The Stuff of My Nightmares 

Survivor here, three times over. The first guy I ever wanted to spoon with assaulted me. Less than a year later, the first guy I had ever been sexually attracted to and thought I had a chance to date held me down face down until I couldn’t breathe, bit me, stripped me, and told me he didn’t have drunken regrets. He is the biggest reason why I didn’t want anything to do with men aside from friendship and civil acquaintances for the next nearly 2.5 years (aside from one drunken make out with someone who then forcefully ignored my boundaries about hanging out and when I called him on it, proceeded to call me a slut who didn’t deserve respect…)

I lost my virginity on December 1st, 2014. I lost it to a a Tinder date after I shamefully confessed my lack of sexual experience. I lost it when all I wanted to do was make out but that stupid haze that always overcomes me when nobody asks for my consent hit, and I was naked under him. He never asked. Why doesn’t anybody ever ask? I’m a woman of convenience and practicality. I resign myself to unpleasantness, grit my teeth, square my shoulders and bear the pain because I am strong and I don’t have the biting, kicking, screaming, fighting in me. The first time he pushed into me, it hurt excruciatingly. I cursed myself for crying despite myself. I was sick of being a virgin and I figured it was high time I stopped being one, but I didn’t want it to hurt. He kept trying, pushing my legs back, urging me to relax, going down on me so I would loosen up. I have forgotten the details. I left my body when he ripped into me and I’m not sure I ever came back to my body that night. 

I didn’t orgasm that first time. I left a puddle of blood on his sheets and stains in the boxers I borrowed. He went out to smoke and left me alone, bereft, all night. The next morning, we did have consensual sex and it still hurt but my body betrayed me and found something pleasurable in it. It found a sickening pleasure in his delight that I couldn’t even walk without needing to take ibuprofen. He kept the bloodstained boxers as a prize and I kept running back to someone who never respected my boundaries and walked the fine line between excitement and utter danger and fear. 

It took me months to label it with that awful four letter word. I was in denial. I thought I was in control, seizing my destiny, taking matters into my own hands, being bold and daring! I went back to him again and again and dissociated from my body every time we fucked. I went back even when he pretended to go in the wrong hole and anally raped me as I screamed. I went back until he cheated on me. 

It took months of terrifying nightmares with him as the threat that my then boyfriend had to save me from. The nightmares got worse after the break up. My attackers took all shapes and sizes. One flashback was precipitated by a dog’s paw on my back as I slept. I was in an anatomy group with a guy who looked too much like my attacker for comfort. I dreaded anatomy. I hated being in the lab. 

 Last night, my rapist was a classmate whom I lead a volunteer initiative with. 
Now, my nightmares are unpredictable. I rarely remember details. All I remember is the fear and the thumping of my heart As I hope that this time, he just doesn’t see me, that this time I am lucky. But I am more afraid now because my rapists in my nightmares look nothing like my actual perpetrator. I am now afraid of all men subconsciously because in my dreams, all men can and might rape me. In my dreams, many of them have tried and I’m sure some have been successful. 

Nowhere is safe. I used to remember my dreams and revel in them. Now I lie awake, dreading a world that mirrors my reality. 

Is anyone trustworthy?

This is going to be an angry post. I wish my first foray of the year back into the blogosphere wasn’t so vitriolic and raw, but you can’t always control how things play out.

I’m a survivor of sexual assault several times over. The most horrific assault occurred on July 4, 2012. Since then, I had gone on one date and made out with one person who proceeded to call me a slut. So much for that. I gave up on men for the remainder of my college years.

In medical school, I found that I had more needs and desires than I’d ever had before. I felt more confident and I also ached for male companionship that was more than platonic in nature. I met someone at a bar and we were supposed to go on a date but he cancelled and then we never talked much after. I ventured into the strange territory of a Tinder. While it was an ego boost for a while, I did have some awkward experiences where people seemed very interested for a while and then just suddenly stopped talking to me. I was beginning to think that I was doomed. Who needed men anyway? I’d gone home with another student in my professional school over Halloween weekend and it was pleasant and safe and fun. I’d feared that after being assaulted, I’d never trust anyone enough to hook up or be sexual again, yet this guy made me feel alright. It ended on a less than ideal note, but that’s because of my questionable decisions the night before. That story can be saved for another time. Anyway, I figured one night stands weren’t my style. As lonely as I was, I convinced myself I was happy being single and a celibate virgin.

