Rest in Peace, Chester Bennington.

I haven’t written in a while, because a lack of work and an influx of relaxation spells a decrease in inspiration to write.

I just wanted to quickly touch base about Chester Bennington’s sudden death.

It breaks my heart that there are people out there who suffer so greatly, that they feel removing themselves from lives they’ve built is their only out from the terrible debilitating pain they feel every day. Successful people, perhaps in the eyes of the every-person, ‘should’ be happy – they have everything, right? Money, success, a chance to do what they love every day and be paid handsomely for it – but the reality of depression is that if you are not happy, you are not happy, and that is that.

I have not been truly ‘depressed’ and pretending I have been is an insult to people everywhere who suffer from actual depressiion. But I have some problems with the way I see myself and how I come across to others. I have a problem internalizing painful things that have happened in my life – so often, they’re road blocks I can’t let go of. I think about them every day. I miss the past. I can’t reclaim or do anything about the past except try my best to move forward from it and erase the ghosts that are there. I will openly admit to being dumped with a high five by the first person I was ever in love with, suffering abuse as a child, failing several times at career searches and being horrible with money – a very lethal combination that has consistently gotten me in trouble and caused stress, been sexually assaulted on a Tinder date just prior to meeting my extremely loving, wonderful boyfriend and being bullied in high school for my race, my weight, my clothes, my taste in music, and anything else you can imagine. All of these things have messed me up quite a bit. I don’t consider myself someone with a mental illness (again, doing so demeans and diminishes the experiences of those who actually live with mental illness). But I’ve been through stuff.

What gets you through difficult times is whatever you choose to get you through. The support of family and friends is number 1 but it is often not enough, especially if the people who will make you feel better are far away. What has gotten me through my own struggles, has always been music. Music and writing, together or separately. Evidently, I don’t always write. But music is my constant. It is to me, what religious faith is to others.

I find it saddening that someone like Bennington, 41, has chosen to end his life early, particularly because the messages in his songs (I am most familiar with Hybrid Theory) resonate so much with people of all ages, particularly young people, who may have contemplated ending theirs. As adults, we often laugh at the angsty music we listened to as kids – I’ve in the past, made fun of Hybrid Theory and albums like it because of their dated nu-metal sound and overwrought messages and lyrics. But as a teenager, those albums are your life. They demand repeated listens because you have an outlet for the emotions you feel so deeply but are barred from expressing because of this notion that it is uncool, un-invincible, to let out what you’re feeling and truly be who you are through open doors.

Chester Bennington is a figure in music that we always took for granted would be there, that people my age have fond memories of, and who has gotten many through their own troubled times and crushing blows and depression. His was the kind of music that helped people found light because of its darkness. While yes, some of what they have done was a bit cheesy and dated and dramatic, but teenagers need that kind of music. They always have, and they always will.

So rest peacefully, Chester Bennington. And know you, nor almost anyone else on this earth, are not, and never will be alone in the world.

What I Would Want My Children to Know About Consent.

If I have children (God forbid I do, as I fear for my abilities and capabilities as a parent every time I stop to entertain the thought) I would want them to know that I am a survivor of child sexual abuse, and sexual assault – the latter, twice – once at the hand of a close friend and ex-boyfriend.

I would want them to know that I at first, felt like in some uncertain terms these things were my fault. That I was confused about them, that I was unsure of how it was ‘supposed to feel’ to be “raped” — that I always told myself this narrative that being “raped” happens in back alleys at the hands of total strangers grabbing you on a sidewalk somewhere, or that afterwards you feel completely ripped to shreds from the inside out and you go to the hospital and do the whole rape kit thing and so on. And I would want them to know that for these reasons, all of the assault I’ve been privy to didn’t “feel” the way I thought assault would feel. I was mostly numb to it after it happened. I carried on with my day, or days, as though my life was totally normal and I was the same as everyone else who this hadn’t happened to, and that for these reasons I thought to myself, “well.. I couldn’t have been raped or abused; or if I was, it wasn’t as bad as other people’s experiences so I don’t have a right to say anything about them.”

