Reclaiming Me has a website!

I’m very excited to announce that I have just launched the Reclaiming Me Website.  Check it out at www.reclaimingme1.com.

From now on, I’ll be posting all of the survivors stories on that platform and I have a newsletter sign up as well!

I hope to begin blogging again as I have big plans for 2017.  Thank you all for your continuing support and I hope to see you soon!

Expanding Your Partners

Last week, I attended the 6th Annual Cook County Human Trafficking Task Force Conference in Chicago.  I can’t even describe all of the amazing sessions I attended.  It was a wonderful experience and I learned so much.

One session really stuck out to me.  It was about increasing your access, increasing who you partner with.

I always thought I expanded who I partner with.  I always tried to partner with different groups from animal shelters to eating disorder associations, homeless shelters, veteran organizations etc.  They weren’t what you typically saw at a domestic violence/sexual assault or human trafficking event. Sometimes people even wondered why they were there.  I’d always explain that all causes intersect.  For example:

We see these connections and more nonprofits are working on partnering together, coming to events together and working together to come to a solution, but this is still a fairly new concept.  I thought I was doing great at accessing different supporter in my community.

Renan Salgado is works in New York, predominantly with labor trafficking in the agricultural sector.  He hosted a seminar discussing partnerships.  He shared a story of a time when he had to call a plumber at 2am.  He let the plumber in his house and as they were fixing his sink, he began thinking. If there’s an emergency, something plumbing related or electrical, people will just let them in.  They won’t question it, try to clean up or hide anything, they’ll just let them in because those are urgent things that need to be fixed.  He told the plumber what he did and asked if he had ever come across certain situations that are common in labor trafficking.  The plumber did recall a time when he did stumble upon that.

One thing Salgado does now is train electricians and plumbers and similar businesses how to spot labor trafficking and who to contact if they come across it.  He wanted us to think outside the box, expand who we talk to, who we work with and who we get involved because there are untapped resources in our community that we as advocates ignore.

I was challenged to do more, to connect with more people.  For an upcoming event, I’m bringing in a Martial Arts studio because martial arts can be a really healthy, constructive outlet for those dealing with the after effects of trauma.  I’m continue to try to reach out, to expand my network and think outside the box.   Who could I bring in to help survivors, who could make a difference, who could get involved but might not know it?

Just some food for thought this week.

 

What the Fourth of July is really like

I always loved the 4th of July.  I love the entire feeling of the holiday, everyone’s a little more excited, the food is great and we get to see fireworks!  Since my abuse though, Fourth of July has become a struggle.  It is now another hurdle I have to jump over and work through.

My 2nd ex partner got physical with me multiple times, but the very last time he hurt me very badly.  I was trying to calm him down as we were locked in his bedroom since his doorknob feel off and was lost among the piles of laundry in his dimly lit room.  Each time I tried to hug him, to beg him to calm down he’d scream at me, tossing me across the room like a rag doll.  I landed on glass cups, his guitar case, slammed into the door and the walls.  I’d see spots when I landed on the floor no matter how hard I tried to protect my head.  This went on for what seemed like hours until I was finally able to get out.  (If you want to read my full story, you can click here).

Last year, as I was heading to fireworks with my then partner (now fiancé), every time someone lit one off in their yard I felt anxious, I felt terrified and I had no idea why.  He kept walking, holding my hand, telling me it was going to be ok and we could go back home if I wanted. We talked about it as we walked, sometimes that’s the easiest way to find out why I’m being triggered.

It was the concussion.  When I felt the boom in my chest, it took me back to the feeling of being thrown, that concussion when you land that ripples through your body.  I made it through the fireworks show that year with the help of him and my mother.  I cried through the majority of the show though and it was made even worse when someone began smoking pot near us, another trigger due to the fact that my ex partner basically lived off that stuff.

