I’m just another girl overreacting about a drunken night and a bad decision. But they kinda like me and don’t want to make me feel bad, so they stay silent.

Even though I fear this, I kind of doubt it. It’s more likely that they are supremely uncomfortable about the whole thing, with no idea how to approach it or me. And I can’t be disappointed, because who does?

But people did talk to me about it. Four people in the office did bring it up, did ask me what happened, did believe me, did support me. Four people, who, by the way, aren’t even reporters, whose job isn’t even to find out the truth.

They are designers and editors and sports people. And it strikes me now that maybe that’s why they could ask me, because their job isn’t finding out the truth bur taking the truth and organizing it into something digestible and easy to understand.

Maybe I shouldn’t be angry. After all, no one tells you what to do when your co-worker gets assaulted. There’s no manual; it’s not outlined in the employee handbook. But I just feel like any fucking decent human being knows what to do. And any good journalist knows that story built on hearsay isn’t a story at all. You always talk to the victim if you can, always.

Here we are as a news organization trying to navigate our way in a 21st-century world that has left us behind, trying to figure out how to reach a generation that doesn’t think they need us, that might not actually need us. It might not seem like one thing has anything to do with the other, but I firmly believe it does.

It’s not enough to dispassionately observe and report anymore. You can’t stand quietly by commenting when your readership feels the world is burning down around them. You’ve got to do more, be more human, take more stands, do the right thing. You’ve got to be more open, more honest, less impartial and worried about objectivity than ever before.

Not on everything — not on the city council and business disputes and density concerns, but on the stuff that matters. On the stuff that needs a voice. It’s not bad journalism to say that anti-immigrant rhetoric is wrong, that Islamaphobia is wrong, that oppressing civil rights is wrong. But it is bad humanism not to.

Maybe this makes me a bad journalist. I don’t know. Maybe my peers are being good journalists by not taking my side, the side of an accuser. But they’re being bad humans by pretending not to be involved.

Sexual assault does not happen in a vacuum. It affects everybody in the community in which it occurred. Maybe my co-workers think they don’t get to have feelings about what happened, but they do. They knew him; they worked with him, laughed with him, maybe got beers with him. You can’t not have a feeling when someone you liked is accused of something so heinous.

They know me, too. They work with me, laugh with me, drink with me. Not sure if they like me, but I suspect so. I’m nice enough, most of the time. Maybe, I think, they do believe me and are trying to protect me from the pain of having to talk about it, think about it.

If that’s the case, I have news for them: Please don’t. You’re not protecting anyone but yourself. I have been thinking about this and talking about it for years. Every time I hear his name, it’s like I’m there again. I am swimming in waves of old grief and panic that wash up every time I have to look up an old story that bears his byline.

You are not protecting me; you are leaving me to drown alone. And I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe through the pain of not knowing what you believe.

Please, please talk to me. It will be uncomfortable for a few minutes, awkward for a few days, but the easement of pain will last a lifetime for us both. Maybe what you have to say isn’t something I’d want to hear, but trust me when I tell you there is nothing you can say that is as painful as this silence.

Silence and shame is no way to live. And it’s no way to work.

Please, somebody, say something.

Because I’m all about providing solutions and not just lectures, visit this site for tips and more information on what to do when someone you know discloses sexual assault. 

Five minutes to self destruction

immolation this is why i cheat self destructive

Don’t call me self destructive.

Other people did the destroying.

All my life, I’ve been just trying to repair what other people broke. I started out perfect and whole, like every blessed baby on this earth.  It was them that let the cracks in, them that picked me off the solid earth, mishandled me and dropped me. Them, with their harsh words and stony silences and evil deeds. Them, telling me I was already broken, that my brokenness was breaking them. For so many years on this earth, that was my truth. You don’t mind wiping the floor with a dirty rag. That’s what they’re for. And no one ever asks how it got dirty in the first place.

I will burn everything down if I have to. But not to destroy. To renew. The way forests do. Seeds growing in the fertility of the ashes, clearing out the brush and decay of years of neglect.

Don’t call me self destructive.

What about the monks, who set themselves aflame? Is it their own destruction they crave, or that of a cruel and uncaring system that has risen up to oppress them? Every act of self destruction is an act of self preservation. What happens when the pressure of your own reality becomes too great, when the pain of your life and the lives of the ones you love is too much, and the only answer is blood and guns and fire because they are lighter than tears.