I would want them to know this simple thing about sexual assault and sexual molestation, at any age, by someone of any gender: if you believe it to be rape, it is rape. If you did not consent to what happened to you, and/or you were too young to consent, then you didn’t consent. And that your own personal feelings and way of dealing with that are yours and yours alone and nobody is allowed to tell you things like “you should have told on them” or “you should have been more devastated” or worse, “you didn’t say no so it wasn’t rape” or “you can’t really be raped by someone you know or invited over to your house.”

I would want my children to know that sadly, assault and abuse are more common than we’d like to think; that I know several people in my life who have dealt with the repercussions and pain and numbness and self-hatred that they’ve brought on, internalized, thought about as as a result of their own experiences with rape. Those “1 in 5” or whatever numbered statistics are true — it is true that this is a very common thing. It goes unreported because as we know now, the law does not protect or often believe survivors of assault; it goes un-talked about because for many, these conversations are still taboo and they’re still difficult to swallow and they force people to re-live their traumas over again. But is it true? Absolutely. Once you speak about your assault, others will too; countless others. Go on Twitter after a highly publicized unfair case where a rapist got off scot-free. And you will see thousands of men and women voicing not just support and solidarity, but voicing “this happened to me too”… many, for the first time. I want my children to know that those stories are painful and brutal and speak to injustice in our society, but they are true and should and deserve to be believed, and supported.

I want my children to know that if anything happens to them they should tell someone but if they don’t they shouldn’t beat themselves up about it because I never told. I never told on anyone who has abused me. One of them is dead. He went to his grave with a daughter that still looks to him as the greatest father and best friend a little girl ever had. And I could have changed an entire family and the course of an old man’s life by ‘telling’. And I wish I had. But at the same time, if I had I would then make victims of a widow and a daughter and a son who had no part in, or control over, what their father did, not just to me, but other little local girls too. Is that fair? No, it’s not. And so I am now more at ease with the decision I made than I ever have been and I’m not angry about it anymore. But as victims, do we have a duty to tell? No. We’re victims and we only know how we feel and what we feel we need to protect ourselves and protect our own reputations, lives, families, and emotional well-being. I want my children to know I’m here for them but at the same time, if they don’t want me to be they should come to their own decisions about the right time to tell me something in time.

And finally, on sexual assault and abuse I would want my children to know that at any point, the best thing to do is say no. Children say no all the time: to their teachers, their parents, to their friends. And if there was ever the best time to say no, it would be when someone is doing something that you don’t like or want in or on or around your body. Saying no to someone who cares for you will not make them hate you; and saying no to someone who you don’t know doesn’t matter because who gives a shit what they think, you don’t owe them a thing. But saying no once and feeling weird about in the moment could save your life and in some strange way, theirs too.

Consent is not an easy thing to talk about; if you don’t say no but believe you were raped anyways, will anyone believe you were ‘raped’? And if you didn’t say no does that make the assault your fault? What kind of people do you trust with your body? What kind of people can rape you? I would want my children to know that this is complicated and there are no simple answers but in time, if this happens to you or a friend, it is important to note that how you feel is the subjective but ultimate truth.

We’re having the “rape culture” converstion. Again.

This year, there has been so many conversations about ‘rape culture’; Jian Ghomeshi’s victims, verdicts of trials, women creating extraordinarily brave open letters to their rapists, run ramped on the internet. Survivor bravery is at its peak, as are memes and gifs and statuses and shares that support victim bravery, whether we know the victims or not. That is the good news.