Well…my hormones begged to differ. I had deleted Tinder for a while, but then I got it again over thanksgiving break. I think I can be forgiven because it was right before my period and I’m always very lustful at that time. I talked to one guy who was incredibly raunchy and kind of scared me away. I talked to another who made it clear that while he wanted me physically, he also was sensitive and musical and thoughtful. Let’s call him K from now on for convenience sake.

K gave me his number and told me to text him when I felt ready to hook up. I wasn’t going to initially, but on a whim, I texted him the Sunday I was heading back to campus. We agreed to meet for coffee that Monday after I got out of clinic. We met for coffee and we hit it off right away. I hadn’t eaten dinner so we went to a restaurant across the street. He kissed me before we went in and sparks flew. He also paid for me, which was quite sweet, even though I’m a modern feminist. We ended up going back to his place and after some false starts, he made me feel safe enough that I lost my virginity to him. It was a little painful, yes, and somewhat awkward, but he knew what he was doing and was very gentle.

He asked me to hang out that Friday and we ended up having a movie night at my place. I was on my period and grouchy and he dealt with it well. The next Saturday, I was really stressed because it was close to finals, but he insisted on having me over and making me dinner. I yelled at him and felt horrible but he forgave me eventually. I felt spoiled – breakfast in the mornings, delicious dinner, kisses, copious amounts of cuddling, flowers, eggless cookies, serenades and duets, bragging to his family about how awesome I was, and mind blowing sex. What more could I have asked for?

I had intended on not seeing him until January due to the pressure of finals and anatomy (ugh!!). But after our last final, I got drunk, as per usual. I went to the bar where our class was having our end of semester party but I was tired and bored. I ended up taking an uber to his place and showing up unannounced. As he bussed me back the next morning, I asked him to define what we were doing even though he’d said he didn’t like definitions. Well, that was my first mistake…I realize that now. He said he thought we were dating. We made it official that day.

Then I went home the same day for winter break. I was out of town in Texas for about a week around christmastime, and then I spent the rest of the holidays at home with my family. K called me and texted me often. He seemed to be going through withdrawals of a sort…from me! Who would’ve thought it was possible? I’m incredibly insecure, so I couldn’t believe that I’d enraptured him both in terms of attractiveness (which, by the way, is something I struggle with myself on) as well as my awkward and messy and oftentimes difficult personality. I thought that I had him for sure. That was my second mistake.

He brought up some fears over break and was careful to give me space, since I have a tendency to run and had told him so early on. He seemed to have strong emotions for me and that frightened me a little. The commitment phobe in me was flattered, but she also wanted to turn heel and run for her life. Maybe I should’ve heeded that.

We were supposed to see each other the week I got back after a nearly 3 week long absence, but winter weather and strep throat prevented that from happening. When we did finally see each other, we couldn’t keep our hands off each other and we didn’t want to separate. He called me that night while I was watching the national championship game to tell me that he already missed me. Tell me…would any of you have had any doubts in this situation? Because I didn’t. It was easy to talk to him, to tell him when something he did scared me or was upsetting, to be honest about how I felt about him and how I was nervous. I thought I was being afforded the same courtesy and that I could take him at his word…that he didn’t play games. That was my third mistake.

Friday was our one month anniversary of being in an official relationship. I wasn’t supposed to see him until Sunday, but he persuaded me to come over. The lovemaking was worth it. I can say that now even as tears have been pouring down my cheeks for the past 3 hours and I physically ache because I’m hurt and seething and broken. He insisted that he was happy to celebrate one month with me and flattered me. He made me feel special, told me I was sweet and wonderful and the best sex he’d ever had. That he lost his head around me and didn’t want to let me go. Well, my head was spinning and I was convinced that I was starting to love him. I was going to buy him flowers Sunday and write him a note and tell him that he meant a lot to me.