This year, as my fiancé and I were getting ready to leave, first going to his family’s house then my family’s to watch fireworks, we had to prepare.  We had a talk, discussing what my goals were this year.  I talked through why I felt anxious.  We downloaded music on to my phone.  There is 1 song and (sometimes one other one depending on the trigger) that help me through my triggers.  They give me a point to ground myself in reality so I don’t flashback and they calm me down.  In some ways, the anger and emotion in the song helps minimize my own to where I don’t lose myself to unfathomable sadness or fear.

There we sat, in the dark with my family and a few friends, surrounded by families having a blast.  Part of me is devastated and part of me feels absolutely crazy.  Logically I know triggers occur when you least expect them, they are normal and you can get through them.  The way I get through them is by facing them head on, but what would you think if you saw some woman crying an panicking every time a firework goes off? I know it’s not important what others think of you, but it’s so alienating.  You end up feeling so separate from everyone else around you, like you’re some societal abnormality.

The show begins, I lay down with my partner and eventually start my music playing in one ear.  He tries to keep me focused, sharing stories about when he returned from the Army and saw fireworks for the first time he came back, to talking about which colors were the prettiest and what some of them looked like.  About half way through I ended up crying and he held me and talked me through it, saying they’re only fireworks, remember you are safe, nothing is going to happen to you.  During the finale I lost it and burst into tears again, leaning into him.   I can’t explain how terrifying it is, to feel like you’re being assaulted again.  Something as simple and beautiful as a firework took me back to one of the worst days of my life.

After the show, mom checked in and hugged me.  My partner was by my side for the entire thing.  The 15 minute walk back to the car was one of the longest in my life.  Between the strangers around me, men who’s faces I couldn’t see in the dark and people blowing off fireworks in their yard, I was anxious and scared the until we got in the car.  I was squeezing my partner’s hand so hard, I’m surprised it’s still attached.

We made it back to my parent’s house for cake and most of my anxiety was gone.  I only had a few nightmares that night which again, my partner helped me through.  I don’t know what I’d do without him, or the support of everyone else around me.

The reason I wanted to share what my Fourth of July was like, the reason why I share my triggers and my struggles is because I want other survivors to know that no matter how bizarre their triggers are or how crazy they feel, you’re normal and it takes time to heal. Also, for those who support survivors, let them know that it’s ok, that they can talk to you, that what they are feeling is valid and you will be here for them.  It’s so much easier to get through my anxiety and triggers when I have someone there to help me do that.

These experiences, especially when they were once positive turned negative make you feel like your abuser is still controlling your life, still taking away your happiness. They are moments where you feel like this will never get better and your life will be spent being afraid of the silliest things.

That is not the case and remember that.  You are strong, we are all strong in our own way and you are not alone in this.  More people than we realize experience anxiety and trauma related difficulties.  We can get through this.  Reach out to a loved one for support, find whatever healing method works for you, find something to ground yourself to help work through what you experience.  Together we can do this.

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Let It Go

Yesterday I found myself in a Facebook debate discuss rape culture.  I try to avoid those as much as possible, but once in a while I find myself feeling as though I have to say something.  To keep the name anonymous, I’ll call the original poster A and his friend who joined in B.  I commented on A’s post and B jumped right in.  We were having a discussion, sharing our two different opinions and while of course it was frustrating, I like talking to people who are different from me.  Things started taking a turn when B began to direct personal insults toward me, calling me arrogant.  At that point, I stood up for myself.  A jumped back in saying I was bullying B, badgering him into believing my opinions.

It first angered me because he was wrong.  I have the right to respond to anyone who addresses me.  We were talking together, equally.  Second of all, I have the right to stand up for myself.  If someone turns an adult conversation into insulting behavior, I have the right to say that is not the way I wish to be spoken to.

At that moment I let it go.  I stopped responding.  There was no point in going on with them when they chose to not treat me as an equal or value my statements as I valued theirs.  This morning I see another mocking comment on this same thread regarding me and I became very upset.  I let it go, I stopped responding and yet A was still trying to insult me, minimize me and degrade me.

