Not Broken After All

It is not my intention to use my blog as a platform for airing my stories of heartbreak, but it’s been a difficult few weeks. The trials have been piling up. I am tired and feeling tried to my limits, and I think only able to persevere through my days by taking them one at a time. This morning, the emotions hover in my throat and chest, threatening (more) tears and urging me to retreat from the world. But I won’t give in.

PTSD and the fall into shame and depression and anxiety thrive like parasites on negative emotion and on isolation. They depend on you turning in on yourself and forgetting that you don’t have to do this on your own. And so I’m reaching out, “getting out of my head,” as a good friend described it.

Go to a coffee shop or a place where there are other people. Call a friend. Get out of your head.

And I’m trying to remember to be kind to myself, to give myself grace. And the only way I can think to do that right now is to share what happened, to confess how much I hurt right now.

I fell in love a few months back. It was unexpected and not necessarily wanted—I wasn’t ready for anything serious. But I felt a connection I couldn’t deny. The spark between us was Tony-and-Maria-like, and I felt it from the first cup of coffee—and slice of espresso cake—we shared. I felt it when he offered to hold my hand after the first hour and when he stole his first kiss at the end of our first date. I knew I’d found someone amazing when he said he wanted to go slow because this felt like something special and he didn’t want to mess it up. I knew exactly what he meant.

He was like me in a lot of the ways I worry people will avoid me for. We both have PTSD and dark histories and deep sorrow in our pasts. We both have chronic health concerns and medicate to make our bodies work as they should. From the first moment, he accepted all that I was, including that I’m a mom. He cared about my children and went the extra mile to show that to me and to them.

The first month was perfect, the second filled with the need to overcome challenges—and we triumphed. And then, in the past few weeks, as so often happens with romance, it all unraveled. Rumors of alcoholism and a few scary moments that proved the rumors might be true. But I trusted him when he said it wasn’t and we moved past it. A week later another frightening night changed everything. In the end, I’d had to kick him out of my apartment twice—for his sake and then to feel safe in my safe place—and the second time he threatened that we were done if I made him leave. I drove him to the train station that night and watched him walk away. It was difficult to do.

We met two days later to exchange items left behind and find closure. We ended up talking about how much we’d loved each other and what went wrong and how there might still be chance to make things work, if we moved slowly and remembered those first weeks and took care of ourselves and each other. And so we made a final bid to make amends and share our hearts and our love.

Without meaning to, I again gave my heart fully, but he held back and told me he was doing so, and when I asked him to trust me, he stood me up and “ghosted” me, as the teens say—he completely ignored my calls and texts, as if he’d forgotten I existed. It took me more than an hour of waiting on the front steps of his new apartment (I went to help him move in) to convince myself he really wasn’t going to show and that it wasn’t an accident this time.

I know we have ground to regain, and I know we’re going slow. But I promise you I will fight for us, like you asked me to. I will fight with all my heart, because that’s how I love you. Please don’t give up on me. Please don’t stop fighting either. My heart, like yours, is vulnerable, and will hurt unbearably if you break it. But I trust you with it, my love. I trust you.

I wrote these words in a love letter he wouldn’t read because he was “afraid to feel too much” for me. Maybe he should have read the letter. Maybe I shouldn’t have trusted him so completely. Maybe it was all destined to end badly.

But as the shock of being deserted wears off, and I remember the hopes we had and the love we shared and how deeply I cared about him, as I let the tears fall with abandon and without shame, one thought persists: at least I was honest. And I loved him unconditionally. I couldn’t have given more. It occurs to me, too, that after over a year of fearing I’d never know love again (irrational but true), I loved. And this love, however tumultuous and briefly reciprocated, was sincere and whole-hearted. As it turns out, I haven’t been damaged irrevocably.

So, yes, it hurts, and that pain runs deep. But I realize now, after these words to you, that I’ve earned that pain and the right to own it. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. I loved and I lost that love. The pain just means I did it right. Welcome back to the world, Kate.