I left in the afternoon to go to a rehearsal for Vagina Monologues. We were texting back and forth about plans for tomorrow: to go to an art museum and to watch Amelie and to cuddle. I was thrilled and excited and I couldn’t wait. I kind of had a mini freak out moment and texted him to ask him about it when I returned from rehearsal, but then I thought better of it and retracted my earlier panic, saying that I was happy with him and that I was very fond of him.

I was exhausted and had fallen asleep. I awoke to a missed call from K, no voicemail. How odd, I thought…but it wasn’t super out of the ordinary, seeing as how maybe he was addressing my concern, or saying he missed me, or just saying hi, or making plans. Thinking the phone call was innocuous and ignoring my earlier fears as unfounded was my fourth and most fatal mistake. He broke up with me in the most cowardly way possible, telling me he was in love with another woman. Well, he’d never told me there was someone else, and I’d been completely honest with him! How was that fair? I felt like my nightmares were coming true. I cried. He gave me no explanations and hung up unceremoniously, saying that it was hard to say, that I’d done nothing wrong, that he didn’t want to do this but had to decide, that she stole him away. I was too hurt and sad to be angry at first.

I realized I still had his shirt that I’d borrowed because it smelled like him and a box of condoms that I’d bought for us and would now never use. I kind of hoped that it was just some sort of weird mistake, that it wasn’t real. How could my worst fears be realized in such a horrendous way? What had I done to deserve it? Was I inadequate? I felt ugly and small and hated myself. Absolutely hated myself. I wanted to crawl into a hole and die, and I hated myself even more for feeling that way as a strong, independent woman and a feminist.

I called my friend as I was driving over to return his stuff and I began to seethe. How dare he? Was everything he said and did a lie? Why was he looking when he already had me? Why didn’t he tell me there was anyone else when I asked him outright? How could he kiss me and make carefree plans for cooking dinner the next day and talk about regretting that we didn’t take a walk together, fantasize about our date, and then mere hours later steamroller me this way? I couldn’t believe he kept the presence of someone else from me and let himself be ‘stolen away’ from me. I couldn’t believe he couldn’t have told me he was trying to decide whether or not to stay with me when we were together. I couldn’t believe he was so cowardly and had the audacity to try and touch me when he opened the door so I could give him his stuff back. What kind of a complete jerk plays the game so horribly well that they fool my intuition and get me to let my guard down? How could K have the nerve to tell me he didn’t string me along the whole time? How dare he have that other woman there hours after I left? How could he flaunt her presence in front of me while I was yelling at him?

He’d claimed he was a good person….yeah fucking right. He was a jerk. I seem to have a magnet for people who can fool me and take advantage of me and break me. Who claim that they never liked definitions anyway, who claim that they hope I have good memories, who assert that I should find somebody who deserves me and go dancing, that I should keep the condoms and make love with some other guy.

Here’s the thing. Didn’t he understand the magnitude of the choices I’d made that led me to all of the things we did together? I made a choice to have sex with him because I felt safe and am incredibly sex positive. I made a choice to commit to him because I thought I was ready. He told me he loved seeing how responsive I was to him and even bought a vibrator for us to use. He said he had a goal to make me happy for as long as he could. He told me I was beautiful and that keeping me satisfied exhausted him and kept him too busy for another woman.

He used me. I wasn’t good enough. I was worthless to him. Just a good fuck. I made time for him out of my ruthless medical school schedule. I drove to him all the time. I made space for him in my priorities. I let him in and he broke my heart. I was planning to give him almost the entire weekend. I even told my parents about him, barring the sex, because I don’t like to keep secrets. Well, apparently I was the only honest one around these parts…the only one not playing games.

I should’ve seen it from his cockiness. I should’ve seen it from his immodesty. But his sister is really great and she genuinely likes me. Apparently he genuinely liked me too, but hey, someone so fickle and sexual can’t be satisfied with the likes of me.

