Why Did I Write a Memoir?

Credit: Neal Sanche (Creative Commons)

Credit: Neal Sanche (Creative Commons)

Before I get into this, I want to congratulate Tanya Marlow. Her new book, Those Who Wait: Finding God in Disappointment, Doubt and Delay, launched today. So I bet you can guess what I’ll be reading tonight.


I’ll have some exciting book announcement stuff of my own coming soon (I want to make a video for that, but I honestly just don’t feel like putting on something other than a wrinkled T-shirt that says “Me? Sarcastic? NEVER!”). For now, I want to talk about why I wrote a memoir.

I guess anyone who reads my stuff would assume they know why I wrote it. When I was eighteen, I had a stalker. So I wrote a misery memoir about being a stalking victim.

Yeahhhhhhh . . . that’s totally not what it is.

What’s the book about?

Sure, the stalking stuff is in there, and sure it’s intense at times, but the point isn’t I was stalked.

The point is the same thing that made my stalker feel entitled to me makes a lot of men feel entitled to women. Stalking isn’t the disease. It’s a symptom.

It’s a book about male entitlement, how that impacts women–not just during the assault, but long after–and the cumulative affect it has.

I pulled stories from my own experiences to try to tell a much bigger story. It’s not my story. It’s our story.

It’s about how women are objectified inside the church and outside the church. It’s about how our allies, the “good guys,” so often turn out to be the guys who hurt us. It’s about how our communities are complicit and turn away from us rather than addressing these issues and solving the problem. Because women are disposable. Because we’re less than. Because supporting us isn’t worth experiencing a little conflict.

Why did I write it?

 

My short answer is, “God told me to.”

And that’s true. I mean, he didn’t speak to me from the clouds or anything, but I have always known I’d write this book. Over the past few years, I’ve felt a strong pull to write it, even when I really, really didn’t want to. I’ve done a lot of praying. Like, a shitload of praying, y’all.

Personal narrative humanizes. It can help people empathize. We should understand what drives sexualized violence by now, but we obviously don’t.

We still blame women. We still excuse the actions and attitudes of men.

My hope is this book can help educate people who are open to understanding, but need to live through some of this alongside someone to really get it.

I spoke with another author early on in this process. She asked me if I’d considered fictionalizing my story. It’d have made things a hell of a lot easier on me, emotionally. But I decided not to because it’s so important for people to understand that these things really do happen. And they really do happen often.

The thing about my story is that it sounds unique and strange, but it’s not. At all.

It’s a common story that just doesn’t get told very often.

I want to be clear here. No victim is obligated to share their story. Not everyone is in a place where it’d be healthy to do that, and there is a real cost associated with coming forward. Sometimes it’s not worth paying that price, and I fully support anyone in that position. If you’ve been through anything like this, please don’t feel bad if you aren’t comfortable speaking out.

I’m telling these stories, not for myself, but for everyone who has stories like this. We shouldn’t all have to bare our wounds to the world to change things. Maybe if I show my wounds, other women won’t have to show theirs.

Am I afraid?

I’ve had several people express some concern for my safety. I really do appreciate that. It means you think I’m valuable enough to keep walking the earth. So, thank you for that. I plan to keep walking around, tossing puns out there, and sharing dank memes.

I am going to have to burst your bubble, though.

The reality is, I’m never safe. You’re never safe. None of us are ever safe.

Yes, I’m putting my name on the cover of this book. Yes, my stalker is still out there somewhere. No, that won’t put me in any more danger than I’ve ever been in.

If he wanted to find me, he’d already have found me.

Next year, I might get a new neighbor and maybe he’s a stalker. Maybe someone online will latch onto me.

I’ll probably get more of this shit. I fully expect it.

The thing is, women are stalked and harassed and assault no matter what they do. That’s also why I wrote this book. To show that.

I could write a book or not write a book. It wouldn’t make any difference. At some point in my life, something will happen to me again. So I may as well do something productive with it all and try to open some eyes.

I’ve counted the cost. So, no, I’m not afraid. And, yes, I know exactly what I’m doing.


If you’ve stuck around this long, here’s an excerpt [trigger warning: non-graphic mention of rape]:

When I was ten years old, I repeated something I’d heard on some late ’80s sitcom. We were driving home from the skating rink and I piped up from the backseat to ask, “When do you think I’ll go through puberty?”