Do Not Be Silent

A friend reminded me today that those of us who have been hurt cannot stay silent. This is something I have known for a while and something I try to honor daily. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I don’t. It’s a struggle. Silence is so much easier than speaking out, than admitting the truth. If you are silent, you can feel numb, you can pretend you feel safe, you can try to forget. But the truth is always present; it doesn’t go away because you want it to. Instead, silence perpetuates the lies it hides. We must tell the truth.

I’ve done this here in my blog, used it as my media for being honest. Here, I am not silent. Here, I speak about what has happened to me, even when it’s difficult, even when I fear what others will think. I share my struggles and what is on my heart. And every time I do it, I heal little. I grow a little stronger; I gain a little power. I fight the pain and trauma and evil in my past. I stand up to the people who hurt me. I want to encourage you to do the same.

I realized today that it’s been nearly five years since my journey to uncover the truth inside me began. The inciting event was a late-night conversation with a friend. In the midst of our talk, I told him what I considered at the time to be my greatest secret: I was pregnant before I was married. This fact had caused me so much pain and had been used to shame me my entire adult life, and I hadn’t told more than two people in over five years, not even some of my closest friends.

But this friend had his own demons, and I trusted implicitly that he would not judge me for mine. And he didn’t. I told him how I’d been shamed but that I was past my guilt—I called it guilt because I believed what I did was sinful and made me unworthy, but God forgives, and I believed I’d done so as well. But my friend saw through my lies even when I couldn’t.

“You still feel shame,” he told me.

I denied it, but he persisted. In my memory of that night, I can still hear the tone of his voice and see him calling me out for my lie.

“You still feel shame.”

Those four words changed my life. They saved me. In that moment, I knew he was right. I hadn’t forgiven myself; I hadn’t put the shame—the guilt—behind me. I’d been numbing myself and my mind, lying to protect myself from the trauma that shame is—and to protect myself from memories I wouldn’t understand until later. I didn’t know the difference this discovery had made in me until the next morning when I journaled about it. Logically, I wrote about how now that I knew I still had shame, I could work on it; I would finally be able to move past it.

But there was something else in the back of mind, another truth that had been hidden from me until my friend’s words: I knew my marriage, from the very beginning, had been based in shame. I’d told myself so many lies to believe otherwise. They unraveled when I admitted the truth, the same way they did over three years later when I admitted I was raped, the same way they do every time I tell the truth today, every time anyone tells the truth no matter what it costs them.

So many of us have been hurt; we’ve been raped, abused, assaulted, threatened, tortured. We feel fear and shame and depression and hatred. It plagues us. Sometimes it’s used against us to hurt us more. No wonder we bury it, we lie about it, we stay silent.

We need to stop that. We need to stop being silent. For our sake and for the sake of others. Tell someone you’re being hurt. Tell someone you feel ashamed. Tell someone you were hurt in the past. Tell someone you’re losing hope. Tell someone you’re in danger. Please. It won’t be easy, and you might not see the difference it makes right away, but it matters; the truth matters. You matter.

I was blessed. I couldn’t tell the truth because I didn’t see it, but my friend saw the truth in me and spoke it. He showed it to me and taught me that I didn’t have to be silent any longer. He changed my life, saved me. For that I will be forever grateful. But not everyone has someone like that in their life, so you need to speak up for yourself, every day. Be courageous and say what you have to say. Speak it, put it in writing, draw it, paint it, record it on video, post it on Facebook or Snapchat, just tell the truth. Do not be silent.

Silver Lining

A friend told me today about the elaborate plans he had for him and his girlfriend this weekend: a tango lesson and dinner at an uber fancy restaurant. It sounds nice, but it took me a little while to realize why this particular date was a big deal, and it took me a little longer to figure out why it made me uncomfortable. It’s Valentine’s Day this weekend, for starters. Which reminds me that I’m newly divorced, not dating, and looking back on a marriage that makes me slightly ill to remember.

It’s not that I didn’t know it was Valentine’s Day. I’ve been thinking about something nice I could do for my kids. I’ve also been thinking about some of the Valentine’s Days I shared with my ex-husband—before he was my ex. We were a couple almost sixteen years, so there were fifteen Valentine’s Days. The first one, in particular, keeps replaying in my head. We were dating. I was pregnant.

