Tuesday, January 24, 2017

A Thank You Letter to VP Biden From a Rape Survivor



Dear Vice President Biden,

You don't know me, sir.  I am a wife, mother, nurse and writer from rural Iowa who has never had the pleasure of meeting you. I also happen to be a rape survivor and this is why I am writing you this letter tonight, as my children play in the other room and I sit at my computer crying silent tears as to not alarm them.

I've meant to sit down and write these words for many months but the words have seemed to stick in my throat. Talking about one's rape, after all, is not something that often comes easily and I've dreaded the flash of memories that would come with my words.  Tonight, however, I told myself that I would push past the tears and write you the thank you letter that you deserve so very much.

My story is not so different from the millions of other stories that are told, often to deaf ears. Twenty one years ago, one day after my seventeenth birthday, I was brutally raped. I have carried the horror of that night in relative silence for twenty years, shrouded in shame. I would like to tell you that the nurses, doctors and police officers that I turned to at that time supported me, but that would be a lie. I was, instead, badgered about the fact that I had been drinking as an underage minor, asked over and over again about what I had been wearing and discouraged from filing charges simply because of the two beers that I had consumed illegally. My underage drinking, it seemed, was a far bigger sin than the violent rape that had followed the consumption of those two cheap, tepid beers.  I was shamed tremendously by those who should've supported me in the aftermath of the worst night of my life(The silver lining is that this was what inspired me to become a nurse, a calling that I love desperately).

In the months after my rape, I struggled with PTSD, anxiety and severe depression. I would try to take my own life seven times and was nearly successful. I thank God every morning that I am still here. I could not have known then that the rape would make me a stronger person and would lead me on the path that my life was meant to take.  The events of that bitterly cold Iowa night changed who I was and it would take me years to find my footing and begin to move forward again. Rape has a way of doing that, after all.  The violence and the sickening intimacy of sexual assault seems to change our very DNA and suddenly we are thrust into a club that we never wished entry to-- the circle, sickeningly large and diverse, of those that have been sexually assaulted. For many years, that club was my only support. I wish that I could tell you that friends and family offered their support, but that would also be a lie. Sexual assault has a funny way of chasing people away, as all such things with such stigmas will.

My senior picture, taken a few months after the rape. I looked normal from the outside, but inside was still suffering every minute of the day. 


You may wonder why I am telling you these things, Mr. Biden, although I am sure that you are no stranger to these stories thanks to the work that you have done. I feel compelled to tell you these things because your work to prevent further rapes has been one of the most healing events of my life. 

I have watched in awe as you talked passionately about consent. I wept as I read your beautifully compassionate letter to the Stanford rape victim. I stood in my living room and clapped and wooped at the screen as I watched you make strides to prevent sexual assault on college campuses.

I felt validated and healed by your work. It made me feel emboldened and for the first time, I decided to come out publicly as a survivor. In April of 2016, I wrote a post for the Huffington Post entitled A Thank You Letter to My Rapist.  In response to that piece, I received hundreds of letters, messages and e-mails-- many from people talking about their own sexual assault for the first time in their lives. I realized then how much more there is to be done, how many more survivors there are out there than any of us can imagine. The dozens upon dozens of sexual assault survivors that I have worked with as a nurse suddenly felt small in this ocean of survivors that I was now thrust into. I felt overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of people that, like me, had been silent for so many years. Unfortunately, it also meant that I was bombard by messages of men sending me pictures of their genatalia, of men telling me that I was "too ugly to have every been raped" or that I should've "relaxed and enjoyed it." I was so overwhelmed that I crawled back into bed for a day to hide from the world, which seemed again like a terrifying place for a woman to exist.

The next day, however, I crawled back out. Why? Because, after scrolling through my Facebook feed from the safety of my bed-- I saw you,Vice President Biden, passionately fighting the fight for all of us. It made me remember myself, as a seventeen year-old girl, scared and with no one to fight for her. I was determined to fight along side you, for that girl and all of the survivors that came before and after her. I am still determined, Sir, and that is in no small part thanks to you.

