Wednesday, April 27, 2016


This week I met a couple of people in person that I had communicated with for a long time via Facebook/text, etc. 
Meeting someone for the first time in person is very hard for me. I'm incredibly scared of rejection. 
If I had the courage to speak my heart to those that I meet for this first time, this is what I would say-

I know that I am not society's idea of a beautiful woman. I have strong features and care little about my physical appearance. Please love me anyway. 

I know that I am overweight. I've struggled with my weight for years. I have PCOS which makes gaining easy and losing slow. I am highly sensitive and often drown myself in food and drink to cover the pain even though I loathe myself for doing so. Please befriend me anyway. 

I have no fashion sense. I am most comfortable in my hippie skirts, bare feet and threadbare Beatles t-shirts. My hair is often a mess and sometimes I don't even bother to match my clothes. Clothing seems so unimportant to me but I know how important these things can be to others. Please get to know who I am inside. 
I can be socially awkward. I feel the pain of the world in my heart and often want to talk about deep, deep issues. I hate the small talk that permeates our society- I want to know the real you, not about the weather and such. I know this isn't the social norm. Please hear me out anyway. 
I can be hard to get to know. I have been burned badly, especially by women. It can take a year or more before I let you all the way in. I am the most loyal person you will ever know. Please give me the time to trust you.
My outsides will never match what it shown on a magazine cover. Never. I could probably handle you rejecting my physicality. However- I, like everyone else, am really the person that is inside me. Please give that person a chance.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A Letter to My Rapist

Dear You,

As I write this I cannot help but see both you and that scared teenage girl whom I was on that day. I can see you as clearly in my mind as if it were yesterday, not 20 years in the past. After all, some things are burned so deeply into our memories that we cannot forget them even if we tried. That girl, however, one day away from her 17th birthday— she is farther away in my memory, blurry somehow. That day fissured my life into two sections—my life literally breaking into two halves, the before and the after. These days, the before section seems muddy, unclear, as if the rape caused a cloud so thick that I will never be able to see through it again.

The events of that night set my life on a trajectory that I never could have planned. First deep into the darkest of depression and a series of suicide attempts, one of which was nearly successful. Then, from the deepest place of darkness where I used the pain as a springboard to catapult myself into a better life—better than I ever could have imagined, in fact. I know, looking back, that I would not have my life today without having been a victim of rape at such a tender and painful age.

I have long ago forgiven you, not for your own good but for my own sanity. What I did not realize is that I would, in some fucked up way, be thankful for the horror of rape, which took me into hell and then back into life again—fevered in the desire to somehow make others feel less pain.

I can go back to that night so easily. In fact, the music of The Doors—a band that I had once loved whose music happened to be playing in the background that night—can bring me right back into those moments of terror so easily that I have run from stores, hands over my ears, when the music comes on overhead. I struggled with panic attacks and vivid flashbacks of that night for years, what I now know was PTSD but what I believed at the time was pure insanity.

What I am trying to do now is to think less and less about that night and more about how I allowed, sometimes consciously and sometimes not, the rape and the aftermath of it to make me into a better person. I know that the person that I might have become and the person that I am today could have been very far apart. My priorities and my life’s purpose could have been so much shallower.

But, it did happen and here I am 20 years later. The ways in which the person I am today is different from the innocent, teenage girl that I was are so many that we couldn’t count them all.

Mostly, I suppose that I want you to know that you didn’t break me. I know now that someone like you, hateful and selfish, could never break someone like me. I used the pain and the fear and the shame to make myself into a better person than I ever hoped that I could be, in so many ways. You did not give me this strength, but I am grateful to you for showing me that it existed.

When I fall into sadness for that time in my life, I allow myself to think of all of the ways that I am better for having had that horrific experience. To think of the parts of me that I am thankful for, the parts of me that did not exist before that night.