I wrote out quotes and Bible verses about love, cut them out, borrowed a key from my ex-husband’s roommate, and taped the verses, etc., around his place while he was at class. It took time and care and dedication, the kind of effort and love I put into so many of the gifts I gave him. Now all of that seems bitter and a waste, and I find myself nursing self-hatred and shame  for how much I cared, how much I loved, how stupid and blind I feel I was.

My friend apologized later today, realizing that I’m probably having a tough time with regards to “love” and that maybe I didn’t want to hear about his wonderful plans. I told him not to worry about it, and I meant it. I was already stuck in a whirlpool, spiraling downward toward where I might drown. The sadness I felt at his joy really had nothing to do with him at all, but he did give it some life.

Two days ago I was talking to my counselor about going through boxes and cleaning out old things, trying to get rid of the stockpile of useless junk I took with me when I moved into my own apartment—I’m striving for minimalism. I told her how exhausting it was to come face to face with reminders of the relationship I’d shared with my ex-husband. Pictures, a ring he gave me, movie ticket stubs. I told her I didn’t know what to do with everything.

You see, I have this fear that I will wake up one day and remember good things from my marriage, and that at that time, I’ll want keepsakes from those good things but won’t have any left. So I think that I need to keep things. But since I don’t know what times I’ll remember as good, I think I need to keep it all or I’ll regret throwing things away. But throwing away is what I want to do right now, with all of it. Or burn it. Or smash it.

My counselor looked me in the eyes after I told her of this fear of regret, and she told me what it turns out I already knew, deep inside: because of what my ex-husband did to me, my memory of my marriage is forever changed. I can’t go back. I might remember good times, but my relationship with my ex-husband will always be tainted. And the things that I fear might be meaningful, they aren’t going to be. They’re painful memories now, and they’ll stay that way. I knew that she was right, and the truth made me angry and frustrated with myself.

I find that I’m ashamed of how much I put into dating my ex-husband, how much I put into our marriage. I find that I’m ashamed I loved him after he hurt me so much and that I wasted sixteen years of my life on him. I want more than anything to go back and change things, to have a redo so that I don’t have to feel the anger and sadness and pain inside me right now. At the height of this fantasy of mine, I go back to my nineteen-year-old self and tell me to walk away, or I tie me up and drag me away if I won’t listen. I keep accusing myself of having been stupid. I keep muttering “what ifs”: what if I’d never met him; what if I’d gone to a different college; what if I’d broken up with him; what if I’d left my marriage sooner?

I know this is not the correct method for healing. Logically, I know I can’t get lost in hoping for things that aren’t possible. Those sixteen years are gone. I loved him the best I knew how. And now we’re divorced and I have a new life ahead of me. I need to move on. When I can shut down the shame, I know that new life is what I should be focusing on. When I can’t, the past swallows me whole. I know all of these things, and yet I’m still very sad and still blindly wish I could change things.

This is not something I can fix with advice from my counselor or unconditional love from my grandma. It’s not something that will heal because of sheer willpower. I hurt. I have regrets. I’m angry and I’m sad. These things aren’t going away anytime soon. So I think what I need to do right now, tonight, is to allow myself to feel all of this, to tell the truth about the way I feel and about the things I want. I can’t face them or deal with them until I admit they’re there. It wasn’t until I confessed to my counselor about my fears that I understood my marriage would never be good again. And it wasn’t until I understood that that I could be honest with myself about how I see my marriage now.

It’s all a process, like writing a book. You write a little and then delete most, if not all, of what you wrote, and then you write something better. You take three steps toward healing, stumble back two or three or even fall on your ass, but then you get up, dust yourself off, and take four steps forward again. Inch by inch, fall after fall, I know I’m moving toward healing. It’s exhausting. But I know if I can accept what exists inside me, allow me to be me, and be honest about it all, I’m already better off than I ever was in the sixteen years I was in love.