I want to thank you from the deepest part of my being, Mr. Biden. I know that I am not alone in my gratitude. You have championed our cause and have given us a voice that many of us haven't had before. You have helped me to strip away my shame and helped me to remember that I have nothing to be ashamed of, regardless of the societal stigma of rape and sexual assault. You have helped to prevent future sexual assaults, although statistics will never be able to show how many. You have started a verbiage around consent-- something that we've never seen before in my lifetime or in my mother's or grandmother's lifetimes. You've made the world safer for myself, and more importantly-- for my son and my daughters. Parents who sent their children off to college can now sleep a bit sounder in the knowledge that your work has reduced sexual assault on college campuses(although our work there may never be done). There are so many reasons that I, and many others, are thankful, Mr. Biden.

I watched tearfully as President Obama gave you the Presidential Medal of Freedom recently. I cried as I watched and then rewinded it to watch again with my children, thrilled as they cheered beside me in the safety of our living room. I cried because I wished that I had something so extraordinary to gift you with. I have no medal for you, Mr. Biden. What I do have is my fervent thanks and a promise that my own work to prevent sexual assault and help the survivors in the aftermath will never be done. 

I thank you,Vice President Biden, from the very bottom of my grateful soul. I promise to carry the torch in the best way that I can. May you be blessed for the rest of your life and may I get the great honor of meeting you someday in order to thank you in person.

All my love to you and yours,

Mandi




Friday, January 20, 2017

Let it Be

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When I was seventeen, I was raped. In the months and years that followed, I was enveloped in a blackness that cannot be described to anyone who has not suffered in the same way. Lost in the symptoms of PTSD, depression and anxiety, I was so desperate that I attempted to take my own life. I am so grateful that I survived and lived on. 

In the months following my suicide attempt, I found many ways to heal and keep my mind focused on the good of life, instead of falling back down the black spiral. One of those ways was by finding music that fed my soul and I found The Beatles during that time. Their song, 'Let it Be' has been a touchstone of mine for many years and is, in fact, my current ringtone on my phone. 


Battling with mental illness and the impact of trauma takes much more than just listening to upbeat music, of course. It has taken years of therapy, medication and many other means of healing. However, when I find myself feeling anxious, scared and unsure of the world at large and can feel myself slipping slowly into the darkness again, I take heart in the words- 

Let it be.
Let it be. 
Yeah, there will be an answer. 
Let it be. 

I am here more than twenty years following my rape and suicide attempts to tell you that there is no place so dark that you cannot find the light again. 

Seek help. 
Seek hope. 
There will be an answer. 
Let it be. 

You can get your own inspirational t-shirt at Cents of Style here
Be sure to use the code INSPIRE17 to get 50% off and get free shipping. (January 20th through January 22nd, 2017 only)

And, please remember-- if you are suffering, seek out help. There are people available 24 hours per day that would love to talk to you if you are struggling. There is no shame in needing help.  I will link up some helpful sites below. The world needs YOU. I am here to tell you that there is joy and love on the other side of your pain. All of my love to you. 

Mandi

RAINN's National Sexual Assault hotline- available for chat online or phone calls 24 hours per day. Go here

The Suicide Prevention Hotline- available for chat online or phone calls 24 hours per day. 
Go here.

Both of the above sites are completely confidential. Someone out there is sitting by their phone or computer just waiting to get the honor of talking to you today if you need help. If you are struggling, I send you so much love.  



Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Life, Death & Compassion



They talk about nurses eating their young(older nurses giving new nurses a baptism by fire of sorts and making their early nursing careers hell) and I experienced a bit of that but much more so have experienced having nurses that want to teach me absolutely everything they know. 

In nursing school during my intensive care rotation I was assigned to what was then called the CT-SICU- the Cardiac Trauma Surgical Intensive Care Unit at a hospital in Des Moines, IA. It opened my eyes forever. As a rural Iowa girl, I had never seen a gunshot wound close-up and here I was caring for multiple victims. I felt like I was inside a television drama, it was so surreal. 