The “bad news” of all of this is that despite all of this, we are STILL talking about rape culture. We are still lambasting media outlets and misogynistic judges and bystanders who applaud athletic effort over shunning abhorrent, disgusting behaviour of star athletes who rape — and care more about their feelings than that of those they have violated and victimized to the point where they must re-piece their lives, their agency, their sexual freedom and freedom to go to parties with the assumption that ‘nothing will happen.’ Despite positive steps in the right direction, here we are, again, collectively appalled by the results of a sexual assault trial; 6 months for being caught red-handed assaulting an unconscious woman. Because any more than that might have a significantly negative impact on the poor young rapist. And we wonder collectively why more women don’t speak up and stand up to their rapists: why? Because they are forced to be publicly scrutinized, judged, and most importantly, forced to re-live that moment again but this time, in front of everyone including lawyers and judges who clearly don’t give a shit what they have to say. Because the poor young student star athlete is suffering due to his remorseful actions (which he refuses, in the case of Brock Turner, to even acknowledge).

Because the reality of all of this is this: many people say one thing, and do another. They pretend to be male feminists, but they are still at parties taking advantage of women who won’t consent. They say they support and believe survivors, but they shun and isolate friends who have been assaulted and talk shit about them behind their back. They post memes with good intentions but then go on their merry way, ignoring anything that looks suspect at a bar because they don’t want to get involved. Because as long as there are vulnerable people, there will be people who want to take advantage of them and all of these good intentions is all for nothing because at the end of the day, rapists win in court and all the good intentions and combative posting and vehement sharing of posts like Turner’s victim’s powerful open letter to her attacker do nothing. We need to do more. We need to be better. We need to not only acknowledge and empathize with victims, but do more to fight for them, support them, listen to them, ask the right questions, make them feel validated and welcomed and most importantly of all, ‘NORMAL’. Whatever that normal looks like to the survivor.

Words I will never forget are from a former friend who once said to me in faux-concern that “[my] friends all agree that [I] need help” and that she “hopes [I] figure [my] shit out” or I will lose everyone I love. These words haunt me. When I think of them, I think of rape culture. Not from men who assault, but from women whose passive aggressiveness and their ability to attempt to use your own assault to fling back to you in your face, all the shitty things you’ve done and all your own fears of being alone or abnormal or isolated. Sometimes we assume all women and most men do their part to actively combat rape culture because they post positive messages and claim to believe survivors. And then behind closed doors they send a former best friend a private email like this and reveal that they might as well be assaulting girls and women too. This might sound harsh, but as a survivor of sexual assault, that’s how words like that feel: like a dagger in your back, like re-living your attack, by being reminded of how you often feel — as though you are nothing and nobody and it’s your fault that you were victimized.

“Rape culture” is oft-considered a buzz word that doesn’t really mean much because it means so many things. Like many areas of approaching the conversation about sexual assault, it’s best to ask victims how they see and feel and understand this supposed ‘culture’; to me, it is simply this:

Rape culture is the lack of actual support for victims. 

Rape culture is about hypocrisy, people who neglect to truly educate themselves about what survivors go through not just immediately after their assaults but possibly for months, years, decades after; rape culture is claiming to someone’s face that you believe them then going behind their back and gossiping about your “rape” to their friends; rape culture is men who take advantage of vulnerable men and women; rape culture is a lack of actively taking a stance on an individual, global or local scale against sexual assault; rape culture is claiming that women lie to entrap men; rape culture is not listening to the word “no”, and/or not understanding that rape culture is not just about ‘no means no’, but also and importantly, about ‘yes means yes’. Rape culture is isolating victims because you don’t understand them, rather than being supportive in your efforts to try to. Rape culture is acknowledging that the crime of penetration isn’t just about a penis in a vagina – it can be touching, groping, fingering, dry humping or unwanted oral sex but the feelings of the victim can still be the same regardless; all sexual assault is wrong and horrendous, no matter how the public perceives your experiences with assault and measuring it by comparing it to others’ assaults.

If you don’t support survivors, you support rape culture. It’s for this reason, rape culture still persists to this day. And why we all sit here angrily wondering how someone caught RED-HANDED can be sentenced to 6 months in prison. Why someone’s athletic career is prominently featured in an article about the crime they were convicted of. We don’t do enough to believe and support victims. We’re catty, we’re apathetic, we naturally exclude or fear what we don’t understand. We are sometimes people who take advantage of others And when we continue to stoop down to the lowest common denomination of what it means to be human, that’s when we continue a cycle of rape and assault.