After a tense pause, Mom cocked her head back and told me not to use “language like that.”

Eight years later, I felt more than a little awkward as I sat in a cramped sheriff’s office and described my sexiest pair of underwear to Dad and the balding police officer sitting behind the desk.

Maybe I’d have been better off tossing the underwear and picture into the trash, but I was worried about Ben. Erasing a person by taking away his face was about the creepiest thing I could imagine, so I showed the picture and my underwear to my parents.

Dad drove me down to the sheriff’s office to file a report about it, even though I didn’t want to. I asked Dad why he couldn’t go down and file it for me, but he said I had to because I was the one who found everything, and I was the “object of obsession,” according to those websites Mom kept looking up to read about stalkers. That phrase was the worst. I wasn’t an object.

But Ray had made me into a thing because things can be controlled.

And hadn’t my own church done that to me when they quoted Romans 14:13 and told us girls to be careful about the way we dressed so we wouldn’t be a “stumbling block” to our Christian brothers? A stumbling block isn’t a person, made in the image of God. It’s just a thing. Something you can blame for tripping you.

I didn’t want to be a thing, so I sat across a desk from one of our local officers and tried to tell him what happened without sounding either too hysterical or too relaxed about it all. If I got too worked up, he’d think I was overreacting and shrug the whole thing off. If I didn’t seem upset at all, well, he’d shrug that off too.

The officer listened to me, and then Dad, and nodded as we spoke. Dad wanted a restraining order, or for the police to at least warn Ray to stay away, but the police officer couldn’t fulfill either of those requests. Because what real proof did we have?

Ray had driven up and down our road several times over the past few days, but that wasn’t illegal. And, sure, Ray knew Dad was going to be away from home the night of the break-in, but everyone from our church knew that. Just like anyone from church would know exactly where I sat every Sunday.

Except not everyone from my church had been hanging around me all summer. And not everyone in our church had a history of delusions and violent outbursts. But that still wasn’t enough proof. Besides, Ray couldn’t be arrested for trying to have a conversation with me. He hadn’t been jumping through any plate-glass windows lately, and unless he publicly did something that outrageous again, people would just go right on thinking his delusions were under control.

The police officer leaned forward and rested his elbows on the desk. “If he touches you, then we can do something.” He lowered his chin and raised his eyebrows on the word “touches.” It was the kind of eyebrow twitch people shoot at one another when the thing they’re thinking of is too vulgar to say out loud.

I shrank down into the metal folding chair, and my jaw clenched down painfully. So, all I had to do was sit tight until Ray raped me, and then the police would be all over it. Did he really think I was in that kind of danger? Ray was being creepy, but could someone who’d known me since I was fourteen really do that to me?

The police officer cleared his throat and addressed Dad. “Y’all got a gun in the house?”

I guess the officer thought Ray really could do that to me. I hadn’t even been touched, but I felt violated. Stripped naked in that bright office. Knowing Ray had held a pair of my underwear was bad enough, but now other possibilities ran through my head. We didn’t freely say the word “sex” in our house, but now I was talking to Dad and some stranger about my impending sexual assault. Because Ray forced me to talk about it.

We didn’t have any guns, of course, since Dad was a Mennonite pastor. A pacifist. The Bible says, “Do not resist an evil person,” and Dad lived it. At least he lived it in theory since he’d never had his theology tested before. There wasn’t much religious persecution of Anabaptists in the late 1990s.

All through junior high, I’d heard about men like Dirk Willems, who’d been arrested for his Anabaptist faith. Dirk managed to escape his prison and flee across an ice-covered lake. When his jailer tried to follow, and fell through the ice, Dirk turned back to save him. He was repaid by being imprisoned again and executed. But that was all OK because Dirk’s real reward was in heaven and in knowing he’d stayed true to Jesus’s instructions to love your enemies. Following Christ meant laying down your life, literally, if it came down to that. You couldn’t be a Christian and commit a violent act. You just couldn’t.

The officer was a little flustered by Dad’s admission, and turned back to me. He gave me a hard, steady look and said, “Sweetheart, you need to go get yourself a bat. And you sleep with it under your bed every night.”

I glanced at Dad, and forced out, “But I’m a pacifist too.”