Don’t call me self destructive.

It was others who destroyed me. And I am trying to repair myself by radical means, because the simple ones didn’t work. My plaintive pleas for help went unheard and unanswered, so I am left here with a match in my hand and I’ll light it, I swear I will but won’t you please just stop for a second and watch? Listen to my body burn, my joints crack under the heat, my skin blister and peel. Hear the chorus of complaints rising from my flesh, amplified to a decibel you can’t ignore.

Don’t call me self destructive.

Unless you want to know about what I am destroying myself for, and from whom I am escaping.

Unless you want to take the match from my hand and stay with me awhile. Sit down with me and listen. Believe me what I tell you, when I tell you. Fucking care. If you can’t stand to hear the gory details, you don’t get to watch me burn, or say who set me alight.

I am the one holding the match, but you hold the power.

You and the others. The ones who broke me. And made my self destruct

Being A Girl: A Brief Personal History of Violence

The Belle Jar


I am six. My babysitter’s son, who is five but a whole head taller than me, likes to show me his penis. He does it when his mother isn’t looking. One time when I tell him not to, he holds me down and puts penis on my arm. I bite his shoulder, hard. He starts crying, pulls up his pants and runs upstairs to tell his mother that I bit him. I’m too embarrassed to tell anyone about the penis part, so they all just think I bit him for no reason.

I get in trouble first at the babysitter’s house, then later at home.

The next time the babysitter’s son tries to show me his penis, I don’t fight back because I don’t want to get in trouble.

One day I tell the babysitter what her son does, she tells me that he’s just a little boy, he doesn’t know…

View original post 1,529 more words

National Poetry Day: In Each Others’ Stories

*for you

*for you

You know how you are mad at me for hurting you,

but you’re not allowed to be,

because it’s not my fault?

I am mad at you, too.

I am mad as hell that

— during the darkest days of my life —

I have to understand

to guide

to coax

to soothe.

I have to be the adult

I have to be both our parents

(and I didn’t have very good role models).

This is my time.

It is supposed to be my time

to mess up

to make mistakes

to cry, to whine, to fuss

to throw tantrums

I am supposed to be the child

But I am the adult.

In the time of my greatest emotional upheaval,

I have to extend beyond myself

to supplement your emotional


But you know what that’s like, don’t you?

Stab, stab, switch.

Not the victim anymore

You are the provider

the rock

You had to cover up that exposed nerve

the one I struck with a mallet

Because I was the raped girl

and you were my man

You were the orphaned boy

family diced up by divorce

precipitated by betrayal

You are the boy with the broken h ome

The one with the amazing disappearing mother

but I know what that’s like, don’t I?

I remember that we are two acts of the same great saga

I read my life on your pages

We are each others’ villan

players in a sacred cycle of wounding and reaching

If we could just stop

and see each other

we would lay down our weapons

and bridge the chasm

of our alone togetherness

But my gaze is blurred by this white hot heat

This burning brilliance of anger

that obscures my view

Inside the raging flame of my ego

I am nothing but self

There is no you

There is only me

and my acres of need.

Maybe when this blaze burns out

and scorches me into clean white ash

It will leave my heart behind

full of empathy

for your struggle.

Maybe I will reach for you.

Maybe I am reaching for you now.

but you still need to burn, burn, burn

so you can be just you

and you can see just me

and not the bad guys we’ve become

in each others’ stories

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____ In the Newsroom: How Stories of Sexual Assault Become News Clippings


TRIGGER WARNING!!!!The following is a factual account of a sexual assault that occurred in May 2013. Readers may find content extremely disturbing and/or triggering.

It was mid-May 2013. I’m not sure of the date. Joe R***** and I went out after work to have some drinks. We were meeting up with some of his friends and one of mine. We had been out together twice before — once soon after I started the job, in late summer 2012, and again in March 2013 at a house party for one of our mutual co-workers. We had previous light sexual contact (kissing) before the May 2013 incident.

I drove to Joe’s apartment after my shift. We did shots of Jim Beam, maybe 2 or 3 each. Then we walked downtown to Connor O’Neils. His friends were there. We danced. I had a beer. I think only one, but maybe two. My friend, Geof, showed up later. We did Irish Car Bomb shots. We left the bar and walked back to Joe’s apartment. Geof had some cocaine that we were going to snort. I had never done cocaine.