Then it dawned on me why this hurt so badly.  I’ve already lived through this with my abusers, predominately my second one, constantly degrading me, telling me I’m overreacting, that I’m nagging, calling me names.  Turns out A was also friends with my ex.  I met A before him, they worked together at the same place for a short time.  I wanted to respond and to be quite honest, I let my anger get the best of me and I did respond saying I didn’t need to be prodded, I am not being treated properly and I already stopped responding.   I didn’t want him to have control over me, like my abuser did.

I stopped for a minute and thought I’m becoming as childish as they are.  I removed my comment since it was unnecessary and I was acting in anger, and removed and blocked him.  It’s not about winning, it’s not about educating.  People like that will remain like that no matter what I say either in person or online.  My amazing partner already gave me that advice but I was being to stubborn to listen!

The most important thing is my health, removing people like that from my life who are toxic, who are triggering and who do not treat me with decency.  That’s one of the hardest things to do in life, whether you’re a survivor or not.  At least for me it is.  I feel rude, I feel like I’ve lost and they took my voice just like my abuser did, I feel defeated, upset, angry….but I have to let all of those feelings go because in the long run,  it’s better for me and that’s what I want in my life.  To be healthy and happy.

If there are toxic people in your life, take a minute to think are they hurting me?  If they are, think about ways to remove that negativity from your life.  Remove them from your social media, share these feelings with a friend or family member to talk about how you’re feeling.

You have the right to be valued, you have to right to be treated with respect and decency.  Always remember your worth ♥

 

 

Living Through Trauma

The last two weeks have been a roller coaster of emotions.  From the Stanford Rape Case to this past weekend when Christina Grimmie was killed and the mass shooting in Orlando at Pulse.  My heart goes out to every effected by these tragedies.

June is PTSD Awareness month.  Anyone who experienced trauma, from veterans to domestic violence victims, sexual assault survivors, etc. can experience after effects of trauma including PTSD, flashbacks, triggers, anxiety, depression, etc.  I wanted to spend time today writing about how to live through trauma.

1. Everyone responds to trauma differently

There is no cookie cut format for how someone is supposed to respond to trauma.  Everybody reacts different, everybody will have difference experiences and everyone will need different things.  There might be some similarities to others, but know that there’s nothing wrong if you don’t respond the exact way someone else does.

I’ve found many similarities to other survivors as well as many differences.  That doesn’t mean one of us is right and the other wrong.  We are still able to support each other.  We know how hard it is and we can work through it together.

2. Everyone heals differently

Since everyone responds to trauma differently, everyone heals differently.  What works for one person may not work for you.  Sometimes it takes a while to find what works, it’s a constant learning process for you and your support system.  Keep trying different methods to work through your trauma.  Below are a few methods you can try.

  • Openly talk to your support system (partner, family, friends, counselor, etc.)
  • Visit a counselor
  • Keep a trigger journal, write down every trigger you have and that will help you see what is causing them and potentially find a way to work through them.  A friend recently told me about this because sometimes I struggle with seeing what exactly set me off.  When I talk about it or write it down, I can see why I responded the way I did and find a way to handle those types of triggers in the future.
  • Express yourself through art (painting, writing, photography, poetry, acting, etc.) Outward expression in the form of art can turn something negative into something beautiful.  I use photography.
  • Exercise.  Yoga, running, kickboxing are all things I use when I feel anxious or angry.  It’s a way to physically let out my pain in a healthy way.

Along with different methods of healing, healing time varies.  Someone might need a few months while others need years.  There is no time limit.  Take the time you need.  Remember, baby steps are better than nothing at all.

3. There is nothing wrong with visiting a counselor or therapist

There is this negative stigma attached with mental health that we’re slowly working on breaking.  Visiting a counselor doesn’t mean you are broken or crazy, it just means that you’re looking for an outside opinion as to how to best handle what you’re experiencing. So many people are afraid to try out that option.  Always remember, there are many people who use counselors and there is an entire community here to support you.

