Remedial

I recently became a volunteer advocate at the Rape Recovery Center, a local nonprofit that provides counseling services, a crisis hotline, and hospital teams for survivors of sexual violence. In order to become an advocate, one must complete a 40-hour intensive training program. I’m at the midpoint of my training now, and while my experience so far has been one of empowerment, solidarity, and fulfillment, it’s also forced me to re-examine and really process (for the first time) my own rape.

I’ve come to realize that due to many contributing factors, I have yet to take the time to really process what happened to me, and how it’s impacted me physically, cognitively, and spiritually even now, a few years after the fact.

My initial response was one of damage control. Immediately after regaining control of my body, I sped to a pharmacy to pick up a plan-B pill, inquired a private feminist Facebook group that I was a member of about STI testing, and took the proper steps to ensure that my perpetrator would not be able to contact me again.

A member of the aforementioned Facebook group took it upon his (or her)self to notify my father of what happened to me. This member screen-shotted my original post about inquiring about STI testing, and emailed it to my father, which gave me more damage to control.

I’ve been floating around from day to day, somewhat numb, ever since. I’ve always been kind of a distant person, but since this occurred, I’ve been even more withdrawn, even less in-touch with my emotions and my ability to connect with people, especially men.

A guy that I’m not personally friends with DM’d me on Facebook the other day, and asked me if I was a rape victim.  I responded in the affirmative, and he proceeded to tell me that I’m so much stronger, and my spirit is more alive since I was raped.

I found this response both appalling and offensive, for a handful of reasons. First of all, this man does not know me. He didn’t know me before the rape, and he doesn’t know me now. How, then, can he feel confident in making such a statement? Furthermore, I was strong before this happened to me. Nobody needs to experience sexual violence in order to become strong. I had the strength to cope with this trauma before it even occurred, and I refuse to credit this incidence for giving me any such thing.

As for my “spirit being more alive,” I have felt quite the opposite. This incidence swiftly changed me into the cynical, numb person you all know and love today. I struggle with my emotionality every day of my life. I don’t know how to connect with people. I don’t even know how to process my own emotions without enduring a full-fledged panic attack. My sense of security has been breached, and I’ve realized that there are infinitely many things that are completely out of my control.

The man who made these comments did so with good intent. However, he does not know my experience, and therefore should refrain from telling me what it did to me. Perhaps I’m over-reacting, but I don’t feel like anyone is qualified to make such bold statements about an incident that had such a severe impact on my life except for myself.

Anyway, I am sincerely honored and excited to become an advocate in my community, and hopefully be the support that I so desperately needed when this happened to me. It’s going to be triggering, difficult, exhausting work, but I feel like taking it on will be a healing experience for me, overall. It will, however, force me to rely on others for support when the burnout inevitably hits, and discouragement sets in.

So I’d like to thank my amazing support system in advance, for helping me through this.

M.

 

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Denunciation

I’ve heard a lot of bullshit regarding the ousting of sexual predators disguised as prominent and powerful men (i.e. a lot of hoopla from dudes exclaiming just how scary it is to be a man nowadays, The War On Men, etc.). I’m not quite sure which I find most disturbing-the sheer number of celebrity men finally being called out for their sexual offenses, or some of the reactions to these allegations from normal, everyday dudes.

I get it, you’re shocked. You don’t want to believe that someone as likable as Louis C.K. (your favorite comedian!!) ACTUALLY masturbated in front of numerous women. Or maybe you can’t believe that these women finally spoke out. Or worse, maybe you can’t believe that actions like his could potentially result in consequences.

I don’t speak for all women, nor would I ever attempt to, but I personally was not shocked, because I know that these things happen. And I know that oftentimes, the offender is someone you would have never expected.

You see, it’s scary being a woman every day. As girls, we learn very quickly where our place is in society, and that it’s safer and smarter to submit to the men who have power over us than to fight back or speak up. The brave women who have spoken up against their abusers over the past few months gain nothing from doing so, except for possibly allowing their perpetrators to victimize another woman.