I am stronger than I ever knew. I didn’t know this truth at first. I fell face-forward into a clinical depression that no meds would touch. In the weeks and months after the rape, I found myself blurring the pain with large amounts of alcohol and any drugs that were offered to me. The respite from the pain was always so very brief. I began cutting myself over the insides of my arms and legs to achieve the short relief from the internal pain that the external pain would cause. Again, the break from the pain was so slight and seemed just a blink in time against the raging pain. I attempted suicide seven times, feeling even more of a failure with each failed attempt. There are no words to tell you how low this point in my life was. I was standing at death’s door begging her to let me in. However, I kept moving one foot in front of the other, day after day until I realized that it didn’t hurt so badly anymore. I crawled my way out of that hole by my bloodied fingernails and have made a life for myself that my teenage self could never have imagined. You could not possibly know how strong I had to be to do so.

I found my purpose. In the days following my rape, all of the professionals around me seemed more concerned with my own actions that may have made me a victim instead of the actions of my rapist. There was no compassion for me. None. The nurse that was more concerned with my clothing choices that night and the therapist that chastised me for under-age drinking led me deeper inside my own shame and convinced me to not press charges. As an adult, I made a conscious choice to become a nurse that would be kind, welcoming, non-judgmental and would advocate for my patients no matter what. Being a nurse has been one of the greatest joys of my life and I do not for a moment believe that I would’ve made that career choice if I had not had this experience.

I have become a more compassionate person. In the lack of compassion that I found around me in the wake of my own hell storm, I found inside myself a well of compassion for others. I believe that we all deserve second chances, kindness and non-judgment. I know now that compassion can literally save a life and I intend to live out the rest of my days showering compassion on others.

I am a better mother. I am a far more kind and patient mother than I would have been had I not walked that dark path all of those years ago. My soul feels many years older than my body. I hope that I will always be an open and welcoming place for my children to come, even on the worst days of their lives. I have become a mother not only to my own three children, but a surrogate mother in the world to whoever needs one.

I am a more forgiving person. If I can forgive you, I believe that I can forgive anyone. There are not many worse things than what you chose to do that night. I choose to forgive you, each and every day that the memories come washing back up. I forgive you as I live in fear that the same thing could happen to one of my children. I forgive you even as the PTSD comes creeping back into my life every so often. I forgive you even as I am still full of fiery anger at the man who stole the last days of my childhood.

I refuse to turn my head to injustice. I refuse to turn my eyes away from injustice of any kind. Too many eyes turned themselves from me when I needed them the most. Your brutality stripped me bare and brought out the Mama Tiger that lies within me. I can no longer be held down from railing against maltreatment of any human beings. I have a heart for the downtrodden.

Shame and I are on a first name basis. This one doesn’t seem to positive, does it? However, we can’t talk about rape without talking about shame. There are so many people that shame victims of sexual assault. The greatest shame, for me, came from within myself. I am still, 20 years later, dealing with the shame. From the dozens of showers that I compulsively took in the first days after the rape to the spiral of thoughts I feel when someone new learns that I am a rape survivor—shame has permeated my journey. In fact, it has taken me years of thinking of writing this letter to actually do so because shame has always talked me out of it. It is exhausting. I am bringing my shame, the shame that I have no reason as a victim to feel, into the light. For the thing about shame is that it can only exist in the darkness. So, I am bringing it all out into the world, as painful as it is. I have hidden my rape for so many years due to shame. I am ready to be free of this dark secret, ready to make peace with the dark beast. So far, befriending shame and being brutally honest in my writing about it has helped me reach others who are struggling. This journey is just beginning. I will use my years of shame to help others into the light. This may not yet be a strength of mine but it WILL be. I’m thanking you for the work that I haven’t even yet done.
I’m writing this to you and wondering if you will ever read it. I’m not sure if I want your eyes to see it and for you to feel my pain or if I hope upon all hope that you will never see these words. I hope that I never see your face again. I hope that you have never hurt anyone else the way that you hurt me. I am thankful for what I have become but cannot lie and tell you that I am thankful for your actions.