Long story short. I’m furious with him. I’m more furious with myself for letting myself get into this mess. I thought it was easy and I was being so careful but I’m naive. I’m stupid. I’m gullible. I’m an absolute fucking fool. I sent him angry texts telling him not to talk to me again unless he finds out he has an STI. The girl he’s apparently in love with that just found out about me and is really pissed at him and trying to figure out whether to stay with him. He threw me out with the trash with very few regrets and just some cursory apologies. I don’t deserve that, even if I feel like shit. I hope the other girl ditches K. I hope his sister kills him. I hope he burns in hell.

I just want a male person to be trustworthy. I want someone to love me for me and to be real. I don’t want to live a lie. I wish I’d never met him. I hate all men. I hate everything. I’m reinforcing the walls and adding more bricks to shut people out. This pain is too much for someone who feels things as strongly as I do.

Diminuendo and Crescendo

I find myself shrinking

Curling into myself

Arms so tightly wound they could wrap around me

Twice

I know I am growing

Day by day, year by year

Numerically

but internally, I reduce myself

to one persona: cute people pleaser

to one adjective: single

to one fear: being unloved

to one overarching word: inadequate

That awful, nagging voice

the mouse voice

telling me I can’t be taken seriously

i’m not good enough

just NOT

nearly nonexistent

what must i do to exist? to be worthy?

to just BE

in my own eyes and everyone else’s?

i want to rise

like a bird

like Maya Angelou

Not just every now and then

But every damn day

I want to wake up in the morning

And rise with the sun

And to keep rising even when the sun sets

Every blow I’m dealt won’t crush me

In public or when I am alone

No more inadequate, not even adequate

I’ll be more than good enough

I’ll be better than expected

Good at heart

good for myself

No more shrinking and hiding

Reducing myself to my flaws and insecurities

Letting the world’s negativity shrivel me up

I’ll own those flaws

Display them proudly and count them

Because I’m proud of everything

Every inch, every step, every stumble, every breakdown

Because it means I’m growing

I’m gonna shoot for the stars – watch me

Breaking is not loss

It just leaves space for the better, the greater, the wiser, the bolder

To shine through

See all these holes?

That’s where my light shines through

And it’s gonna set this world on fire

Laughter Is The Best Medicine

Poignant and beautiful

Thought Catalog

It had been awhile since I found myself laughing. I don’t mean uttering a courtesy chuckle (we all know what those sound like). I mean genuinely belting out uninhibited laughter. The kind that comes from deep down in your gut and bubbles up so much so that you can’t hold it back, and you don’t want to.

They say laughter is the best medicine, and six months ago I found myself highly medicated, that is, I remembered how to laugh.

It was a chilly October weekend that I found myself truly relaxed for the first time in months, too many months to even try and count. This particular weekend I had no computer along for the ride, no tasks or to do lists staring me in the face. It was this particular weekend I laughed, and began to feel like myself again.

The laughter happened countless times throughout the weekend…

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Breaking the Silence Surrounding Survivors

A couple weeks ago, there was a big uproar in the media about Dylan Farrow. Farrow publicly confessed that she had been a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of her stepfather, none other than Woody Allen. I’m sure many of you can imagine how people reacted to her testimony. Many well-regarded figures, such as Cate Blanchett, spoke in support of Woody Allen. Several bloggers and prominent figures called Dylan Farrow’s credibility into question, thinking she had been confused and mistaken as a child and wondering why it took her so long to disclose that she had survived sexual abuse. These kinds of reactions are all unfortunate side effects of the rape culture we live in, where power and influence mean more to most people than the situation of the disempowered and the non-influential. What am I trying to say? Basically, Woody Allen is such a powerful, well-regarded director and many Americans have enjoyed his work over the years. Rather than reevaluate whether hero worship of celebrities like Allen is merited, it is easier for people to dismiss anything that doesn’t fit with their rosy images of Allen and his ilk. Dylan Farrow’s account of abuse at the hands of Woody Allen does. Not. Fit.