My friend didn’t know that sharing his Valentine’s date plans would make me sad, that they’d make me think more about what this “holiday” means to me this year compared with the past so many. But he didn’t know there would be a silver lining either, that his words would loosen my tongue and give me the wherewithal to be honest. For that, I am grateful.

Secrets

We all keep secrets. Sometimes we keep them from ourselves. I’m an expert at this.

I think it must have been something I learned to do. I think it must have taken some time to learn. But I don’t remember a beginning. I don’t remember the first time I lied to myself. I don’t remember developing the skills I needed to hide the truth. I only remember realizing I’d been doing it. For years. For more than a decade.

When I was 19 I was raped.

The man was someone I knew, someone I loved, someone I thought loved me. But it turns out I was raped by a man who lied to me.

I didn’t know what was happening to me was rape. Yes, I felt violated and ashamed. Yes, I told him no (I told him again and again) and he did it anyway. But I loved this man and he loved me. So it wasn’t “rape,” not that terrible thing we talked about in health class, that thing that was “about power and not love.”

Instead, I believed that what happened to me was completely about lust. The sin of lust, to be specific. My sin. Each time I was raped, I begged God to forgive me for me for what I’d done. You have to understand that at this time my beliefs in good behavior and purity had been twisted by my church upbringing into a sick belief in a need for perfection.

I believed with all my heart that what had happened was my fault, that I could have, should have prevented it, was perhaps even the cause of it. I prayed over and over again for cleansing. I thought the dirtiness I felt was my own guilt. I know now it was violation, a coat of hell I’m still trying to scrape off my skin.

I felt completely worthless while I was dating this man. I was sinning; I was causing the man I loved to sin. I apologized to him. I told him I would try not to let it happen again. I thought I was lucky this man still loved me after what I’d done. My greatest fear was that he’d stop.

I told no one.

Until about a year ago. “You were raped,” my best friend told me. “No,” I told him, “it was never not consensual.”

This is where the lying comes in. Even as I explained what had happened, even as I described hands touching skin I didn’t want touched, sexuality forced upon me, fear and shame and not wanting it to happen, I told my friend it was my fault, that I’d been guilty of sex before marriage. I told him the shame I felt was my own fault because I’d sinned. I deserved that shame. And the disgust I remembered was with myself, not this man.

I believed it. I told my friend the man I’d now been married to for fourteen years was a good man. It didn’t matter that when we were dating he was a senior and I was a freshman, that he had taken advantage of my innocence and inexperience, that he hadn’t been considerate of my feelings or my boundaries; he’d married (worthless) me and was a good father and a good husband. The sex was my fault because he was a good man and I was bad.

“You were raped.”

The words sunk in as I tried to unravel my shame last spring. My friend told me I was worthy, told me I had a right to say no to anything, even sex, even if the man loved me, even if I loved him, even if I was married to him.

I found a way to share the blame I felt with my husband, at least fifty-fifty.

And then I found out this man had lied to me to make me trust him while we were dating. I discovered he lied a lot. Enough that I knew I couldn’t trust him anymore. I divorced him.

I’d been angry for years that my husband never felt the shame or remorse I felt for the sins we’d committed before we were married. He told me he’d made peace. But as spring turned to summer, I was suddenly disturbed and suspicious of his lack of emotion.

I was raped.

I started to own the words before I believed them. Yes, I remembered being violated. Yes, I remembered saying no. Yes, I remembered being touched in ways that made me sick. But I thought I was mistaken, that the last thing I wanted to do was accuse an innocent man, even if he was my ex-husband, of rape because my memory was false and I’d said yes when I thought I’d said no. I couldn’t blame him if I was wrong and had actually wanted what happened to me.

I spoke the words I was trying to own in a very small circle—to my two best friends, my counselor, the man I was dating—I denied it to myself, refusing to let go of the blame. And then I found proof.

Sixteen summers ago I kept a journal, a record of the year I was 19. It was explicit:

“I had sex with him last night. I told him no, but he didn’t stop.”

I was raped.

It hit like a wave, at the same time filling my lungs and pulling me so deep I could no longer see the light above the surface. The secret was out. I couldn’t deny it to myself anymore. It’s impossible to argue with a first-hand account. The man I married raped me.