May this letter be another fissure in my life. A great fissure severing the person that I have been for twenty years, a woman who tried to do good in the world but lived in the dark shadows of shame at night, and the woman I will be tomorrow, free of the heavy blanket of shame that has weighted me down in immeasurable ways.

With this letter, I claim myself again and I step into the light, with the full knowledge that I never deserved to carry this burden. You tried to burn me but I was stronger in fire than I ever had been before. Thank you for showing me my strength. You are no longer needed here.

In writing this letter, I realized that deep down in my soul this wasn’t a thank you letter to you at all. It was probably naive of me to think that it ever could have been. This letter to you that I’ve pondered for years is really a love letter to that little, scared girl that climbed her way out of the darkest place imaginable and has carried this burden alone for 20 years. She and I are of course the same person, but in my mind I see her as a separate being—after all, the woman I am today could not be more different from that young girl. I thank her. And tonight I sit here, tears streaming down my face, hoping to send a message back into time to that young, wounded girl. She was wronged in the most horrible of ways and she rose again from her own ashes to find her way again as phoenix. Without that girl, the woman that I am today would be nothing. I am so thankful for her strength.

If you are struggling in the aftermath of a sexual assault, I want you to know that there is so much beauty and light on the other side of this. Keep fighting. Seek help if you need it. You are stronger than you yet know. I’m so sorry that this has happened to you.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-656-HOPE for the National Sexual Assault Hotline.

Monday, April 18, 2016

I Found Hope on a Broken Door

I walked into the dilapidated low-income apartment complex. I found myself shivering but it was not because of the cold, it was because of the eerie feel inside of the dark and dirty walls of the apartment building as I walked in.

On the floor of the shared hallway lay garbage several inches thick. Fast food wrappers, plastic bags and other debris likely left from the homeless population that would take shelter inside these hallways after dark. It was supposed to be a locked building but in my seven years of public health nursing, I have never once seen these doors locked.

I shrugged myself and my nursing equipment away from the walls, which were covered in years worth of dirt and filth, as we drug ourselves up the narrow steps.  Halfway up the first flight of stairs my interpreter and I paused to take in a single child-sized red streaked handprint, bright against the dingy wall. I watched my interpreter make the sign of the cross over his chest and we continued to walk, while hoping and praying that the print was made of paint and not blood. I shuddered to think of what these walls had seen in their many years.

After slowly making our way up to the third floor of the rickety, crooked staircase, with a handrail so broken and dirty that I knew it was better for me not to touch it, we finally reached my client's apartment. We knocked but there was no answer. We stood and waited, knocking at intervals. I felt myself imagining what it would be like to live in this foul space and my heart quivered, feeling emotional and helpless with the knowledge that in the richest country in the world, some people still live in absolute squalor. 

While we waited, my eyes swung over to the next-door over. The filthy door was so rickety on its frame that it barely shut. Landlords were known to turn a blind eye to such things in this part of town. I shivered to think of the lack of safety for the family inside in this neighborhood frequented by police sirens and gunshots after dark. This door had not seen paint in many years and was covered in something sticky and brown. What caught my eye, however, was the single drawing of a childlike, simple castle. At the bottom of the single triangle of a castle was a word carefully pressed into the paper in pink crayon- hope. I do not know if Hope was the name of the child who drew the picture, the name of the princess standing next to the castle or a simple reminder to keep striving. 

I paused in the bleak surroundings, with tears stinging my eyes. In the middle of this darkness, I found light and, indeed, hope- in the torn paper drawing tacked on a dilapidated door by a child. 

I couldn't help but think that if a child that lives in these circumstances, circumstances as bleak as any I have ever seen in America, surely I-- with my many blessings-- could seek hope, as well. 

I could find my castle inside of a shack. Find my light inside of the darkness. Find hope where there was not any before. 