The officer closed his eyes for a second and leaned back in his chair. I expected him to spout, “God helps those who help themselves,” but he didn’t.

After we left the station, Dad stopped by Radio Shack to pick up a webcam. He was going to point it out the window, into the parking lot. We’d at least catch Ray on video if he skulked around the front of the house.

But last time he came around back, through my window, and we couldn’t point cameras out every entrance. So, I drove myself back into town and bought a crook-handled umbrella with a big, pointy tip because the discount store didn’t carry bats.

Wonder Woman: Let’s Talk About That No Man’s Land Scene

Credit: flickr user Jared Enos

Credit: flickr user Jared Enos

Spoiler Alert (But, for real, just go watch the movie.)

I’ve wanted to write something about Wonder Woman, but I decided to wait a while. Well, it’s been a while, so let’s dig into the No Man’s Land scene.

Now, I don’t cry during movies (unless it’s Shadow returning home at the end of Homeward Bound because that old dog coming up over the hill makes me cry every freakin’ time), but I totally started crying when Diana climbed up that ladder. Full on tears, y’all. I might even have audibly sobbed once before the scene was over.

After seeing the movie, I got online and saw a lot of other women admitting they’d cried through the same scene. That made me feel like less of a cry-baby, but it also made me wonder why it had such an impact.

Obviously, I can’t speak for all the other women out there. Each of them came to the movie with their own experiences, which helped shape their reactions, but maybe I can break it down a little on behalf of women like me.

First, let me refresh your memory a little.

Diana, Steve, and their trio of characters who represent all those well-meaning, but casually sexist men we all know have arrived at the front.

Seeing all the suffering around her, Diana insists they help the people there, but Steve tells her that it’s impossible. Both sides are entrenched. If anyone so much as pops their head up, they’ll be gunned down by the other side. There’s no forward movement. Both sides just sit there, suffering, and waiting out the war because the risk of trying to move forward is too great.

Sound familiar?

Maybe it sounds like what we experience when we try to challenge the status quo? When women try to pop their heads up out of the trench and say, “I’m more than an object. You aren’t entitled to me. I don’t fit into any of these whore/virgin/mother boxes you try to shove me into. I’m not going to play by your rules.”

We get gunned down. Sometimes, literally.

And so many people around us are like, “Just keep your head down. It’s just how the world works. It’s not worth the risk to try to fight it.”

But we can see how “the way things are” is hurting the people around us. We can even see how it’s hurting the men around us (like poor Charlie with PTSD).

When Diana declares she’s going to do something about it, no matter the risk, and she climbs up that ladder, while the men are yelling, “No!” not even because they want to keep her in her place, but because they’re genuinely concerned for her, it’s a moment that resonates with so many of us.

How many times are we told “don’t”? It’s not safe. We’ll get hurt.

But Diana does it anyway.

And that’s when something really amazing happens.

I’m not talking about Diana deflecting bullets with her gauntlets. Or her running across the field without getting scratched.

It’s Steve’s realization. “She’s taking all the fire!”

Since Diana’s the target of all the fire, and distracting the enemy, the men standing behind her can come up out of the trench and move forward.

If a few brave people are willing to come up out of the trench, and take all the fire, all those people standing behind them can come up with them, without taking such a big risk. When one person is willing to sacrifice their safety and security to move forward, we can all move forward.

Women might not be facing actual gunfire, but they face a lot when challenging the systems we live within. And challenging those systems absolutely bears a significant cost.

As Steve and the crew move in alongside Diana, they start shooting at the Germans. Diana is having none of that. Remember, she believes the Germans are good men, being influenced by Ares.

So what does she do?

She doesn’t attack the German men. She leaps into their trench and smashes their machine gun.

I want to repeat that.

She doesn’t smash the men who are hurting people. She smashes the tool they’re using to hurt people.

The patriarchy is the tool we use to hurt women.

Y’all. She smashed the fucking patriarchy.

We don’t smash the men who benefit from the patriarchy or actively use it to oppress women. We smash the patriarchy.

But that’s not where the battle actually ends. Next, Diana leads the group into the village.

By now, the men have seen what she can do and trust in her abilities. She’s the leader because she’s the most competent member of the group.

After separating so she can clear out a building, they all come back together in the village square to confront a sniper who’s sitting up in a bell tower. Everyone’s pinned down by a sniper they can’t reach. Charlie, their own sniper, can’t make the shot that will eliminate the threat. He’s clearly been too traumatized by his experiences in the war.