And don’t give me that nonsense about “false accusations,” because only 2% of rape cases turn out to be false, which is no higher than any other alleged crime, according to the FBI. And if you ARE worried about facing a false accusation, why not just ensure that you’re conducting yourself in a manner that could never be misconstrued as sexual harassment? It’s not scary to be a man nowadays. Y’all still hold the majority of systemic power. It’s scary to be a sexual predator. So make your life easier by just not being one. Problem solved.

Finally, we’re being listened to. And furthermore, action is being taken against these malicious men. And if that’s not reason to rejoice, then I don’t know what is.

Frankly, if you’ve ever sexually assaulted another human being, I want you to be afraid. I want you to be looking over your shoulder all the time, anticipating a consequence that could ruin your career even, like you ruined your victim’s sense of safety.

In a perfect world, we’d identify all these perpetrators and put them behind bars so that perhaps one day, women would be free to explore their world without the constant, inhibitory fear that we could be harmed, raped, or killed at any moment by someone who can easily overpower us. Maybe one day, we can go for a jog at night, after the sun sets, and not worry about the possibility of our own 20/20 episode.

M.

Me, Too.

Recently, survivors of sexual assault united in posting the simple words “Me, too” to their social media platforms in order to raise awareness of just how widespread the issue of sexual violence really is.

I’ve read the statistics. I’ve listened to countless stories of survivors tell their stories. I’ve sat through numerous lectures on how to avoid rape, which, by my avoidance, turns another into a victim.

All indicators of the alarming likelihood that it will one day happen to me.

And it did. And then it did again. And again.

The first time, it was Halloween. I didn’t dress up that year. I wore jeans and a sweater, and went to a friend of four years’ to celebrate. The next morning, everything hurt, and I was groggy and disoriented. I passed out in my grandmother’s kitchen, where I was living at the time, falling into her frail arms. I reported him to the Sheriff’s office, tears streaming down my face as I retold the events that occurred on my favorite holiday, and the cops showed up at his work to interview him. But my friend of four years refused to speak to them, so there was “nothing they could do.” We haven’t talked since.

The next time, it was a Tinder date. He was charming, blonde hair, blue-eyed, big muscles. We went to Fuji Sushi and then saw The Revenant for our first date. The next time I saw him, he invited me to his place to watch a movie. I warned him that I was not open to anything physical, and after being assured that he would not try anything with me, I accepted his invitation. He mixed us each a drink in his kitchen while I flipped through a Cards Against Humanity deck placed on his coffee table in the living room. Hours later, I couldn’t move my limbs. “CONDOM,” I tried to bellow, his body forced on top of me, my toneless arms and legs dangling off the sides of the bed. It was 5 AM when I finally came to, and I tried to sneak out of his house without him waking. Just as I had my hand on the doorknob, I turned to find him behind me. He wanted to know why I wasn’t staying till the morning for breakfast.

Round three started with a young man I encountered at the mall. I was walking, by myself, in broad daylight, and he stopped me, grabbed my face, and kissed me. We were complete strangers, but I found it somewhat charming at the time. We started seeing each other regularly, and one day, he came over when my roommate was out of town. I exclaimed that he was hurting me, and after he was finished, he tapped me on the arm and said “sorry for abusing you there” and left.

And then there was the time at my formerly favorite night club. My roommate and I were there for a friend’s bachelorette party. We entered the dance floor, bopping to the rhythm, and found a group of girls to dance with. A man in perhaps his mid-twenties burst into our circle, grabbed me around the waist, and turned me around. My roommate motioned for us to leave the dance floor, but as I was trying, he lifted my skirt up and grabbed my ass. He then spun me to face him, put his arm around me tighter, and proceeded to kiss me. I couldn’t shake him off of me until he’d stopped kissing me, and by that time, my roommate had successfully exited the floor.

I’ve dealt with sexual harassment at work. I’ve had men catcall horrific things at me while walking around downtown, sometimes men double and even triple my age-their malicious stares looking my body up and down as they lick their lips in preparation to tell me what they’d like to do to me.

Ever since that first encounter, I’d received the message loud and clear: my body was not mine. The words “no” and “stop” and “you’re hurting me” were a waste of breath.

I’m not telling you all of this to compete with the numerous brave survivors who came forward to publicly share their stories. I’m not telling you all of this in pursuit of sympathy. The damage has been done, and I am coping with it the best I know how. No amount of sympathy can reverse it.