When we got to his place, I felt very sick. I went into the bathroom and threw up. I stayed on the bathroom floor for a long time. I went into a dark bedroom, away from the kitchen light. I laid down and passed out. Joe and Geof stayed up in the kitchen, doing lines of coke. I don’t know for how long.

My friend Geof came in to the bedroom to tell me he was leaving. I don’t know if this is an actual memory, or just a memory of Geof telling me what happened. I can’t remember. I don’t remember Joe getting into bed with me. I remember seeing the street light outside the window, through the blinds. I don’t remember him taking off my clothes. I was clothed when I laid down.

I remember him on top of me. I remember him whispering words. I remember him slapping the side of my face and saying, “Stay with me.” I remember wishing I could be sober so I could stop him from having sex with me. But I couldn’t stay awake. I didn’t have control over my muscles; I couldn’t even get up to walk to the bathroom.

A few hours later, still in the early morning, it happened again. This time I was already naked. This time, he finished. I fell bask asleep. I woke up a few hours later and got up to go to the bathroom. I grabbed a shirt of his off the floor to cover up. I felt something wet on my thigh and I realized he had ejaculated inside of me. I asked him about it when he woke up. He said yes, that he did, and that it had been “stupid” of him. I told him I wasn’t on birth control. I asked if he had STDs, because he didn’t use a condom. He said no. I told him I would get the morning after pill. 

He watched me as I got dressed. I left.

Three months later, I had an ectopic pregnancy that ruptured, destroying my right Fallopian tube and nearly killing me. I had emergency surgery. The doctor said it was about three months along.

I came back to work after three weeks. I told Joe I needed to talk to him. One night after work, outside, I told him that about the pregnancy, the helicopter ride, the surgery. I told him it was his because I hadn’t had unprotected sex with anyone else. My boyfriend and I always used a condom. I told Joe I was mad he didn’t use a condom because it almost killed me. I said that if I’d had a choice, I wouldn’t have had sex with him. He said I was “still a good egg.”

I never talked to him again. In December 2014, I left him a letter. It told him I had been in therapy, in a support group. That I was taking a leave for PTSD. That I had been scared of him, but I wasn’t anymore. I wrote that he had raped me, and didn’t apologize when he had the chance. I asked him to pay the remaining $500 of my hospital bills.

I got a series of texts from him the day he read the letter.

“Can i talk to you about your letter at all? If not, how can i go about paying my share?”

“I am sorry. Truly sorry.”

“I’m sorry for your emergency trip and the surgery and all of the terrible things that came after, to be clear. I believed all sexual contact between us was consensual. … “

I emailed him a few days later to ask that all further contact with me be conducted through email. We have not had any contact since. 

This is my experience of my rape, presented in the most factual way possible. Noted out are the parts of the story that could not be confirmed independently by someone other than myself or my rapist.

This is how a journalist thinks. This is how a journalist must think. There’s an old joke: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”

A newspaper would never run an assault story like this. Not unless there was a police report. Or unless it was an accusation of a school/church/official mishandling claims. Or if either the accused or the accuser were famous.

This is not a criticism of journalism: It’s the sad and unfortunate truth that there’s nothing particularly noteworthy about sexual assault. They’re disturbingly commonplace.

But the fact that I’m a journalist and that my attacker was a journalist has always made me wonder: How would the people in our newsroom approach this assault as a news story? Assuming every piece of information that could be verified was important enough to verify.

Would they find his friends? The bartenders? Confirm how many drinks I had? Question Joe’s roommate about the sounds of retching coming from the bathroom? Track down Geof in Vietnam to attest to my physical condition at the time? Would that even matter, given that the largest chunk of my story, the only parts that pertain to the actual sexual contact, would be deemed completely inadmissible?

After all, there were only us two there. Only us two, with our potentially conflicting versions of the story. Even my story is in patches. Like all traumatic memories, it is not a neat, clean, linear narrative. It is jagged; patches of sights and sounds and sensations.

This is how someone’s experience, someone’s truth, is transformed into he said/she said. When we hear of rape victims coming forward, telling their stories, these are the parts that are parsed out, questioned, doubted.

