Survivor

I am a Survivor. I have learned this about myself the hard way. I have been put through more in my 36 years than many people experience in a lifetime.

survivor

And I am so angry right now. Furious and frustrated that we live in a world where the first assumption about a woman who comes forward as having lived through sexual assault or abuse is that she is a liar or somehow “deserved it.” Now I will admit I’m not very hip to pop culture, but I like the song where Kesha sings about brushing her teeth with a bottle of Jack-I can get behind that. What I can’t get behind is a judge that rules that she is legally bound to work for the company of her rapist.

I don’t know all the details of the case, but I do know that coming forward as a victim of rape is difficult, and brave, and terrifying. And instead of surrounding these women with love and support we punish and doubt them. I felt this way when the Cosby allegations were surfacing and there were so many hateful comments about how no woman who was raped would wait 10 years to confront her rapist-so she must be lying, or trying to get money, or a whore.

I stayed quiet then because I was scared for myself, for people judging me. But now Kesha is being tormented in the same way so very publicly, and I have discovered my hidden super-power of not caring what people think of me, so here goes:

I love/hate therapy. Because part of the goal is to continually look at your life and assess it and figure out the ways to break some of your self-destructive patterns and bad habits. And that can be hard. Really hard.

I am in an upswing in my life; my health is finally stable, my energy is back to about what it should be for someone who runs around with 4-year old twins, my family is healthy and happy, and I have a good marriage to a man who can be a pain in the ass but is also my best friend and the best choice I could have ever made for a life partner. And yet I still have so much I have to work through, so much hurt that I never dealt with that comes back to the surface when I am overwhelmed.

I have an analogy I like to use about all of my past traumas being like little (or giant) boxes stuffed on a shelf. One of my well-developed coping mechanisms is the ability to put things that happen to me into a little box, seal it up tight, and stick it on the shelf. This works great until that shelf gets over-crowded and trying to put one more box up there causes everything to topple down on me. That is how I ended up in a place that I was having panic attacks and severe depression.

Now that I am feeling good, I am trying to take down and unpack those boxes one at a time so that the next time something happens (which it will, life is never perfect) I have the room to cope with it.

That being said, I really hate unpacking those boxes. It is difficult, and painful, and I generally just don’t wanna. And I am unpacking a big box right now. One of the biggest on my shelf and the only one I have sealed up so tight that I have almost never spoken of it. Which is saying something because I am a major over-sharer.

I have used this blog in the past to be honest in a way that I just can’t be other places, and I feel the need to do that again.

I am a Survivor. I am a Cancer Survivor. I am an Eating-Disorder Survivor. I am a Depression and Anxiety Survivor. I am a Miscarriage Survivor. And I am a Rape Survivor.

That last one was a bitch to write. Because admitting that is really f-ing hard. It was a very long time ago and I am not going to share the details of my rape other than that it happened. There was no knife and no gun, but my rapist (only now can I call him that out loud) had sex with me without my consent. That is rape. I was raped.

If I am using that word a lot it is because it is totally foreign to me. I pushed it so far back onto my shelf that I did not tell anyone for more than 5 years. Five years. Before I told anyone. And to this day I have only told one friend and my husband what happened to me (and now the entire world who has any interest in reading my blog!)

I can’t give a real answer yet as to why I didn’t tell anyone. I know that I was ashamed. And that I felt it was my fault. And that on some level I knew that if I told anyone they would encourage me to report it, which terrified me. Because what if no one believed me? What if I went to trial and they used the short skirt I was wearing as evidence against me? What if I went through having to relive my rape over and over and over again only to find no justice at all? To have people taunt me and accuse me of lying? To have to hear someone say out loud the things I said to myself, that I shouldn’t have put myself in a vulnerable situation, that I shouldn’t have had so much to drink.

I was young and I was not nearly as brave as I am now and so I chose to shove it down and pretend it never happened. But it did happen. And I am a grown woman now. And I am stronger than I ever believed possible. So I finally have the courage to say it. I was raped.