However, I am adding my story to the record in order to provide examples of behaviors that lead to assault, so that we as bystanders, or even potential perpetrators, can begin to recognize them, and intervene before someone’s body gets violated.

Sexual assault happens to all demographics, so this isn’t even a lecture at the men to pull their shit together. It will take a societal change to eliminate rape culture, and replace it with consent culture. But it starts with recognizing concerning behaviors, and then DOING SOMETHING about it.

No amount of “rape prevention tips” will prevent a rapist from raping. We as a society must stop tolerating non-consensual sexual behavior.

I am not entitled to anyone’s body, and NOBODY is entitled to mine.

Say it with me.

M.

 

Passivity

I’ve lived my entire life thus far resigned to the excuse that I am simply incapable of saying “no” to people. I’m a pleaser. I’d rather run away to a new country and change my name than adult-up, face someone, and tell them something they don’t want to hear.

That’s 22 years of “oh, I don’t care where we eat!” and “yes, I can give you a ride even though it’d be COMPLETELY out of my way and quite inconvenient” and “no, really, we can leave the concert early even though one of my favorite bands hasn’t taken the stage yet!” and, most recently, “yes, despite my entire gut telling me it’s a bad idea, I will date you.”

This approach to interacting with others has left me unsatisfied, frustrated, annoyed, and taken advantage of. I have voluntarily taken the passenger seat of my own life for far too long. I’ve felt too afraid, and perhaps a little unworthy,  to grab the wheel and steer for once.

But the thing is, I know exactly what I want, in 9/10 situations. I do not resign myself to passivity due to uncertainty.  I definitely care where we eat, and I’ve probably been thinking about it for hours. No, it’s not okay with me if we leave the concert early-I paid money to be here and want to see the damn show. And lastly, I know EXACTLY what i’m looking for as it pertains to a significant other, yet I find myself accepting gentlemen’s advances, due to the mere fact that they are, indeed, gentlemen.

The problem is that I lack the voice to assert myself.

However, yesterday, thanks to a little push from my best friend, I did one of the hardest things I’ve probably ever done in my life. I confronted someone face-to-face about what I wanted.

And it was nauseatingly horrifying.

I broke off the situationship-turned-boyfriend that I’d found myself involved with for the past few months. In person.

You see, my default approach would be to shoot him a text saying that I was breaking things off, provide little to no explanation, and then hit the “block” button as fast as my little fingers could move.

However, I chose to take this opportunity to grow as a person, and decided to handle it face-to-face like a big girl.

Let me be clear, there was nothing particularly wrong with him. He’s a fine guy-nice, smart, well-mannered. Has his shit together. Pretty good “boyfriend material”, objectively speaking.

We hit it off in the beginning. We had plenty to talk about, had all sorts of fun together, and he treated me better than I probably deserved. But we just never had a “spark.”

I’d expressed this to him bluntly when we were deliberating whether or not to take our relationship to the level of exclusivity. I told him that my gut told me that this was a bad idea, and I didn’t think I’d find what I was looking for in a significant other in him.

Alas, he persisted. And so I gave in. He’s a nice guy-he deserves a shot. Right?

And I gave it a shot. I gave it my best shot.

He became increasingly clingy-freaking out when I hung out with a member of the male gender, needing to be in constant contact with me, declining to give me space when I deliberately asked for it.

Enough was enough. I panicked, and shut the whole operation down.

I invited him to my place, and explained to him that this relationship isn’t working for me, and that no, there was nothing he could do to fix it, and that I saw no reason to continue to see him, as it felt disingenuous of me to do so without having developed the feelings for him that he professed to have had for me.

I won’t speak for him, but I could visibly tell that I was hurting him with every word that came out of my mouth. And that was devastatingly hard to watch, especially as I watched him walk away from me for the last time, with his head hung, and his eyes down at his feet.

Hard as this experience was for me, I feel that I really learned a lot about dealing with confrontation and being honest and transparent about how I feel about things. It was uncomfortable, heartbreaking, and scary. But I’d rather feel all those things and say what I need to say than keep my mouth shut in the interest of not upsetting people because I don’t want what they want.

From now on, I’m the driver. I have a voice, and I am fully capable of using it. And I intend to.

I’m in charge of my life, and the direction it takes is up to me.