 

Tough Decisions.

I consider myself to be overall, kind of a broken person. I’m like the Barbie you ripped the head off accidentally and when you put her head back on her neck was shorter and she never looked quite ‘right’ ever again. I have good days and good weeks, and bad weeks, and really bad days where my world and all its nightmares and problems weave a tight cage around my being until I can’t really focus on anything except getting out and realizing, in that moment, I can’t. Then I go to sleep and wake up and have coffee and go to work and it’s all better after that. Until the next cage comes and entraps me. And the whole cycle repeats itself.

I don’t want it to anymore. The kind of confidence failures and personal hells I go through aren’t worth just sitting back for anymore. I’m ready to make a decision I didn’t think I could make and seek help for what has been a very difficult and hard-to-manage part of my life. I have finally gotten in touch with a therapist, and I don’t know how helpful this will be for me but I would like to try and sort out the back end of my life, since I’ve sorted out the front end. I want to be proud of myself and confident, inside and outside.

I’m nervous, and happy, and excited, and at peace. All I want in life is to move forward.

If I could have written a letter.

I would have apologized, because I always apologize. I apologize because I blame everything on myself – everyone else’s misgivings are my fault. I put that on myself because if I don’t, nobody else, it seems, will. It’s me. It’s all me, always.

I would also tell you all what my life has become. What it looks like, whether it’s good or bad. The stress I’m under, my miserable lonely evenings, my friends and frienemies and people I’m afraid of and upcoming milestones in my career that terrify me, the idea that I could lose everything, the idea that I could gain everything. The kinds of things you would tell your friends about. And then I would say that I’ve realize I’m sad we’re not friends anymore. I actually miss these people. I actually miss those memories and I’m sad they’ve basically poured down storm drains where so many poisons go when they’re carelessly dumped. I would say all of this because all of this means something to me. I would be the one to talk, and talk a lot, because I can never stop talking. Once, a friend said to me, “Do you ever get tired of hearing yourself talk?” Yes, I do.

I would have spewed hatred because that’s just what I do. And you know why? It’s because I’m messed up. I’m really, really, really fucking messed up and when I realize this and internalize it and think about it, suddenly this fact hits me very, very, very hard. I wonder why anyone would want to love me, as a friend or otherwise, when I’m this fucked in the head and I can’t escape my own ugly bare-walled prison. There is an immense and aching amount of sadness that lives inside me like a black snake-eyed disease that stalks me in my sleep and creeps beneath the third layer of my skin when I’m awake and just one tiny little bad thing happens to me when everything spirals out of control.

I would tell you not to bother replying, because I don’t want or need to figure out what you have to say. We’re done. And I’m doing okay with that. I’m not going to pretend I’m better off, I’m not going to pretend my life is just one big shiny magic carpet ride. I’m not going to fake anything. I’m just going to live, stagnant and miserable but sometimes really really happy. And sometimes with really, really good whole full valuable amazing days. All of this is pointless. It’s a big pointless conversation. I see who you are now, and I see where I fit into that. ie: Not at all.

If I could have written a letter I would slit my wrists and watch the words pour out. But know you’d take them and use them as a tool to continue to bully and criticize and maintain that you’re all so much better than me. That’s just how it is, and that’s okay. That’s why I didn’t write a damn thing. Except this.

It’s not perfect.

Life comes in ebbs and flows and it’s not perfect. There’s really no point in pretending that it is.

I know people who do. I’ve seen them on instagram and twitter consistently maintaining this glorious, positive sheen of their lives, making like nothing is wrong and nothing is going on and everything is peachy keen. And I don’t see what the point of that is. Nobody’s life is perfect. Mine isn’t. And while these days I am incredibly grateful for everything I have, the more I continue on in this career and in this situation I’m in now, the more I realize I have to fight for all of this. Every single day.