This is obviously extremely personal, so why talk about it in such a public way? First of all, because I now know that I have nothing to be ashamed of. I did not do anything to deserve what happened to me, and if the person who raped me had any strength of character at all he would not had sex with an unconscious woman. I am “lucky” enough that I do have memories of telling him no and trying to push him off of me before the blackness came over me again.  But I want to make this very clear to everyone reading this.  Even if I had not woken up enough to try to make my rapist stop, it still would have been rape.

And it was not my fault.  I did drink a lot, and I now wonder if I wasn’t drugged, but the truth is it doesn’t matter.  Drugged or not, drunk or not.  I was raped and no part of that is my fault.  It is not a reflection of me or who I am. And if people comment with any sort of nastiness in response to this post, then that has nothing to do with me, they need to find their own therapist and unpack their own boxes.

But the main reason I felt compelled to write this is because I was at my therapist today and she asked me if I knew any other women who had been through something similar that I could talk to, and I said no. And then I thought about the statistics, some of which say that close to 1 in 3 women have been raped or sexually violated. So I must know people this has happened to. People just like me who feel scared and damaged and alone.

But you aren’t alone. Maybe you are in the crisis period of dealing with your rape immediately after it happened, or maybe, like me, you are coming to terms with it a lifetime later.

So this is for you. For Kesha, and for anyone who has been raped or brutalized. And this is for me. By giving a name to what happened to me and coming forward with it so publicly I am declaring that I am not ashamed. I am not embarrassed. I was raped and I should feel no more shame in saying that than saying that I had a miscarriage. Both are private and something I don’t want to talk about every day, but neither was my fault. Secrets have power, and this secret has had power over me for far too long. Not anymore.

I am a rape survivor. And I am working on all the crap that goes with that. But I am proud to say the rape doesn’t define me. Survivor does.

A Moment of Gratitude

I rant a little (or a lot) on this blog.  I talk about the crazy things that are going on in my life and how difficult it has been to deal with it all.  I have talked about my anxiety, my cancer, my miscarriage, my disordered eating, and my surgeries, in addition to the general insanity of raising twin toddlers.  If you want to get caught up quickly you can visit A Brief Timeline of Crazy.  And while I have just begun mining the things I want to vent about and get off my chest, I feel the need to pause for a minute and say that despite all of that I never forget that I have also been amazingly blessed.  I can’t say anymore that I believe that “everything happens for a reason,” but I do believe that if you try, you can take the bad that happens to you and make something beautiful out of it.  For me that something is a new appreciation of the good things in my life, as well as the ability to be there for others who are going through a difficult time.  So here is a list of 10 things for which I will be eternally grateful:

  1. Flopsy and Curly- more than anything else they have been my reason for getting out of bed and my motivation to keep going no matter how crappy I felt.  They are awesome and hilarious and they love tutus, purple, and sparkly things (just like mommy!)  They were the worst sleeping babies in the history of the world, but I am incredibly thankful that they are relatively even-tempered toddlers.  They play really well with each other about 75% of the time, which is pretty good for 2 1/2 and every single day they do something that stops me in my tracks because it is so cute, or sweet, or smart, or funny and I think, “I am the luckiest person in the world that I get to spend my days with these two amazing little people.”  Like when Curly put her hand on my cheek and looked into my eyes and said, “You’re my sweet girl.”  Or when Curly was getting frustrated with putting on her own shoes and Flopsy said, “I’ll help you” and then put Curly’s shoes on for her.  Or yesterday, when they were playing on the swings and taking turns sitting on each other’s lap and swinging together.  I seriously almost had a stroke from cuteness.
  2. Sebastian- My husband is incredible.  Truly, it makes me mad sometimes because I can’t even complain about him when I get together with a bunch of other moms.  He helps around the house, gets up in the middle of the night with the kids when I’m not feeling well, is a loving and devoted dad, encourages me to take “me” time or go out with friends when I can, and managed to pick up all the extra work I could not do this past year when I was really sick.    He also has to put up with much more of my crazy than anyone else and somehow still loves me.  The most annoying thing about him is that he is almost always right.  Please don’t tell him I said that!
  3. My Family- By this I mean my parents, siblings, grandparents, and also Sebastian’s family who have been wonderful through all of our turmoil.  I seriously don’t know how we would have survived the past few years without the family support we have had.  They have gathered around us like a giant protective hugging net that has kept us from falling- yes a hugging net, I don’t know what that is either but I’m sticking with it.
  4. My Friends- Even those who I have not talked to on a regular basis in the past years have come out of the woodwork to support me.  Especially since I started this blog and actually let people in to the realities of what was going on with my life, I have been showered with love from my friends.
  5. Wonder J (Our Nanny)- I have a whole post dedicated to her, but knowing that my kids are in such good hands has taken a ton of mommy guilt off my shoulders!
  6. Dr. Awesome (My Therapist)- she helps me keep the crazy at bay and gives me Xanax.  ‘Nuff Said.
  7. That I Had Twins- sure, having 2 babies at once was front loaded with difficulty, but when I got the scary news that my uterus had been removed to save my life, I was devastated, but not nearly as much as I would have been if I hadn’t had two darling babies to go home to.  I know that my family is perfect and complete.  Plus, I don’t get a period anymore- can’t say that I miss that!
  8. The Body Scan that Found my Cancer- it was horrible timing, but I do realize how lucky I am that a random scan before surgery found that lump and I was able to have it removed long before I ever showed symptoms.  Otherwise, that little ball of yuck could have kept growing for a long time and put me in a much worse situation.
  9. Our Financial Security- I am immensely grateful that we had good insurance and the ability to get through these years without the crippling debt that chronic illness and multiple surgeries can bring to a family.  Sure, I would much rather have taken an awesome vacation than spend 20 days in the hospital this year, but we didn’t have to choose between paying for my medicines and paying for food.  I do realize how very lucky I am for that.
  10. This Blog- I only go to therapy once a week, but I can write here whenever I want!  It has given me a sense of purpose, a way to express myself, and an outlet for the whirling dervish of thoughts that are constantly going in my head.  It has allowed me to be honest in a way I have never been before.  I am very good at putting up a front of being fine when I am actually far from it. It has been so helpful and freeing to me to have a place to let down my guard, to show the mess I have going on inside, and to advertise to the world how NOT perfect I am.

I started thinking that I needed to write this because I have several friends in crisis right now, and I constantly get people saying to me, “Well, I guess I shouldn’t complain.  It’s not as bad as what you’ve been through.”  I would like to state right now for the record- that is total BS.  If you are dealing with pain, difficulty, or trouble in your life, that is yours and you have every right to be upset about it.  A dear friend of mine who has been through cancer, the loss of her mom, and many other struggles said something to me that I will never forget.  I was saying essentially the same thing to her, that I shouldn’t complain because it could be much worse.  And she said, “If that helps you right now, then use it.  If it doesn’t, don’t!”  I love that thought.  Sometimes you need to wallow in your grief or pain or difficulty to get through it.  And sometimes you need to look at the big picture of the world and be amazed that in the scheme of things your life is actually pretty good.

Right now I feel the need to show my gratitude to the universe that let me get through this horrible time in my life with myself missing a few organs and a little bit of sanity, but mostly intact.  For the first time in a very long time I feel hope.  And that is so beautiful.  I want to say to those out there who are in the midst of a dip in your life when you feel like things will never get better… I have been there.  Like really there, in a pit, thinking that I would never be able to climb out.  And while I am not at the end of my journey of healing (so don’t be surprised when I have ranting posts later about Ulcerative Colitis, or surgeries, or other craziness) I can finally see that glimmer that things are going to be OK.  It is crazy how that snuck up on me.  I didn’t notice I was doing so much better until one day I realized that I could breathe a little easier, that I wasn’t in a constant state of tension waiting for the next of like 40,000 shoes to drop.  And for that spark of hope I am completely awash in gratitude.  Thank you to everyone reading, commenting on, and messaging me about this blog.  You have all helped me to find that spark, thanks for being part of my therapy.  But don’t worry Dr. Awesome, I still need to come to you for my Xanax!