M.

 

 

 

Temerarious

 

I spent the last weekend bedridden with a horrible flu.

The flu can be detrimental to one’s health in a number of ways- there’s the physical component of the illness, of course, in which the immune system is insufficient for fighting off pathogens, but there’s a physiological component that, in my experience, is far more harmful than any fever, bout of chills, or stuffy nose.

When you’re as sick as I was last weekend, you have no other option but to slow down-your body insists. But your brain is not forcibly stagnated to the extent that your limbs might be. What I’m saying in way more words than are necessary is that I had far too much time for thinking over the past couple of days for my own good.

In a desperate attempt to occupy my mind and focus my racing, unorganized thoughts, I began (and finished) the Netflix original series Thirteen Reasons Why. For those of you who haven’t heard of it, I suggest that you set apart the next 13 hours and binge the entire series. If you don’t have the time for that, I’ll provide a brief synopsis.

The story centers around Hannah, a high schooler who takes her own life, but not before explaining her reasons for doing so via 13 audio tape recordings. The topic of each tape is one of her classmates who has contributed to her ultimate decision to commit suicide. Among those reasons are betrayal, rape, objectification, and harassment. Ironically, all things that I have experienced, as well.

This powerful series was profound and resonated deeply with me, and unfortunately, has forced me to face some things that I’ve never truly allowed myself to process. Ever since my body was invaded, it’s felt as though it no longer belongs to me. And sometimes I feel that all I am is a body, and maybe that’s why I haven’t been handled with care-by men since him, or by me. The most practical remedy is to enclose oneself in a pod of isolation-just big enough for one. Because the illusion of control is much more satisfying there.

I’ve been played with, used, ridiculed, and objectified. I am left weak, afraid, and tired.

I’d like to think that I’d never engage in self-harm, but this sudden flooding of relived past experiences has forced me to feel things that I’ve suppressed for far too long, and I’m paying for it now. How does one who’s deceived herself into strength cope with the fact that she’s been wounded the whole time?

I think that the biggest take-away message I got from viewing Thirteen Reasons was that we are reckless. Humans are reckless people with little to no awareness on how significant our actions can be in the grand scheme of things. Our actions have the power to significantly alter another’s perception of self, and the consequences of a poor self-perception can, as in Hannah’s case, be fatal.

Human interaction is a complex phenomenon, and everyone experiences his or her own truth. If you claim that I hurt you, I don’t get to decide that I didn’t. So it’s best to err on the side of safety, right?

Unfortunately, unless you’re Ghandi or Mother Teresa, you will inevitably hurt those you interact with, intentionally or not. But we don’t walk around with a gauge pinned to our shirts, notifying those around us how close we are to our breaking points.

It’d be extremely difficult, and frankly boring (not to mention unrealistic) to treat everyone as if they are fragile as fine China, all of the time for the rest of our lives. That’s where I think that a little self-awareness could go a long way. And believe me, my hands are definitely not clean here.

Watching the way Hannah was treated by her classmates in Thirteen Reasons was piercingly painful for me to watch. I could feel her solitude through my computer screen, and it transported me back to my own lonely years as a high school student. (Which was much more difficult in some ways than my desolate college years now.) Each episode’s conclusion catalyzed another stream of tears from my eyes, and I found myself in bouts of severe regret for the way my life has been going so far.

People can cause a lot of harm, but they can also do a lot of good. The only problem is, once you’ve experienced enough harm, you find that it’d be foolish to put yourself out there in pursuit of some good, because that would leave you vulnerable to even more harm.

So, you withdraw further.

And what’s so noble about being fine all the time, anyway? Why does being able to be okay with people treating you like shit make you strong? Resilient, maybe. But I’d argue that strength is found by allowing yourself to feel real pain-to hurt to the extent that it hurts, and to heal in your own time, and your own way.

That’s what I feel like my experience from this weekend is forcing me to do-to allow myself to not be fine anymore. Because the last thing I am is okay. I am weak, wounded and alone. And if I don’t accept that now and deal with it, the next time I get hurt might pull me completely under water, and I’ll drown.

I fully admit that I’ve done more than my fair share of harm to other people. My hands are far from clean. But I’ve gained a heightened awareness of my deeds and their potential for harm or help to my fellow man.