I’m done pretending that everything I have is this rosy little package that comes easy. The last couple of days have been this big challenging annoying thing that’s rendered me sad and lonely and feeling a bit worthless and un-loved. I recalled a bad week all night long and it kept me awake on and off as I was striving to figure out what to do about a rough, rough few days. I was troubled. And I was exhausted. And I was trying to figure out what I was doing wrong. And the reality is: I do a lot of things wrong. I take a lot of things for granted. I get smug and/or jealous and/or frustrated. Because it’s not all perfect. And I’m okay with that.

Chronic Trauma.

Yesterday, I went to my district’s institute day and I had both the sadness and the privilege of attending a session on how to help kids who are dealing with chronic trauma in their personal lives – primarily kids who have faced repeated sexual and physical abuse at the hands of a family member or caretaker.

The woman who spoke was this amazingly empowered and powerful child psychologist who, on a daily basis, sees kids who’ve been to hell and back, don’t trust anyone, and have absolutely no adult supports in their lives. They come to school with nobody who cares about them and then somehow, on top of the fact that their oppositionally defiant and have to flight or fight every single day of their lives with every single social interaction that comes their way, then suddenly they have to learn concepts and study and write quizzes and assignments and interact with people they don’t know who are outside their social circle. It’s something I think of from time to time, but then again, in the onslaught of everything else that teachers – especially new ones – have to think about day to day, I don’t as much as I want to.

What hurt me the most though about this presentation, was the idea of a cycle of negative thoughts.

Psychologists and experts are of the belief that when kids have experienced this kind of trauma, they talk themselves down. They tell themselves that they’re bad and no good and that they deserved what they got. They’re ashamed of themselves and where they came from and the kinds of terrible and unbeknownst “adult” behaviours they’ve engaged in with people who are supposed to love them and who they trust in their own ways. And this negative self talk permeates into so many other areas of their lives. Suddenly, everything becomes “I can’t do it”, “I’m worthless”, “I don’t deserve love”, “I’m not attractive”, “I’m not smart”. And that becomes that child’s story. And on top of that, they have guttural emotional reactions to badness in their other relationships; they either disassociate completely, or they become overly and overtly touchy, volatile, or inappropriately sexual. Their organizational and fine motor skills, their ability to grasp concepts, falls secondly to sleeping with one eye open, watching their backs, and mistrusting and tossing everything good about themselves and the world into the trash.

I often don’t correlate my own misgivings, mistakes and deficiencies with this kind of psychological turmoil. I see them as truths. Hard-lined truths about the way I am and the story that’s been written for me, and the people in my life. I consider myself “lucky” a lot of the time – that I somehow got away with successes and obtaining close relationships because of the fact that I am a miserable, ugly, worthless, unintelligent and overall unable person. These are things I believe about myself to the core of my being and I don’t think of them as results of my own chronic hells that I’ve faced, the bullying I endured even after being fortunate enough to have been air-lifted out of this private 9-year old hell day after day. I often think of myself as someone who can carry that weight on her own and even when she can’t, deserves to carry that burden, and feel deficient and feel ugly and feel stupid and feel like a bad person, if only because that’s just how it is.

I hear about these things – what happens to the brain during and after a traumatic event, the aftermath of trauma, the state of arousal where kids are hyper-aware, can’t calm down, are essentially looking over their shoulder for anyone who would hurt them again… I think of these things and it makes me so sad. Not just for me, but for anyone else who’s been in my shoes and had to put countless measures in place for themselves because they can do nothing and have no help, so they are forced to constantly protect themselves from potential harms and triggers and pains and abusers… against all the rapists and harmers and bad people in the world. Against the person they sent to the grave as an innocent and free man who is fondly remembered by all who knew him in their tiny little town.

I’m sad. I mourn the loss of all those childhoods. They serve as a reminder for me that for an educator, there is so much more at stake and involved than whether a kid can pass an exam, or whether a kid can read. I don’t want to fail anyone. I hope I can at some point reach the kind of experience where I no longer feel like I am.