And this is where it gets really great.

Steve sees a large piece of metal on the ground and remembers seeing one of the Amazons leap off a shield. He knows Diana can do it too.

He tells the other guys to follow his lead and they pick up a large piece of metal for Diana to leap off of.

That’s when a group of men literally lift a woman up into a position that’s above their heads because they know she’s the most qualified person to get the job done.

Y’ALL

A bunch of tough-guy men lift a woman up so she can get shit done. So the entire village can be liberated.

And they don’t bitch and whine about it. They don’t pat themselves on the back for how great they are for doing it.

They just do it because it’s the obvious thing to do.

To sum it up, here’s what’s happening in these scenes:

  • A woman sees people suffering and wants to help.
  • Men tell her it’s too dangerous.
  • She walks out there, anyway, and the other side tries to gun her down.
  • While she’s drawing all the fire on herself, it gives her friends an opportunity to advance safely.
  • After the other men in the trench see those few men advance, they realize it’s safe for them too, and they come along.
  • When the woman gets to the other side, she trashes the tool of oppression, not the person wielding it.
  • The men in her group realize she’s their best chance and elevate her to a position of power so she can save them all.

It took me a while to realize that’s what I was seeing while watching the movie. The first time I saw it, I had an intense emotional reaction, without fully understanding it. After thinking it over, and seeing how many other women reacted the same way, I realized this is what I was seeing.

I was watching the (someday) end of sexism play out over a World War I battlefield.

I was seeing how we could be.

It’s that deep desire for a better world that made me cry. Because, y’all, I know we can get there. I know it.

Some of us just have to be brave enough to draw the fire for a while.

This Post is Definitely, Absolutely, Positively Not About Mike Pence

freely-75026

I don’t normally jump on the latest topic that’s flying around on social media. And I’m not going to jump on Mike Pence. (I mean. I’m a pacifist. Jumping on people is frowned upon.) What I do want to talk about is something I’ve mostly seen people talk around instead of about.

Some people believe that men and women should never be alone together. That might mean they never ride in a car without a third person, or that might mean they can’t even eat dinner together in a public place.

People who have this rule have it for different reasons. I’m not going to talk about all of those reasons. (If someone wants to defend their reasoning, I’d love it if they wrote their own post. Link it in the comments, if you want).

I’m going to talk about the reason I have personal experience with.


Here’s a journal entry I made when I was 16 years old*:

After we were done at the job site [my dad and a few other adults took the youth group on an MDS trip], we went to a Waffle House by our motel. I took a drink of my water and then dumped two Equal packets into it and Nick asked, “Why’d you do that?”

I told him the water was bland, but he said water couldn’t be bland. It can too be bland.

Then we heard a crash and turned around. Joe had spilled his Mr. Pibb all over Angela and Daniel. It was hilarious.

After we got done eating, me, Andrea, and Nick wanted to go watch TV but all the adults were taking forever. So we decided to walk back to the motel. When we were leaving, Candace yelled, loudly, “Y’all need to leave the door open!”

I just stood there, like, “Huh?” I thought maybe I had the only room key or something and she didn’t want to get locked out.

Then she said, “You know, boys and girls. Together.”

WHAT?!?!?!?!

I tried to make a joke of it, so when we were walking back, I told Andrea, “Hey, are you excited for our big orgy? Do you want to share Nick?”

That’s when I realized Nick was literally right behind me, so I real quick said, “Just kidding,” just so we were clear. I need to stop saying everything that pops into my head.

Anyway, it didn’t even matter because Candace sent other kids out after us and they were mad because they didn’t want to sit in the motel room and watch TV, but they had to because of us.


And then I talk about watching Volcano, but that’s another story.

I want to break this down a little.

At first, we were just a group of kids, being kids. There were absolutely zero sexual thoughts going on. My focus was on bland water and Mr. Pibb accidents. When we went to leave, it never even occurred to me that something sexual might possibly happen while I was watching TV. At that point in my life, I’d never even had a first kiss yet. Never held hands. Nothing.

The woman who didn’t want us to be alone is the one who sexualized that situation, which I tried to defuse with a dumb joke (because, let’s be real… that’s always been my way.) It was embarrassing for her to say that, especially in front of everyone else in our group. And, since my father was there with us, it wasn’t that she was “in charge” of me for the trip or anything like that.