But why are we so reckless with each others’ lives? Should it not be more of a priority to minimize the pain we inflict? Or are we simply just not aware?

M.

 

 

Dalliance

This is going to be one of those posts where I give advice that I shouldn’t have to give.

Piece of Advice #1: If you are not divorced, DO NOT TELL PEOPLE THAT YOU ARE DIVORCED.

I kid you not, I have had this happen to me twofold. And I get it, the incidence of divorce in my little corner of the world is extraordinarily high-MOST LIKELY because young twenty-somethings are advised from a very powerful organization that shall not be named to get married right after they exit high school (girls) or after they complete an honorable full-time mission (boys and girls if they want to).

So, they do it.

And so, 3-4 years later, a lot of them get divorced. It’s a sad, hard fact that I find rather discouraging, but so is life.

I have encountered two individuals whose reality this illustrates. And for the record, I have nothing against dating divorced men. I get it-we all have pasts and we’re all moving forward trying to find happiness for ourselves. But I DO have a lot of objections to dating a man who has not finalized his divorce, thus making him STILL MARRIED.

Guys, at the very least, I feel that if you’re going to start dating after you leave your marital relationship, you should at least be transparent about the status of the marriage so that your prospective future romantic interest can make an informed decision on whether or not to date you.

I thought that this was common sense, but apparently, I could not be more wrong.

Piece of Advice #2: DO NOT PLAY WITH PEOPLE’S BODIES, EMOTIONS, OR TIME.

The most recent not-divorced-liar-pants that I encountered played with all three.

You see, he and I have history. We liked each other in high school. But for some reason, or many, he didn’t do much about it, as I was “probably interested in someone else.”

Fast-forward a few years, and we reconnect. Thanks to Facebook, I knew that he’d been married. So I asked him point-blank about the status of his divorce, and he responded in the affirmative, that he was a single person. Nothing for me to worry about, or so I thought.

He took me on a handful of dates over the course of the past couple months, and we had a great time. He made out with me, brought me wine, took my hands in his, and told me that he wants me to be his future.

He said some rather frustrating things, too, such as “I don’t want you to wear leggings in public, because people will look at your butt” or “Be a good girl” when I was out with friends. Being possessive, as if we were in a relationship that he wasn’t willing to commit to.

He didn’t make time for me, and I didn’t pressure him to. I’m a “cool girl.”

I saw him once a week at first, and even less after that. But he’d send me gushy messages about how badly he misses me and wanted to “cuddle me for 27 hours” in addition to other pathetic nonsense. He always “wanted to see me super soon.”

So me, thinking that he and I were dating, would decline other offers from perfectly suitable gentlemen, and sit my ass on my couch, waiting patiently for him to show up, and sometimes, he never did.

But alas, the gushy text messages and rather suggestive Snapchats persisted, and my frustration multiplied.

Until yesterday, when I woke up to the realization that he had blocked my text messages, as well as my Snapchat account.

That’s right, folks. I have been ghosted.

Now, I can’t get a message through to him, thanks to his immature handling of the termination of our situationship, but I have some words to say, and they simply must get out, so here they are:

Dear Non-divorced Bachelor,

I have spent most, if not all, of my dating life feeling like a toy. Feeling taken advantage of. I’ve been assaulted, exploited, lied to, and hurt more times than you can count on your fingers. And you have only added to that number. How is it that some people are capable of earning someone’s affection and then slapping them in the face with it shortly thereafter? It’s a level of cruelty and selfishness that I will never truly understand.

If you didn’t feel the things you said you felt for me, then why did you say them?

If you did feel the things you felt for me, but then stopped, why didn’t you tell me?

It’s not fair to leave me to guess what it was that made you cut me off. Because I take the things that I say and feel, and the things that others say and feel, seriously. I foolishly trusted you.

But, thanks to you, I am left to speculate.

Was I too clingy? Was I not attractive? Did you get what you wanted from me, and now I have nothing left to offer? Were you just bored with the game you started with me, and are seeking out a new opponent?

Because that’s the way I see dating relationships now-they’re nothing but a game. You can’t trust the one you’re up against; don’t get too close, don’t give too much away. Make sure you’re always the one who cares less, or triumph will never belong to you.

