Anxiety Levels

I thought the anxiety levels were normal. I mean, who doesn’t need a beer before socializing with certain people to calm their nerves? That’s totally normal and kosher, right? The more I analyze triggers, the more overwhelming they seem. Maybe it’s because I’ve avoided dealing with them for so long. Or maybe because I thought deflection and avoidance were keys to success. But i guess that doesn’t work long term. It’s become habit to self sabotage, deflect, and make jokes before dealing with emotions. And i’m such an unbelievable pro at it, sometimes it’s even a little concerning just how good I am at it. But maybe, even with all this self sabotage and deflection, I’m still worth it. I’m still worth something, even without a touch of Maybelline.

I don’t know what to do with all these feelings. I didn’t necessarily like it better when I was numb and avoided anything. But i knew what to do. It was familiar and comfortable even. I knew what to expect. Being numb is easy. It’s everything I knew for close to 20 years and I’m damn good at it. Maybe that’s the experience talking or the underlying triggers I haven’t avoided yet.

But I do know that even with the scars, the commitment issues, and  the like, I’ve still made it this far. I’ve still made something, no matter how slight, of myself. And though I’m absolutely terrified to see where this journey takes me, I’m really actually excited to see where real, honest to Jesus healing takes me. Because even though being numb is comfortable, i think my body is finally demanding some answers. And scar tissue only lasts so long.

Trauma

Every time you speak about sexual violence you’ve experienced, you get this look from people that’s half pity half not knowing what to say and with a dash of something else that goes beyond words. People are usually well intentioned in their responses – because after all, saying the right thing usually never happens – but every so often, there’s a person who equates it to being your fault. That you somehow brought it on yourself and that the person who committed the crime is blameless or didn’t really mean to do it. But like with every negative comment, those are the ones that stick with you the most. Because you’re often already saying that to yourself, whether or not you’re aware of it. The look itself is hard to communicate in words but you know it when you see it. You get used to it after a while.

For me, the last time I was sexually assaulted, I went into a tailspin fueled by shame, guilt, and a garden variety of other emotions. I had already been through this type of violence thrice before so I thought I had a handle on the aftermath—but looking back, you never really do have a handle on it. At least, not at first. But something about this time, about being drugged on a first date while I told him no several times before, during, and after really set me off. I did everything you’re supposed to do. I wore modest clothing, I didn’t flirt too much, and I told him no. I fought back. And he, being the monster that he was, still attacked me.

It took a while for me to start going towards the light and realize that I couldn’t do this on my own. I started associating more with people that understoof and would help remind me that the PTSD diagnosis wasn’t a be all-end all. It was just a chemical imbalance working against my favour. It wasn’t a death sentence, even when it felt like it. Or when I couldn’t find the oh shit bar to hold on to in order to find the light.

Though it’s vastly uncomfortable, speaking about my experience with sexual violence has helped tremendously. It helps break the stigma of what a rape victim is ‘supposed’ to look like, because my experiences are not the cookie cutter variety. And if there’s anything I’ve learned from fellow survivors, it’s that the shame and the guilt of not having the ‘perfect scenario’ will often stay with you for longer than expected. Often times, the perfect scenario we’re looking for doesn’t exist, nor do I think it ever will. There is no cookie cutter version that wins every court case and brings every rapist to justice. And the shame comes out of the woodwork at the strangest times. It gets easier, sure, but some days are fantastic and other days, well, you need a pint of ice cream, a good support system, and a way to get the pain out without hurting yourself. And I’ll be honest, I’m still working on it. Some days, I do well, and other days, the guilt is that overbearing helicopter parent we all wish we didn’t have.

But all in all, speaking about it and challenging people when they wonder why people don’t report, I ask them whom they blame first. Do they blame the victim or do they blame the perpetrator? More often than not, they say the former. Our first instinct is to victim blame because that’s what we’re taught in social circles, in movies, or in other forms of media. The stereotype of a sexual assault victim is a woman in going out clothes that’s attacked by a stranger in an alleyway late at night. Watch any Law & Order SVU episode in one of the early seasons and half the time, this is what happens. So it’s not totally their fault for blaming the victim first. But it is incredibly contradictory when we question survivors’ stories and then blame them for not reporting it and taking another assailant off the streets. It’s a nuanced crime that is the only one I can think of where the victim is often more questioned than the suspect and perpetrator.

And its often because our own bias why survivors don’t immediately come forward. We’re – at least I was – often more worried about anticipated questions of what we were doing wrong more in correlation to questions about the person who violated us in the most intimate of ways. We’re worried that we’ll be part of the statistic majority where our perpetrator goes free, instead of the minority where they get time behind bars.

Sexual violence is a messed up crime. It’s one that’s complicated, nuanced, and often far more twisted than anyone can really understand, unless you’ve been through this act of violence. It tears at you and affects more parts of your life than you can anticipate. And it often comes back to visit when you’re at a good point in your life. Sure, you’ll have ways of dealing with it head on when the bad days come, but that doesn’t mean the trauma still won’t try to throw you for a loop.

So how do we actually protect the survivors and help bring the assailants to real, honest, and legal justice? We believe them. We believe their stories. We throw the book at the rapists. And we realize that we have wronged them in the past but we can commit to doing better, even when it’s uncomfortable and even when it’s difficult. We protect them and we help them understand it has never been nor will it ever be their fault. And that there is no one way to experience sexual violence. But there is one way to treat the survivors–with respect, dignity, and your belief in them.