In some ways, for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, I think it’s hard to go to a doctor or therapist/counselor because we don’t want to admit that our abuser did something that is causing a long-term problem, that they are still effecting our lives even though they are no longer a part of it.  That was a struggle I faced.  It took me a long while to go into a doctor to discuss the pain I was feeling in my hand because I just wanted to ignore it, I wanted it to go away, I didn’t want my 2nd ex partner to have caused lasting damage.  It’s a constant reminder of what he did to me.

I took the time to work through those feelings and I’ve been to the doctor, I’ve had my surgery.  While still hurts every now and then, it’s not a painful reminder, it’s a reminder of how strong I am.  I’ve been to counselors too and I’m not ashamed of that.  They helped me learn more about what I was going through and work through what I experienced with my first ex partner.  It’s a hard step to take, but I highly recommend it.

4. No, you’re not overreacting and you’re not causing problems

No matter how you react, never let anyone make you feel as if you’re overreacting, being oversensitive or blowing things out of proportion.  Your feelings are important and it’s healthy to have people support you in your healing rather than criticize and minimize you.

Sometimes, I feel like I cause problems because of what triggers me and why I get upset.  Part of that comes from my first ex who constantly acted like I overreacted about everything. Everyone in my support system has flawlessly supported me and is constantly reaffirming that my feelings have worth, they have value and it will get better.   That’s been a huge help in my healing.

5. There is hope

Just because this is what you’re experiencing now, doesn’t mean this is what it will be like forever.  Healing takes time and like I’ve said, everyone heals at a different rate.  Even as someone who knows logically what after effect of trauma are, when I experience them myself, I feel like I’m crazy or I feel hopeless, like it won’t ever get better.  Sometimes it takes a lot to snap out of it, take a breath and think to myself “No, it does get better and I’ve improved.”  My partner is constantly reminding me of this as well.

Those are the top 5 things I struggle with while healing and it’s what I want all survivors to know.  Always remember that you can reach out to this community for support as well.  You can email me at reclaimingme1@gmail.com

If you are struggling or looking for additional resources, you can always call the National Hotlines (RAINN – Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network 800.656.HOPE (4673) or the National Domestic Violence Hotline 800-799-7233) or contact a local shelter.  If you’re not sure where shelters are located by you, check out www.domesticshelters.org, enter your zip code, and they’ll show you shelters near you.

Open Letter to Judge Aaron Persky

While I know I post once a week, this week I thought I’d make an exception.  This case has been difficult to process.  I know many advocates that feel the same way.  I decided to write an open letter to Judge Aaron Persky, the judge who presided over Brock Turner’s case and decided to only give him 6 months in jail.

Judge Persky,

Recently, you ruled in the case of Brock Turner, a college athlete who raped a woman.  You gave him a 6 month jail sentence, but they predict he’ll be out in 3 months with good behavior.  You said prison would have a lasting impact on him and that he wouldn’t be a danger to others.

The problem with your reasoning is that he already has been a danger to others.  Brock Turner is a rapist.  He violated a woman’s body for his own use and then tried to run away when he was caught. 

You say that prison will have a lasting impact on Turner but what about the lasting impact he made on the victim?  I know what it’s like to be abused, to be hurt, to be violated.  I know what it’s like to be confused, hurt and angry.  That was almost four years of my life, by two ex partners, and I can tell you that my life was severely impacted.  The other survivors I work with, their lives are severely impacted.  They are impacted by those who choose to perpetrate a crime against us, against our bodies.  Just because we have left the moments of danger in our lives doesn’t mean our fight is over.

There are so many days in the last year and a half after escaping my abuse that I have wished for a normal life.  I wish for a life without anxiety and triggers and flashbacks.  I’ve wished for days that weren’t filled with unexplained sadness and anger.  I just want to stop hurting.  Do you even understand what we go through?  Every survivor is different and everyone handles their trauma in their own ways.  Let me tell you what I go through.