I’m still drowning. The sadness I feel is profound, consuming. I can understand why I kept it from myself, told myself it was my fault. Because realizing someone I loved and trusted violated me so completely is so much harder to accept than a mistake I made.

I understand that honesty is the first step to healing. And the honesty of this should lift my shame and free me from guilt, and maybe it has. But the void that remains is deep and dark. The man I once loved more than anyone else betrayed me. That image of a “good man” is now no different than Dorian Gray’s painting. And, worse, memories I once refused to remember are flooding back in all their truth. I was raped.

My friends keep telling me it’s not my fault, and I need to hear those words over and over again. I need to know I’m worthy and loved and braver than I ever knew. I need to know there’s goodness left in this world, a light at the end of the darkness, and even though my secret is out, I still deserve some of that goodness.

Be brave. Tell your secrets. Tell the truth. Even to yourself. It’s difficult and painful, I know. But honesty is so much better than living a lie. It’s so much better than losing yourself in a lie. It’ll be okay. You’ll survive. And best of all, you’ll no longer be alone.

Basic Human Rights

I’ve read that a lot of people are praying for, sending thoughts to, supporting Paris in the aftermath of its recent tragedy. But I think it needs to be about more than just what happened in Paris this weekend. It needs to be about recognizing that there are evil and terrifying things in this world, that violence and murder are extraordinarily sad and terrible and overwhelming and happening constantly.

The terrorist attacks in Paris remind us that violence happens in our world on a daily basis. It makes visible what is easy to ignore in our safe and peaceful lives. Every day people are dying in war and terrorist attacks and seemingly senseless acts of violence, in numbers that make Paris just another case. The massacres have been adding up this year: 43 in this September alone. A search online told me that a massacre is defined as five or more unarmed people being killed at a time. That means at least 215 people died in massacres in September.

But the numbers are far worse than simply “five or more”: 2,000 people in a Nigerian village in January; 147 in a Kenyan school in April; 143 in Syria in May; 42 in Mexico in May; 38 on a Tunisian beach in June; 43 in Turkey in July and another 105 in October; 40 in Beirut, Lebanon, one day before Paris; and just days before Paris, 200 children in Syria were lined up and executed. All in 2015, and these are just the larger ones that made the Internet news. Plus, they don’t include smaller scale massacres or those in schools, churches, city streets, people’s homes, etc. And these numbers only include the dead, not the injured, traumatized, or mourning.

It is the pervasiveness of the violence that rocks me when I look at these numbers: it’s everywhere, in great numbers. No one is exempt; no one is safe. It’s not a world war or gas chambers, but it is people taking the lives of other people, people thinking they have the right to do so.

Sit up, look away from your screen for a moment. Look around you. Who do you see? Your husband, your daughter, your mother, a man at the table next to yours, a woman at the next desk, a group of teenagers across the street? Now ask yourself, do you have a right, any reason to harm those people in any way? There is only one answer: no, you don’t.

You don’t have a right to their lives, to their safety, to their livelihood, to their friends or family. You cannot take what is not yours. They don’t even have to say no, because it is basic common sense, basic human rights that what they have and what they are is not yours to take from them.

And there is no excuse good enough to change this, to give you the right to hurt these people. You can’t hit them, shoot them, blow them up, rape them, stab them because you want their land, or you hate them, or to make a point, or because you believe something different than them, or you want justice, or even because you love them. Nothing you want, nothing you have or don’t have gives you the right to use violence against others.

Paris reminds us that our world is terribly broken. There are too many people who believe they have rights to the lives of others, who think that 100, 200, 2,000 lives aren’t too many to take to send a message or exact revenge or just plain murder. But one life is already too many. Paris needs to be more than a reminder of humankind’s affinity for and ability to inflict violence. It needs to remind us that this isn’t going to stop until something changes. Until people start to understand and believe that all people have rights and that those rights should be honored.

And when I say rights, I mean the bare essentials: the right to live, the right to be safe, the right to feel safe.