“Just the facts, ma’am.”

As a journalist, I’m a firm believer in the facts being enough to draw a reasonable conclusion. And there are certainly more facts to this story, ones that can be confirmed by outside parties. My therapy, which can be traced in payments of thousands of dollars over several months. My presence for the past 18 months in a support group. My two-month leave from work; my diagnosis of PTSD. My panic attacks at work were largely invisible, but did anyone take note of my shifting attitude, my increasingly dour silences?

Shouldn’t this secondary evidence be considered? We mark behavioral changes in children as evidence of abuse, but what of adults? Are my personal struggles facts that bolster my story or merely circumstantial tidbits to be tossed aside?

And what of my character? I shudder to imagine those conversations. It’s technically not allowed to be used in courtroom arguments anymore, and it would be frowned upon in journalism, I think. But there’s always someone asking: What’s she getting out of this? How do we know we can trust her? There is always an edge of doubt — despite the statistics that false reporting of rape hovers around 1-2% — always the fleeting thought that anyone reporting this sensitive crime, instead of hiding away in shame, is seeking attention.

I’m not arguing that journalists should alter the way they report on sexual assaults. If you asked me what to change and how, I wouldn’t have an answer for you. I am as much a journalist as I am a survivor, and it’s hard as hell to unify those disparate parts of myself.

I think the reason it took so long for me to seek help, to admit to myself that there was a problem, was that I was approaching it as a journalist: There was sexual contact, but we had both been drinking. I couldn’t remember much, so who’s to say what really happened?

It took months of pointed questions from my support group — If you were awake and participating, why did he have to slap your face and say, ‘Stay with me’? Why did he call you a ‘good egg’ when you told him? That implies that YOU did something wrong. Would your boyfriend have done the same thing in the same situation? How about your guy friends? — before I could begin to admit that something was off.

I framed my experience in different terms: What if this happened to a friend of mine? Would I tell her the things I told myself, that is was OK, no big deal, just another bad night of drinking, another regrettable sexual decision? Or would I be upset — angry even — on her behalf?

I still believe in journalism. It is essential to a free, informed society. I still believe in its power and prestige. But in order to believe in myself more, I had to start believing in journalism less. Because as great as it is, as integral and as influential, it does not have all the answers. Not for me. Not for other survivors.

The kind of support we need will never be found on a newspaper page or a web article. The kind of belief we need to cultivate in ourselves can only come from others.

I’m not sure how being a journalist has helped me survive. But I know that surviving, choosing to heal from sexual assault, has made me a better journalist.

I have learned how to listen more intently; I have been forced to practice honesty; I have reaffirmed that my intuition is a powerful force, to be trusted. I have changed my interactions with people, gained appreciation for experiences both dissimilar and familiar to mine. And again and again, I have asked the hard questions  — of myself and others — and prepared myself for the difficult answers.

What I wasn’t prepared for was my shaken faith in journalists.

Journalism was my first refuge from an unkind world. When I stepped into that college newsroom, I belonged somewhere — for the very first time in my life. Here there were people who were a little bit funny, a little bit nerdy, and a whole lot skeptical. They labored for answers when most people didn’t even bother asking. And I fit right in.

We are supposed to be the good guys, defenders of truth and justice in a false and unjust society. I never expected to find a predator here, a wolf among shepherds. But I walked straight into his lair.

Maybe that was my last and final lesson as a journalist — question everything, and everybody. Trust no one, not even your own peers.

As a human being, what I learned was different. It was something that perhaps I should have realized long ago: Perpetrators come from all walks of life. They are preachers, they are coaches, they are friends and soldiers. They are young and old, male and female (but mostly male. As a journalist, I feel duty bound to report that factoid.).

Overwhelmingly, they are someone you know and trust.

But “trust no one” is not an ethos for life. You can’t live that way. I tried, for years, and it left me more broken than before. Instead, what I finally learned is not to trust or distrust an entire group of people based on personal association.

I am a survivor. I am also a journalist. Within those spheres, there are good people and bad people — but mostly good. And those are the ones I’m choosing to believe in.

I have yet to encounter someone in this newsroom who reacted negatively to my truth as a survivor. They have accepted and embraced me and my story not as journalists, but as people. And I have learned to do the same.