I’d only known that boy for a couple of months. One of my friends was walking over with us. Maybe she thought we were playing a trick with that… I’m not sure. We just wanted to watch TV. It’s an innocent activity.

The suspicion that we might get up to something gave us the impression that we were dangerous to one another. The lack of trust was insulting. The idea that my awkward self might tempt him down some dark, sexually deviant road was mortifying.

I wasn’t Kristy in that moment. I wasn’t a sister in Christ, which is how Christian men should see me. I was a female body that could be the object of sinful lust. I was something to be protected from.

About a year later, this woman was teaching our youth group. She was an advocate for courtship, which required a chaperone to accompany any boy/girl pair. She extended that to adults as well, and gave us an example.

The example she presented was a time, a few weeks prior, when she’d been in the church doing something and my dad had walked in. She told us all she felt extremely uncomfortable being alone with him like that, for the whole, maybe 5 minutes he was in there. My dad was the pastor. Of course he’d be walking into the church sometimes.

How do you think you’d feel if a woman told a group of your friends that she was uncomfortable being alone with your father? What does that make your father sound like?

I pressed her a little on it, asking if he’d actually done anything inappropriate. She said he hadn’t. It was just his presence that made her uncomfortable. Why, though? Because her belief was that you couldn’t trust a man and a woman, alone together. Something might happen, even if the risk was extremely low. And, even if nothing sexual happened, it wasn’t appropriate, even for a congregant and a pastor to share the same space for a few minutes.

What sharing her “caution” did was make my father sound like the kind of creep who would make a woman uncomfortable. (If you knew my dad, you’d know that’s a weird thing to say about him.) What sharing her “caution” did was make me sound like the kind of girl who’d jump a boy the second the motel door closes.

It’s hurtful and shaming.

I can’t speak for every single person out there who’s been touched by the “no boy/girls alone” rule. I can speak for me, though. The idea that this rule isn’t ever used to prevent temptation is just wrong. I’ve got a copy of my very first orgy joke that proves that’s exactly how this rule can be used. This was my introduction to the rule, and when I talk about it, this is where I’m coming from. If that’s not how it’s played out in your life, well, great. But you can’t tell me it hasn’t played out this way in other people’s lives.

*Names have been changed.

6 Important Stalking Facts Everyone Should Know

6 Stalking Facts

You know a woman who has been, is being, or will be stalked.

1 in 6 women have been stalked at some point in their lives.1 These women believed they (or someone they cared about) would be harmed or killed by their stalker.

How many women do you know? 1 in 6 is a high number. There’s a very good chance you know one of these women. However, many stalking victims are hesitant to tell others about their experiences with a stalker. They might be afraid you won’t believe them, or that you’ll blame them for their stalker’s behavior.

By raising awareness about the reality of stalking, you can show your friends and family members that you’re behind them.

Stalking 1

Men can be stalked too.

1 in 19 men have been stalked at some point in their lives. While women do stalk men, most stalkers (of either gender) are men.1

Men may be hesitant to speak up about their experiences because they’re afraid of looking weak, especially if their stalker is a woman. But these men aren’t weak. Stalking is intrusive and dangerous.

Most victims know their stalkers.

When people think of a stalker, most have this picture in their head of some creepy stranger, skulking down a back alley, taking picture of an oblivious woman.

In reality, two-thirds of women are stalked by a current or former partner. A quarter of women are stalked by someone they’re acquainted with, even though they never had a romantic relationship with them. Only about 13% of victims are stalked by strangers. 1

Stalkers don’t just follow a person around.

Stalkers are creative in the ways they terrorize their victims.

Sometimes they follow the victim. Or they might call non-stop all day long. They might break into a victim’s home.

They often leave items for the victim to find. These aren’t romantic trinkets. A stalker might break into a victim’s house and leave a glass of water on the kitchen table. The message to the victim is, “I can get to you any time I want.”

These types of incidents are difficult for victims to report. Victims are often afraid the police won’t take them seriously if they call to report something as seemingly innocent as a glass of water on their table. If the police officer doesn’t know the incident is part of an on-going stalking case, he might not take it seriously.

Stalkers often threaten their victims with physical harm or death. They sometimes threaten the victim’s friends and family members as well.