Fear and sadness will come out of what happened in Paris, most likely more deaths and more hatred. Tomorrow morning things will be a little rougher than they usually are on Mondays. We’ll look over our shoulders when we leave our homes and we will notice for the first time the ethnicity of our baristas and coworkers. We will say prayers to one god or another, “God bless Paris.” But in a few days, a week or two—until a moment of silence on November 13, 2016—life will go back to normal. Most of us still won’t notice large-scale death in countries we can’t locate on a map.

I am asking you not to go back to normal. Notice death. Notice violence. Notice your thoughts and beliefs about human rights. Honor people’s rights to live and be safe. Make sure they feel safe. Know they deserve it. And tell others what you believe.

I won’t be silent anymore. There is little I can do to effect change amongst the billions of people on this planet. But for the handful of lives I touch, for those who might hear me, for them I will no longer hold my tongue. I will teach my children to honor the rights of others—I will show them how it’s done. I will heal from the times my basic rights weren’t honored and be brave and tell my story so that people might better understand what it is to value people’s rights.

I’m sad for what happened in Paris on Friday, and in Beirut on Thursday and Syria on Monday. So many innocents lost. But let us learn from these, let us go forward more aware and more confident in what we can do to change things.

My Fear of Friendship

Shame is the irrational fear that all your friends will eventually abandon you.

It is panic after an abnormally long silence. It is being frightened during every conversation that you will say something wrong to turn friends away. It is a fear of trusting and of telling the truth, even to those who have proven their love and loyalty to you. It is doubting your most trusted friend’s words because the terror is so huge you can’t swallow.

This fear does not come naturally, but is the result of repetitive judgmental abandonment by past friends. It is the dark remnants of the betrayal of those you’ve trusted, of those who’ve shamed you. It is their misunderstanding, their hatred, and their fear, but it is your scar.

I cannot count the number of friends who’ve ended their relationships with me because my life didn’t follow the path of their ideals. Some of it was fear, their own shame pulling at their guts as they backed away, their eyes averted. But some of it was outright damnation.

I was pregnant when I married my husband. At the time, we were heavily involved in a Christian group on the college campus where we attended. Our “situation” didn’t go over well. Some of our friends shamed us outright, demanding our apologies for what we’d done; others just drifted away. Only a small few still accepted us. My husband graduated that year and moved on, but I remained and endured dark looks and whispers from former friends who would no longer speak to me. They used coldness to shame me.

Four years later, this shame still ate away at me. In a new town and in a new setting, I reached out for support and trusted what I thought was a tried and true friend with my story and that shame. She immediately cut off all contact, ignoring my phone calls and avoiding me when we saw each other at gatherings.

I came to believe that my behavior … that I drove these friends away. It was what I had done, not who they were or what they believed.

I trusted only one more person until six years later. And even four years after that, you’d be surprised how much it still matters to some people, though my daughter turns 14 this summer.

More recently, I’ve experienced similar reactions to my discussion of and decision to divorce. After telling me I wasn’t trying hard enough, one friend humored me and gave me one more luncheon before she cut me out of her life for good, though I believe the friendship ended long before that point. Her “shame on you” couldn’t have been more clear unless she’d actually said the words.

The idea that friends would abandon you when you need their support the most is absurd. Who would do that? More of my friends than I would like to admit. And because of this, the shame I still feel with regards to friendships is palpable, enough that at times I still fear I can drive my friends away. It follows me around like a shadow. I panic and shy and distrust and cling because the fear is so engulfing.

I don’t know the cure. I don’t know how to stop being afraid. I haven’t figured this one out yet. I have friends I trust with my most private thoughts and that I would trust with my life, but I’ve never stopped fearing that every one of them might abandon me in the end or that it might be my fault.

But I think a change is starting in me. I have good friends now, people who have shown their acceptance, who have stayed and who have returned my trust with their own, and I am encouraged.

I have been worried about the space a good friend has suddenly needed in the past week. This morning, I expressed my concern and was told my reaction was “extreme.” In that moment, I realized how afraid I was that this friend would be lost like so many others. I was honest about my fear. The response: “You are not losing me, ok?”

Relief flooded me. So this is what a real friendship is like. There is hope for healing.