The nurses took me under their wing when they realized that I wanted to learn everything I could and I found myself called into rooms here and there to experience all kinds of amazing things like the bandage change with a wound nurse where I gently placed my hand inside a patient's back to change his dressings and could feel his lungs inflate against my hands. I was in awe of the human body and spirit at the same time that I was horrified by the terror that we humans cause other humans. 

The nurses on this unit were often jaded and weary and tired. They seemed oddly buoyed by my naïveté and would listen kindly as I asked fervent questions. 

I often would stay after the other students in my class had left. The other nurses wanted me to follow the wound care nurse and see a unique case...so many reasons that they wanted me to stay. My instructor didn't want me to stay after she left, but I just wanted to learn and I would stay and follow one particular nurse, with chronically smeared glasses and a big heart, around. I am ashamed to say that I cannot remember her name.

One evening we were holding vigil at the side of a young man that was dying from gunshot wounds. They had not yet found his family or friends and he was going to die whether alone or with them. We were not his blood or kin nor had we ever met him before, but this nurse said that we would hold vigil. 

He was on full life support and had been unconscious when someone drove to the ER entrance and dumped his body out of the car and onto the sidewalk and had never opened his eyes since. We didn't know his identity. He looked like a young teenage boy, maybe 15. 

We huddled around his bed, doing all of the things required to keep him alive-- managing the machines that kept him breathing, his fluids, his BP- while also talking to him and singing to him and reassuring this young man/boy whose identity we knew that we may not find while he was living. I became tearful many times and scooted quietly out of the room to calm myself. The doctor had told us that he had mere hours left to live and our actions were as much to soothe his soul as to care for his body. 

While in the hallway, I heard many of the other staff. They were making fun of the nurse and I that were taking care of this young man. I heard snippets from the doctors and nurses talking about how this young man was surely a gang-banger and didn't deserve this compassion. I was horrified. In my naiveté, I had imagined healthcare workers to have had boundless compassion. I was witnesses for the first time, the other side of healthcare, the jaded and exhausted side. 

But, that nurse, the lovely nurse who had taken me under her wing and was consoling a child who may never really hear her, told me a truth that I have carried with me for always. She told me that all humans have compassion. Some more and some less. We all carry the compassion that we are comfortable with and if we were to judge those in the hallway damning our actions, we were also judging them without compassion. 

And, so- we forgot those men in the hallway and we sang and calmed and loved on the boy we'd never met who in lay in the hospital bed before us until he took his final breath. 

I will never forget that moment, as long as I live. I was honored to hold that young man, a complete stranger, in his final moments. 

Monday, January 2, 2017

New Year, Same Old Me



So many people make resolutions on New Year's Day. I have in the past but always crashed and burned when reality set in(often in the cold, dark days of February) and my failed resolution never failed to make me feel like absolute shit.

This year, there will be no resolutions for me. This year, I'm committing to be more of myself, not committing to change every damn thing that isn't perfect. Resolutions don't serve me, they simply make me feel worse and that isn't the spirit of a fresh start to me.

I am, however choosing a feeling to guide myself. I use Danielle LaPorte's Desire Map to refine my core desired feelings and then chose one of those guide all my decisions in the coming months. I chose the word ascension.

Why ascension? When I think of that word, the feeling of ascension, I think of my soul rising in joy, in creativity, in love. Of becoming the higher being that I've been striving towards my entire life. I feel free and unencumbered when the word crosses my lips.

So, this new year I am determined to ascend, to rise into myself. There will be no "new me" this year because, dammit, I don't need to aspire to fit more into the box that society tries to fit me into. This year I will be more ME, which likely means I'll fit less into that box than ever before.

Many will resolve to become smaller this year. I resolve to ascend to higher heights than ever before.

Here's to 2017, Loves. May you ascend alongside me. Give me a wave as you float on past.