I read an article that beautifully summed up people’s attitudes towards survivors, such as Dylan Farrow, whether or not their cases were as public or involved such prolific and powerful perpetrators:

http://rhrealitycheck.org/article/2014/02/04/make-believe-survivor-childhood-sexual-abuse/

In this article, the author claims that rape culture forms around a specific attitude: “Give us the perfect victim, and we will believe you! That’s all they’re asking for—just one perfect victim, and then we can talk about all of this rationally! Send us someone we don’t have so many concerns about!” I believe this is true. Most people believe that all survivors act a certain way and feel a certain way, and there is no room for deviation from these stereotypes. Instead of listening to survivors tell us horrifying and sickening stories that make us fear for our own safety, people shut down and dismiss them. It is so much easier to believe that somebody acted in a way that put her/himself at risk, rather than believing that we ourselves are just as likely as anybody else to suffer from sexual assault. It is so much easier to believe that creepy men in dark alleyways or on poorly lit roads are responsible for the majority of rapes, rather than acknowledging the realities: that sexual violence is often perpetrated by someone the survivor knows. Dylan Farrow’s case is frightening because believing that she is telling the truth means also believing that Woody Allen is capable of being a great film director, as well as a perpetrator. It means believing that we can never be entirely sure who to trust, and we can never behave in ways that make us 100 percent safe from experiencing sexual violence. Because how could a 7-year old girl behave in a way that makes her deserving of the crime that Farrow confessed she had experienced at the hands of her stepfather? She couldn’t, and that is frightening. We, as a society, would love to believe that abstaining from alcohol, dressing modestly, and staying away from so-called “dangerous situations” will keep us safe from sexual violence. But ordinary situations can easily turn into dangerous ones, and there is really no way to prevent sexual assault other than stopping perpetrators from raping.

While I am an idealist, I do not believe that incidences of sexual violence will decrease significantly until we change the rape culture we live in. Perpetrators commit crimes and often get away with them because there is a culture of silence that surrounds survivors. Survivors often feel as if they cannot speak about their own experiences, and they are sadly justified. In our society, more vitriol is directed towards survivors who, by publicly sharing their stories, negatively influenced their perpetrators’ lives than is directed towards perpetrators themselves. Survivors are shamed and blamed for the awful experiences that they have suffered, and many no longer speak about them as a consequence. The more we listen to survivors, the more influence and power we give back to them. The more society acknowledges the diversity of survivors rather than pushing them into stereotypical boxes, the more we can focus on eliminating stereotypes and phrases such as, “She was asking for it”. Most importantly, the more we listen to survivors, the more support we give to them, and the more likely it is that perpetrators will be punished if society supports survivors.

It’s a ripple effect, and changing even one person’s beliefs can change a survivor’s life and take us one step closer to breaking down rape culture, brick by brick. As Andrea Grimes says in her blog post, “listen to survivors….listen to us, so that we can listen to ourselves”.

What are some ways that you can better support and listen to survivors?

  1. Tell them that what happened was not their fault, and that you’re sorry they ever had to experience it.
  2. Do fun things with them! Survivors are still the people you know and love, not tragic figures in a dramatic TV show, a la Law and Order: SVU.
  3. Don’t push them for details. Just let it be known that you are available whenever he or she wants to talk.
  4. Don’t expect them to behave in a certain way. Don’t expect them to break down crying or to be incredibly angry. People cope with the aftermath of sexual assault in different ways – there is no right or wrong way to try to heal.
  5. Acknowledge their strength. Survivors have had a disempowering experience, and disclosing their experiences to you takes a lot of courage. You can validate and affirm your loved one by telling him/her so.
  6. Finally, treat them as you have always treated them. Chances are, your friend or loved one does not want to be defined by their experience(s) of sexual violence. Trust that they will work through it in the way that’s best for them, and support them through their recovery process by loving them as you always have.

Let’s break the silence that surrounds survivors by letting their voices be heard!