How can I not be grateful for getting to see this?!
How can I not be grateful for getting to see this?!

I’ll Hold a Light for You

I have previously written about my experience with pregnancy loss, and I want to thank everyone for their love, support, and comments on that post.  I just found out that tomorrow, Wednesday, October 15 is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.  The idea is that people all over the world will light a candle at 7pm their time and that it will create a Wave Of Light in support of those that are grieving the loss of a little one.  I think this is a lovely idea, especially since miscarriage can feel so very lonely. It is one day for all those who have lost a baby to know that they are not alone and that their little one is gone but not forgotten.  If you would like more details or have recently suffered a pregnancy loss, this site has some good resources: www.october15th.com.

I am planning on spending an hour or so in thought, meditation, and prayer around 7pm by lighting a candle and holding our Hufflepuff in my heart (it might be a little later since I will start whenever Curly and Flopsy go to bed.) I would like to pause here and say unequivocally that every single day I am grateful for Curly and Flopsy, they are amazing little people, the lights of my life, and I love them more than I ever dreamed possible.  Even as I remember the hufflepuff, I know that had he/she gone to term I would not have my twins.  So this is not a time of wishing that anything had gone differently, I believe that the Hufflepuff was never meant for this world.  It is just a chance to acknowledge the loss of a little one I never got to meet but loved from the moment I saw that heartbeat on the monitor.  If you would like to join me (and everyone else participating) that would be wonderful.  I would also like to go one step further and for that, I need your help.

I once had a therapist tell me that sometimes the best thing you can do for someone is to “hold a light for them.”  Meaning that you sit and quietly listen to and support them without interrupting, judging, or giving your opinion.  Just be a place they can talk and feel safe.  I think it can also mean just quietly be someone who understands and sends them positive energy.  I would like to hold a light for anyone that would like me to by including specific names of my friends, family, and internet friends into my thoughts while I actually physically hold my candle.  If you aren’t religious, don’t worry, my prayers in this case will consist of briefly speaking the name of the parent and/or baby (or nickname) and holding them in my heart and thoughts for a moment while sending love, healing, and light to the family.

If you have lost a little one of any age, or know someone who has, and would like me to send a little love your way, let me know by commenting with whatever info you want to share- your name (or pseudonym), the baby’s name (or nickname), how many weeks you were, part of your story, or a link to something you have written about this topic.  This is open to anyone who feels a pregnancy or infant loss: miscarriage, stillbirth, infant death, IVF babies that never grew, the miscarriage of a surrogate, or even if you terminated a pregnancy and want a little light shined your way, I am here for you.  My point is not to judge but to send a tiny bit of support in the best way I can think of.  You can comment here, on my Facebook page, on Twitter @natalieehowe, or if you prefer it to be private, at my email supercrazymommy@gmail.com.  And if you see these names and want to incorporate them into your own thoughts and prayers, or light a candle, or just send a little mental hug, I am sure that would be appreciated as well.  We who have lost a child in any form are a community who is here for each other, let’s remember that and give a little kindness to each other.

I'll hold a light for you

On October 15th, I’ll be holding a light for my Hufflepuff and I would be honored to hold one for you.

Being Brave Isn’t Pretending You’re Fine

“Gosh, it’s been so long!  How are you?”  I said to a friend I accidentally butt-dialed while trying to call someone else.

“Good…Well…OK… We were really excited because we were pregnant with twins, but then I had a miscarriage.”

And I paused.  Honestly, I was kind of shocked that she just led with that.  I mean, it had been over a year since we last spoke, and we aren’t even close friends.  That’s a pretty personal statement to just put out there.

Why though?  Why isn’t it OK to just tell the truth about how you’re feeling.  If you just lost a baby why should you have to pretend like everything is fine?  It’s not.  And what a brave thing to do.  We often hear the phrase “putting on a brave face” which means covering up your true feelings and going on with your life.  But in reality, what takes courage is to acknowledge those feelings, to let people in.  That is really scary.  Because when you let people in to how you are really feeling, to the struggles in your life, it makes you vulnerable.  It opens you up to people saying stupid, hurtful things, or getting super awkward, or just ignoring your comment and pretending like you didn’t say anything- which can be even more painful.