I am not going to leave the survivor behind. I have to learn to embrace her, for all her strengths AND weaknesses. Neither can I reject journalism because of how it fails me as a victim. I have a foot in both worlds, and I’m learning how to stay balanced.

Dear Duggars: What I Wish I Could Tell Victims of Abuse in Religious Families


Hi. You don’t know me, and I don’t know you. But I feel like I know your story and you know mine, better than you think. Not exactly, of course, because who can ever truly know our stories other than ourselves. But I know the shape of it, the feel. There are things that all survivors share. Unfortunate, universal truths that result from this horrible wounding.

I am so sorry for all of this. I am sorry for what happened to you, and sorry for it getting brought back up now. Although, for me personally, what happened never really went away. It was always there, and the people who mattered in my life just ignored it or expected me to deal with it. I’m sorry for that, too, if that also happened to you.

I’m sorry, because I know the pressure to forget. To go along to get along. I cannot imagine what it would be like in a family with a TV show, a family with so many people who could have so many different responses. I don’t know what it was like in your family, but I am sorry if it was anything less than 100% supportive and caring and kind. There are things your loved ones are supposed to say when things like this happen, and I don’t know if you ever heard them. But I’m saying them, if you want to listen.

It is not your fault.

What was done to you was completely, totally out of your control. You didn’t do anything to “bring this on yourself.” And it definitely wasn’t  part of God’s plan. No. Way. This isn’t some major test that the Lord wants you to struggle through. Growing up, I heard a lot of religious people say,  “God never gives us more than we can handle.” This isn’t that.

This is 100% on your abuser. He was wrong. He was outside of God’s plan. It is a terrible thing that he did to you. And then he left you to deal with it.

Your parents were wrong.

This, what was done to you, is a crime. It should have been treated as such. It was good of them to get your abuser out of the house, away from you. That was right. But more should have been done. You deserved more. More than a year of waiting for it to be reported. More than having to live in the same house with your abuser. More than having to listen to him tout his “purity” during his courtship. To pretend, before God and man, that because he hadn’t kissed his girlfriend, he was pure. That, more than anything, pisses me off. Hurts me deeply. Because I can imagine how much it may hurt you.

This has nothing to do with purity.

There is only one thing that matters about sex or sexual experiences: Consent. That is it. Whatever your religious beliefs, that is the No. 1 rule, the only one that should ever be considered. Whatever you do, whenever you do it, whomever you do it with – this should be your guide: If both of you don’t want it equally, it’s not OK.

What he did to you, that is the opposite of purity. It reveals a deep impurity of the soul. He took without asking. He stole something from you — but it wasn’t your purity. Your purity, your value, your essence of self, is how you treat yourself and others. As long as you hold true to that, to the importance of kindness and compassion, you will be among the few truly pure people in the world.

You don’t have to forgive anyone. Ever.

I remember what it was like growing up in a Christian household. It was a lot like yours, actually, except with a lot fewer people. But I remember it all: the Sunday mornings, the purity pledges, the Beatitudes and, most of all, the importance of forgiveness.

It is the cornerstone of our faith. We forgive because we are forgiven. Without it, we cannot hope to attain salvation – that is what we are taught. I am still struggling with the what forgiveness means to me now, now that I have abandoned my faith in God and replaced it with a faith in myself. But I do know this one thing, the thing I have figured out: I never have to forgive my abuser. And you don’t either.

Forgiveness is not a requirement, not something to be coaxed or cajoled out of you. It is yours to give — or not. It is not the entry cost to get to heaven. Not for this. I will forgive my abuser when he has walked through the same fire that I have. When he has gone through years of therapy, when he has suffered from PTSD and had to take a leave of absence from work, when he has lived and worked 15 feet from the person who terrifies him the most in the world — that will be a start. But it will still not earn my forgiveness.

Maybe God can judge me for that, if he wants. If he exists. But I don’t think he will. Because he knows my heart, and my soul. And they are pure. I would never hurt someone the way I have been hurt. I do not withhold forgiveness out of spite or malice, but out of protection. Out of protest. Until the last rapist, the last molester, has a full and complete understanding of what they have taken from us, their victims.

I don’t know you, and you don’t know me. But I know your story. I have been in a similar place. And my heart is with yours now, sending you hope for healing and wellness.

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