Appearance vs. Reality

“Be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle”

Earlier this week, I wrote a long post about envy. I had a moment of clarity this morning. Those people that I’m envious of are going through much more than is publicly visible/than I know about. It makes sense, right? I don’t share everything about myself, nor do I fight a lot of my hardest battles where people can see that I’m fighting. I hate it when people say they’re jealous of me when they don’t know what I’ve been struggling with, but I’m guilty of doing the same. I always make the mistake of assuming that the people who look put together on the outside are that way on the inside, but I should know better – because it’s what I do. Anyway, the specific person I was envious of basically hasn’t had an easy road of it either. And I wish I could take back every horrible thought I ever had, because it was unmerited.

So basically, I was wrong. From here on out, I’m resolving to fight these demons and prevent them from clouding my happiness. Also, I hope that I can be kinder to people in general. A little more kindness in this awful world can’t hurt.

Envy

Out of all the seven deadly sins, the one I struggle most with is envy. Green is not a good color for me, and I wear it shamefully, but I can’t help but fall into paroxysms of jealousy often over the course of a month. I struggled with it today, but I think it’s something I need to deal with and start addressing, hence this private outpouring of thoughts.

One of my closest friends got accepted to two amazing graduate schools today (after two more awesome acceptances in the past week or so)! And I said all the normal, expected, congratulatory things. However, part of me was wondering why she was worried at all in the first place. Her grades are great, she’s done all the right things, and the programs are less competitive. She doesn’t have to fly to interviews on her own time and money. It’s not like the hell of medical school applications. While I know that life is not a zero-sum game and that my two acceptances to medical school are a huge accomplishment, it still is difficult to watch her get in with less anxiety, neuroticism, and somewhat less effort. Not to mention a higher success ratio…I KNOW this is a horribly unfair comparison to make, both for her and for me. I am truly happy for her. But it’s difficult to watch her find out so soon after applying when I had to wait in agony for months and am still waiting, in a manner of speaking. It’s hard to watch her surmount any crippling self-doubt easily and to dismiss a rejection, when I am still smarting over rejections and non-responses despite getting into my top choice school, which is also top 40.

Why am I begrudging her the happiness? I guess I feel upset because I had to work so hard for mine, and it seems like she is getting similar or better rewards with less effort. Unfortunately, I feel this way often, whenever anybody who doesn’t have to fight their way to something or face failure or try over and over or deal with constant, nagging doubt achieves success in a way that I could do only after fueling such endeavors with my blood, sweat and tears. I really dislike these feelings, and they are not pretty when they come out into the open, like when B told me Z got into his top choice med school and I snarled and said bitter, snide things.

I now know that I have trouble rejoicing with people who rejoice, but not with weeping with those who weep. Ironic, isn’t it? I always thought it was easier to be happy for someone than to feel their pain as if it were your own. It isn’t that I am not happy, it is just that the nasty voice of my own petty jealousy prevents me from experiencing that happiness and my well wishes wholeheartedly. What a plight…

Here are the unpleasant things I have also realized through writing this: I am constantly plagued by feelings of inadequacy. How does this play out? I am worried that if somebody else does something amazing, nobody will care about or pay attention to or even remember a) that I have done something meritorious and b) that I even exist. There’s obviously a history behind this, and people have treated me this way before. But I know that my girls and the people who truly love me see every accomplishment of every member of the group as equally amazing and worthy of praise. The corollary to that: I am no less amazing or worthy of praise than this friend, despite 4 acceptances vs 2. You can’t compare apples and oranges, and everybody triumphs differently in their individual journeys. Sometimes, triumphs take explaining, but every triumph is worth celebrating, regardless how big or how small, and there is no need to only celebrate one at a time.

Rationally, I know the above. I need to be able to feel it in my bones without doubting it, without forcing my logical side and my insecure, jealous side to battle it out. I didn’t make any New Year’s resolutions this year, but I have a new self-improvement goal: Stop comparing myself to other people and feeling as if I fall short. Other people’s successes do not make my achievements less worthy, and vice versa. LIFE IS NOT A ZERO SUM GAME. Learn to be proud of myself for what I’ve done, even without constant validation. I want to truly know my own worth, and only I can acknowledge it all the time, day in and day out.

Let’s see how I do over the next 10 and a half months of 2014/ year 22 of my life!