And miscarriage… well, we really don’t talk about that.  I remember years ago a friend of mine was pregnant and I hadn’t seen her in a while.  When I asked her how she was she said, “Well it’s been a rough summer… I was pregnant, then I wasn’t, and now I am pregnant again.”  I remember freezing, thinking, “Oh wow, she just told me she had a miscarriage.” But I was too scared to acknowledge it- ’cause what do you say?  So I just kind of pretended I didn’t really notice the comment and we skipped over it.  Yeah, I’m not very proud of that.

About 10-20% of known pregnancies end in miscarriage, that’s huge.  And yet, nobody talks about it, it is kind of a taboo subject in polite conversation.  If your mom or even your dog just died and someone asks how you are, it is perfectly acceptable to say you are feeling pretty lousy because of that loss and people will comfort you accordingly.  But announce that you just lost a baby and eerrk (my impression of a needle scratching across a record,) sometimes conversation just stops.  And if it is acknowledged, the platitudes come out.  “Oh, well at least you know you can get pregnant!”  “You’re young, you’ll have another one!” or my personal favorite, “Well, it probably meant that there was something wrong with the baby anyway.”  Right.  Because I would rather have my baby die than be born with a disability, is that what you are saying?

In case you haven’t guessed by now, I had a miscarriage myself.  I was only about 9 weeks along but I was devastated.  I have been through a lot (see A Brief Timeline of Crazy if you don’t believe me,) but losing the baby was one of the absolute worst things I have dealt with in my life.  Everyone’s experience is different, but I loved that baby fiercely from the moment I knew he/she exsisted.  My husband and I called it the Hufflepuff since we didn’t know if it was a boy or a girl and we talked about our plans for the baby all the time.  When I started spotting, I knew in my gut that the baby was gone, but I still made my husband leave on a business trip because some crazy part of me believed that if I asked him to stay home to go to the doctors appointment with me, my fears would prove to be true.  But sending him away didn’t help, I still got the horrible news at the ultrasound that the heartbeat was gone.  And then I had to make decisions about what to do, and suffer through a lot of pain and weeks of bleeding.  I won’t go into that now, but I remember how hard it was.  And most of all, how lonely I felt.

We have decided as a culture not to tell people we are pregnant until 12 weeks, since miscarriage is so common before that.  But that means that if you lose a baby, most people didn’t even know you were pregnant so how can they be invested in that little life?  My husband was wonderful to me at that time, but even he could not understand why it affected me so deeply and why I became so profoundly depressed afterwards.  We have funerals in part so that we do not have to mourn alone, because that is a huge weight to bear.  But most people don’t have funerals for miscarried babies, so that burden is not shared.

Friends and family turned out in droves to help me and send flowers or cards or lend a word of comfort after each of my surgeries, which was wonderful.  But my miscarriage was when I really needed the most support, and I have never felt more alone.  A huge part of that is because no one knew, and I “put on a brave face” for those who did.  I went back to work and just said I had been sick for a few days, but inside I wanted to scream, “How can you people not see that a part of me just died with the baby that was inside me?!”  I went around pretending I was fine, but I was far from it.  Eventually, Sebastian sat me down and said that he thought I needed to see someone and I found an amazing counselor to help me work through my depression.  A few months later, I got pregnant with the twins and was so happy and so very scared at the same time!

I have been talking a lot about #BraveOctober and being brave, whatever that means to you.  To me, today, it means finally speaking up about my loss.  Telling people that if you are hurting, the courageous thing to do is to let someone know.  Not to bottle it up inside and think that you are being “brave” by hiding yourself from the world.  Maybe being honest about your struggles might just let someone know that they are not quite as alone as they feel in whatever pain they are going through.

So I paused.  And then I said to her what I wish people would have said to me.  “I am so sorry for your loss.  Do you want to talk about it? I’m here for you.”