Taking a look at the women’s march on Washington that is currently happening globally, I wish I could be in the thick of it, linked arm in arm with other women, with fellow allies, with fellow countrymen. But I’m sitting in a coffee shop here in Texas, worried about political involvement in my uterus , in our healthcare system and in our jail cells while drinking fair trade coffee, getting over a cold, and trying to helplessly find organizations to donate time & money to instead. I’m listening to music that goes beyond inspiration and resolution and am reminding myself to speak up, to speak out, and to intentionally listen to commentary and livelihoods that differ than mine.

I started Dear July in part because I was desperate. I was having nightmares, falling on bad habits, and trying to remind myself constantly that I’m better than this, that this terrible event does not and will not ever define my steadfast humanity. I started Dear July because I wanted people to realize that sexual assault and gender violence knows no boundaries. It knows no colour, no status, no barriers of any sort. And I am better at getting my words out on paper than verbally out loud. I am better with a pen than I am with a sword. And I am mightier when I am vigilant and when I am learning.

Dear July is my version of a call to action. A call that this goes so much thicker, murkier, and grosser than anyone who hasn’t been through it knows the depth of. I’m not rational when I talk about this, I can’t think with a clear mind when I do. I’m too close to the subject matter and am vehemently angry when somebody can’t see that we have a long way to go in terms of getting people to report, actually believing them when they do, and having people actually uphold the law when they’re prosecuted and are found guilty by a group of their peers.

This women’s march on Washington has me utterly invigorated, inspired, and in need of revamping so that Dear July can be an adequate place for information, help, and so much more. Leave a comment below of what you think would be the most helpful for getting someone out of sexual violence as well as reputable sources for anyone looking for help!

What’s the Why?

Ever since I started talking about my experience with sexual violence, I had what felt like herds of people over the years come to me with their own stories of what happened to them. And they always asked – how did you start healing? What resources did you use? where can i find more people like us? Truth be told, I didn’t have a good answer for them. Which is why I wanted to create Dear July. I found the most poignant stories that I resonated with were personal stories and letters to attackers that survivors wouldn’t dream of sending, like the Brock Turner letter in 2016.  I saw the power in actually sharing these stories with others not only in hopes of reaching someone but in also understanding what happened to us. These letters understood that sometimes self-destruction is a necessary part of the process so you can get to a point where you know the only way to go from there is up. Because of these stories that were shared, t Dear July started actually getting some traction as an idea. These letters said everything I needed and wanted to say – it got me thinking, how many other people are out there, wishing that they could say something to their abuser or their attacker or what have you? What would you want them to know? What would you want yourself to know and understand about what happened? And what would you need to know before you felt like you could really start healing once & for all? Hopefully, this is a place where some of your questions can start being answered for yourself.

Words are powerful stuff. They can hurt, wound, and even destroy. But they can also help, restore, and build. I wanted to create Dear July as a starting point for people going through sexual violence and starting the healing process. I want it to have real stories from real people, showcasing the nuances and intricacies of sexual violence.

All this is all great and powerful, but you’re probably still wondering What’s your why? Why is it important to create a community to lift up sexual violence survivors and to let them know what they went through is real? Because I want them to start healing, their way. And healing only starts when you realize that why yes, what happened was in fact real and does not in any way diminish your shine. 

My why for creating this is to show that this kind of violence is heartbreaking, gut wrenching, and incredibly destructive. But it doesn’t always have to feel that way. And it starts with admitting it, whether on paper or out loud, happened to you. But you won’t let it define you. And hopefully this why can help you find yours as well.

 

The Name Dear July

So why the name Dear July? I know I’m going to get this question at least a few dozen times in the future so might as well make a post about it. In July of 2014, right before I moved into a dream studio in LA, I was drugged and raped on a first date with a rocket engineer. Literally, he works on rockets that go into outer space for a living. And besides being raped, which was horrible in of itself, it wasn’t even the first time I’d been sexually assaulted by someone I thought was reputable. I’d been assaulted by an ex boyfriend when I was trying to break up with him and I had a sheriff molest me when I was ten. Then there was my first boyfriend who would grab me until I bruised if another boy talked to me or even looked at me. Or shove me down onto the ground and kick my shins for disagreeing.

And this isn’t even accounting for the numerous times I’d been followed late at night or to my car by a strange man so that he could ‘make sure I was safe’. But this time in July was different. I fell apart and I was incredibly self-destructive. But deep down inside, I knew it’d be the last time I took my safety for granted. And I started writing again, a series of letters to both myself and to him; fully knowing I’d never send any of them. But the weird thing about letters and writing is that soon, you start feeling yourself start to heal. I wrote about the experience to admit it happened out loud here and the changes I saw at the one-year mark. It wasn’t until then that I realized just how powerful words can be and how monumental it can be to read that somebody else you know has gone through the same thing. That what you went through, no matter how gray or complicated it seems, is real and valid.

 

But I came up with the name because in July of 2014, I was raped and violated. And I realized when I decided to start actively healing, my way, that I would never let another month, let alone another July, like that happen again. And I refused to let it get me down any longer. So in a sense, Dear July is my way of saying ‘fuck you’ and letting my shine come through.