That castle was a message for me. 

Dream bigger. 

Dream brighter.

No matter your present circumstances.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

You Are Perfect Just as You Are

I've never been society's idea of beautiful. I've always had a propensity to be a bit chubby and have strong facial features. 

When I was a child everyone would see my sister, blonde and lithe, and them me, chubby and awkward, standing at her side and would compliment her on how pretty she was. Then, as an afterthought, would compliment me on my intelligence.

I wanted so badly to be pretty. I spent years dieting, dyeing my hair and trying different makeup techniques to make my nose appear smaller. However, I could never change the image in the mirror much.

It wasn't long before I stopped focusing my energy on my outsides and began trying to refine my insides. I've spent much of my life focusing all of my time reading, learning, working and volunteering to make myself, and hopefully the world, better.

My intelligence and kindness have opened many doors for me. As an introvert, I spend many hours inside my head and quietly reading and those hours of thoughts make me continually into a more mindful person. My goals of weight-loss and outer perfection have been replaced with a single boas-- to be a better person with each and every year that passes. 

I still struggle with self-worth and avoid looking at myself in the mirror at times.  But, I'm pretty confident about the person that I am inside-- kind, compassionate, well-read, always learning. I hope that I continue to grow-- I know that I still have much inner work to do. 

So, I guess what I'm saying is that I'm grateful for not being born physically beautiful. It has made me a better person. I need to remind myself of this when I scoff at my image in the mirror.

You were born perfectly and exactly the way the you were meant to be, Loves. I'm so glad that I was made the way I am and that you were made the way that you are. 

Shine your light, the world only has one you. 

Saturday, April 2, 2016

The False Perfection of Facebook

Facebook is a double-edged sword, isn't it? 

It has become such a vehicle for my own expression. As an introvert, it allows me to use my voice without leaving my home. On the Facebook page for my blog, I usually reach more than 10,000 people per week. That is far more people than I would ever interact with in my "real" life. I have the potential to use my voice for good and help others feel less alone. That is an amazing gift. On the other hand, it also opens me up to criticism and unkindness from people. It is much easier to be cruel when you are hiding behind your computer and people have said the most grossly unkind things to me. 
In order to avoid such conflict and unkindness and to portray ourselves as the most perfect, lovely people --we often curate our social media feeds to only show the best of our lives. I'm as guilty of this as anyone, although I'm trying to be more conscious of this and avoid doing so. 

So, is your Facebook wall letting people in or inadvertently keeping people out? Has your Facebook "wall" become a literal wall that isn't letting people see the true you?

What I mean is- do your Facebook posts and pictures show an intensely perfect and unrealistic version of your life that doesn't in anyway show who you really are or invite people to know the true you or are you okay with being real enough to show some vulnerability and at least a glimpse of the actual, honest-to-goodness, flawed and wonderful you? 
It's hard to be real amongst all of the false perfection, isn't it? 
I challenge you lovingly to not be afraid to show that picture of your daughter with the unfolded laundry on the chair behind her...share the status about the unreasonable anxiety that you've been feeling...ask for help for need it- whatever being real means to you. 
It doesn't make you any more amazing to project yourself as the false version of perfect that none of us could ever be. 
We are all perfectly imperfect. Yes, it sucks to be vulnerable and we are all a bit afraid of the internet trolls- those who wait for us to show a flaw and are ready to pounce on us like digital vultures. 
I always have to remind myself to 'eye roll and scroll' when I come upon those comments or, even better, delete and block those people. The negativity that they bring to the world has nothing to do with you- it really is a reflection of what is happening inside them. Unfortunately, even the kindest of posts can draw their wrath. It's not about you at all. You are perfect just the way you are. 
It's okay to be you. It's amazing to be you. I can't wait to see the real, authentic you splashed like gold across your social media feeds. You've got this, Loves. Internet trolls be damned, screw the false perfection and let your true self rise up.