I have triggers.  They can be something like the smell of cologne my abuser used to wear, a location or a song.  The night before last, I opened one of those pre-made biscuits, you know, the kind that you pop open.  This can popped open unexpectedly, sending a tremor through my arm into my chest.  It reminded me of being attacked, the tremors that moved through my body as I was thrown and hit.  I panicked, I cried, my chest hurt with anxiety. Sometimes those triggers turn into flashbacks where I lose all sense of place and time.  I see whoever I’m with as the abuser, I call them his name, I beg not to be hit or touched.  I try to get away and break down.  Sometimes it takes a while to snap back to reality and that’s terrifying, reliving my abuse all over again.  Smelling his body, seeing his face, feeling that pain again.

Other times, the emotions I feel are too much for me to even handle and I just go completely numb.  I feel no sadness or happiness.   I never know how long that will last but I hate it and I know how it ends.  It always ends in the outpouring of my pain and hurt.  That happened last night.  I remembered what it was like the first time he violated me, what he took from me.  That is something I will never get back.  Yes, your body hurts during abuse, your body hurts during assault but do you know what it truly does to someone?  Do you know what it feels like to be hit square in the chest?  That pain and pressure on your bones?  That’s what it feels like.  It feels like I’m being hit right in the chest while someone has an iron grip on my heart and it is literally going to break.  It hurts to breathe and all the tears in the world could never mend what I feel.  I feel broken.  I feel dirty.  I feel disgusted with my own body. I hate the skin I’m in.

It didn’t just hurt me physically and mentally, it hurts how I interact with other people.  My grades lowered, I became depressed and less productive at work, my family life was changed completely.  I was so angry and isolated; I’d stay in my room for hours because I didn’t even want to face anyone.  Even now, my current partner and I have to work through all of my triggers, all of my flashbacks.  We have to alter certain activities, he has to calm me down, see me cry, deal with my depression and anxiety and he stand by my side every single second, without fault.  My family and friends do the same thing.  I know it hurts them, I know it hurts them to see me like this and sometimes it still strains our relationships, but we work through it  Their never ending support is the reason I am here today, fighting for the rights of other victims, educating my own community about what we go through.  I’m recovering, I’m getting better, but I still fight through it all.

I photograph survivors.  I create a space to share our stories, to share our struggles, our pain and our healing.  I hear all of the struggles they face after their abuse.  Whether it was four years of abuse or a single moment, it doesn’t matter.  We all feel the emptiness that type of violation brings.

Every single time a survivor is let down, every time we are blamed, every time the perpetrator garners more sympathy, we are silenced a little more.  We are told we don’t matter, our abuser was justified in what they did, their well-being matters more than ours.  That is exactly what you showed us all.  You showed us that you care more about the well being of a man who chose to perpetrate a crime against another person and that he deserves a menial punishment because it could hurt him.  The damage he did, the damage you did, is not something that goes away in a day or week or month. 

While each survivor experiences their own emotions, in a way, we can all relate to each other.  We feel each other’s pain because we know what it’s like to be silenced, blamed and mistreated.  We know the hurt it causes.  We strive to surround each other in love and support because we fear going anywhere else.  Since you belong to a Network that supports battered women, maybe you wonder why more don’t take legal action.  We are afraid our perpetrators will receive sympathy from the judge.  That’s one of the many reasons I chose not to report.  Until we can make changes in our legal system, our law enforcement and our society, moments like these make us lose faith in these institutions that were originally designed to protect us.

What you did was shameful and while you have no idea about the lasting affects we feel, we will stay strong, we will not be silenced and we will continue to support each other.  We will continue to fight for change, to educate our society so this won’t happen anymore.  We will raise our next generation to understand that this is rape, not “20 minutes of action” and to understand what survivors truly go through.

The lasting impact of prison on rapists is nothing compared to the lasting impact a rapists left on their victim.  Consider this the next time you put the well being of a rapist before the well being of the victim.

Meggie

 

Miscarriage of Justice:Stanford Rape Case

This past weekend, for those who do not know, a former Stanford swimmer, Brock Turner, was found guilty of raping a woman.  He was caught in the act by two people passing by as the woman lay unconscious.  The court battle has taken a year.  How many years did he get?  6 months because they thought jail would negatively impact him.  His father even wrote to the court about how this has negatively impacted his son’s life and he shouldn’t get jail time for “20 minutes of action”.