And, in the case that you get bored, just go find yourself a new one. There are plenty of opponents eager to play.

But as for me? I’m done playing now.

 

M.

 

 

Progression

According to WordPress, I’ve been at this blogging thing for 3 years now.

But the “I” who started this blog hardly even remotely resembles the “I” who sits behind the keyboard now.

DownWithTheNorm was founded by an 18-year-old girl during the spark of her *formal* feminist awakening. That girl was fiery, angry, confused, and determined to fix the world. Misogyny was her only foe, and she was vigilant and determined to take him down, and took every opportunity to bare her teeth in the face of opposition.

But, as with all sparks, hers was extinguished.

Gradually, she let her inquiring mind guide her as she learned more and more about the world; how it probably works, and how it most likely doesn’t. She developed an air of cynicism, and became understandably tired of fighting the good fight. Others grew tired, bored, annoyed, or a combination of the three of her persistent, yet non-refreshing wordy posts on social media that accomplished nothing but a temporary emotional relief for our young author.

She did her best to keep her mind open, while simultaneously drawing her own independent conclusions. Especially in the context of her religion.

She spent a short duration as a walking contradiction; trying to force her newly acquired world views into a mold that simply would not fit. She wanted to be the change from within, but that resulted in her being pushed out.  She lost friends, but she gained an identity that she felt comfortable in. An authentic lifestyle was drawing nearer and nearer, but exponentially more solitary.

This girl was anxious-so much so that she couldn’t bare to even hold still even for a minute. Sleep was just a five-letter word. She had to be the fastest, the best, the smartest, and the skinniest always. And she was failing miserably at all of it.

But, breaking down turns into breaking through, if you let it.

The girl behind the keyboard is an enhanced version of the girl from 3 years ago.

I’ve had so many experiences that have shaped me into who I am now, whether that be for the better or not. I’m not the girl with the eating disorder anymore. I’m the girl who maybe spends too much time thinking about food and not enough time about breathing, and probably uses her bathroom scale more often than the average joe. And binges on breakfast cereal once in a blue moon. Oh, and HATES going to the gym.

I’m not the Mormon Feminist Anomaly anymore. I’m simply the feminist woman-person who believes that whether or not there is an afterlife is irrelevant. What really matters is that there are plenty of opportunities for me to develop and enhance as many interpersonal relationships as I possibly can during the time that I am allotted here. I believe that this life isn’t a test at all. Rather, it’s an opportunity to develop oneself to the fullest extent possible, and perhaps find an individualistic sense of happiness while we’re at it; whatever that looks like.

And for all of you looking to slap a label on me (because that’s what people do-no judgment), you can call me an Agnostic. Like I said, I’m not looking to shut out any possibilities completely.

I love tattoos, science, coffee, wine, and angry heathen misogyny-laden rap music. And I let myself love these things, because this is MY human experience. And what I choose to drink, put on my body, or listen to, does NOT make me a bad person, contrary to what I was led to believe growing up with religion

I’m not anxious anymore. Through the process of extensive trial and error, I’ve finally settled on a path that suits me. I got a job that makes me excited to wake up in the morning. I have a degree of self-sustainability that I never have had before. I feel liberated and powerful and in control. Rather than planning for my future, I’m actively taking steps toward living it, and I’m doing it calmly, mindfully, and relatively maturely.

As far as interpersonal relationships go, I’ve made strides toward getting out of my own way. I’m still a bit more self-isolating than I’d like to be, but baby steps are the name of the game. I can let loose now, and go out with friends once or twice a week. Hell, sometimes even on a school night! Because, as I mentioned beforehand, in the grand scheme of things, people are what matter. Yeah, going to bed early so I can bring my A game to school and work is important, but so is making time for those I care about. It’s all about balance.

I breathe easy, sleep easy, and am patient and engaged in every moment, which is much more than I could have ever said 3 years ago. I know I’m no sage of wisdom, and that I have much more developing, improvement, and revision to do, but I genuinely like the direction I’m heading.

Documenting my experiences over the past 3 years has been truly enriching for me, and hopefully at least mildly entertaining for you! I genuinely appreciate anyone who has ever and will ever take the time to read anything that I write.

Here’s to 3 more years!

M.