“20 minutes of action”

Yes.  That is how his father described the sexual assault perpetrated by his son.  That statement alone makes it clear why his son acted the way he did.  Action…..as if it was sex not rape. On top of that, he suggested his son raise awareness about how alcohol and promiscuity can ruin lives.

Like alcohol and promiscuity were the problems here.  WRONG.

Alcohol doesn’t cause rape.  It lowers inhibitions, which everyone knows, and shows who the person truly is.  Turner is a rapist, that is why he chose to perpetrate a crime and therefore deserves to be punished.  When I have gotten drunk guess what I’ve never done.  Raped anyone.  Guess what happened when one of my friends passed out after drinking and she was with her male friend?  He brought her to her room, tucked her in bed and slept on the couch to stay with her just to make sure she was ok.  The he got her Gatorade and an Advil in the morning.

Promiscuity isn’t a problem either.  First of all, that is a stupid argument in this case because you cannot be promiscuous if you are passed out.  Second, it’s not a problem.  It’s someone’s personal decision as to what they wish to do with their body and guess what, all rules of consent still apply no matter how many sexual partners a person currently has or has had in the past.

Not only that, both of these blame the victim, which is again, completely untrue!  He just removed 100% of the responsibility from his son, the man who choose to rape a woman.  Maybe the father should look at his own actions because it’s clear, when someone calls rape “20 minutes of action” they have no understanding of this subject.

When I first read about the courts decision to only give him 6 months, I went over to my partner and cried.  I was hurt, I was angry, I was devastated.  I didn’t bother reporting my second ex because I was too afraid.  I was afraid I’d go through a court battle, that the judge wouldn’t believe me, that I would be blamed for staying, that he’d get some pathetic sentence and would come after me or my family.  I can only imagine how she is feeling right now.

What I have learned through the work I do is that all survivors are connected.  While our stories may not be identical, there are always parts that are similar, there are always parts that we can all relate to and in some ways we all share each others pain.  This is why I truly believe it is so important for us to come together, especially in times like this.  While it may not alienate all of the pain, it might make us feel less alone.

When a miscarriage of justice like this occurs, it hurts all rape survivors.  We all are let down by the legal system and we all feel that.  That judge just told everyone that jail time is too hard for our perpetrators, for the people who choose to commit a violent crime against our bodies, to hurt us, to destroy us, to rip away our power, our voice.  They are saying that what happened really wasn’t that bad, that it was really just “20 minutes of action” rather than a crime, that we can just get up, brush ourselves off and continue on with our lives no problem.  They’re more concerned with the well being of the perpetrator, about how the rest of their lives will be than they are with the victim.  Our legal system is siding with the criminal when it is supposed to be protecting us.

I want to cry, I want to scream, I feel the anger bubbling up inside me, the anger I feel toward my own perpetrator.  I was silenced by our legal system because we too often hear of how judges mishandle rape cases and domestic cases.  Each time this happens, our legal system silences a few more victims because we have lost faith.  We’ve lost faith in our law enforcement, we lost faith in our legal system and we are losing faith in our community.

While I’ve felt really triggered this past weekend, really anxious and upset, this is my motivation and I know it’s the motivation of many survivors and allies alike.  We have to demand change, not ask for it.  We have to demand that our cases are taken seriously, we have to demand to be treated as we should be, we have to teach the next generation about consent, that rape is not “20 minutes of action”, that alcohol and promiscuity isn’t the cause of assault.

To the survivor, I cannot imagine what you are going through.  You are so brave for facing your perpetrator in court and your words have reached so many people.  We love you, we support you and we share in your struggle.  I know that you are probably receiving hateful message, but always remember, you have an entire community behind you here to support you and give you strength if you need it.

While we as a society have made positive changes in how we view cases of sexual assault and domestic violence, we still have ways to go.  We can only look toward the future with hope and keep working hard to make those changes happen.