Stalking victims are forced to face each day, not knowing what might happen to them or to their loved ones.

Stalking kills

Stalkers kill.

All death threats should be taken seriously.

76% of women who are murdered by their current or former partner were stalked first. 85% of women who survived an attempted murder by their partner were stalked first.2

Only 10% of female murder victims are murdered by a stranger.3

Stalking is a serious red flag that a woman is in danger of being murdered, especially when she is being stalked by a former partner.

Stalking is illegal.

All 50 states have anti-stalking laws. However, some states have stricter laws than others.

“Some state laws specify that the victim must have been frightened by the stalking, while others require only that the stalking would have caused a reasonable person to experience fear. In addition, states vary on what level of fear is required. Some state laws require prosecutors to establish fear of death or serious bodily harm, while others require only that prosecutors establish that the victim suffered emotional distress.”4

Stalking is difficult to prove and restraining orders often do nothing to protect victims. Unfortunately, proving a stalking case can be a long process, during which the victim is continuously terrorized. It’s important for victims to have a strong emotional support system during this time and a safety plan in place.

 

More information is available from the Stalking Resource Center.

 

Sources

1 – Michele C. Black et al., “The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2010 Summary Report (pdf, 124 pages),” Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2010. (https://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/pdf/NISVS_Report2010-a.pdf)

2 – Judith McFarlane et al., “Stalking and Intimate Partner Femicide,” Homicide Studes 3, no. 4. 1999 (http://www.victimsofcrime.org/docs/src/mcfarlane-j-m-campbell-j-c-wilt-s-sachs-c-j-ulrich-y-xu-x-1999.pdf?sfvrsn=0)

3 – Shannan Catalano et al., “Female Victims of Violence,” Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2009.

4 – Shannan Catalano, “Stalking Victims in the United States – Revised,” Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2012. (http://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=1211)

#Triggered Jokes

January 2000 - About 6 months after the first break in. You know what makes you grumpy? Not being able to unpack your belongings for 4+ months because you don't have a permanent home yet.

Three months after my family uprooted ourselves and moved across the country to escape the man who repeatedly broke into our home and threatened to murder me by setting me on fire and burning me alive. I guess all the nightmares and fire and noise-triggered panic attacks I experienced for years after this were pretty funny when you think about it.

“Sherlock sucks.”

#Triggered

He posts it as a joke. He’s making fun of all the little internet kiddies who use “triggered” when they really mean “I don’t like that thing you just said.”

But those little internet kiddies aren’t reading his comment. I am. And those kids misappropriated that word from the people who need it. Those kids aren’t triggered. They’re irritated. They’re offended. They’re angry. They are not triggered.

What is a Trigger?

When a person has lived through a trauma, sometimes they develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This isn’t the “trauma” of having your favorite TV show cancelled. This is serious, you really could have died, trauma.

These are people who’ve survived wars, survived terrorist attacks, survived sexual assault, survived murder attempts. We’re talking some hardcore shit here.

When you’re faced with a life-or-death situation, part of your brain kicks in to protect you. Your heart rate goes up. Your system gets flooded with adrenaline. Your breathing changes. Because you need to either fight off something that wants to kill you or you need to run like hell away from that thing that wants to kill you.

And you can’t control how fast your heart races. I mean, go ahead. Try telling your heart to stay at exactly 90 BPM. Didn’t work? Well, it doesn’t work for people with PTSD either. They have no control over how their body reacts when their PTSD symptoms are triggered.

And that’s what “triggered” actually means. It doesn’t mean you’re mad. It doesn’t mean you’re offended. It means your PTSD symptoms have kicked into high gear.

Some symptoms of PTSD hang around most of the time. A person might be extra jumpy and always scope out the nearest exits when they go somewhere new. Other symptoms lay dormant until they’re triggered.

Acorns trigger my symptoms.

When I’m in my house at night and an acorn falls on my roof, I know it’s just a stupid acorn. I’m not delusional or anything. I know it’s not anything dangerous. But that sudden thump on my roof when it hits activates my fight-or-flight response. My heart rate goes up. My breathing gets shallower. My eyes go wide. I’m reliving the same terror I felt when I was 18 and my life was actually in danger. If you’ve ever had a panic attack, you have some idea of what I’m talking about. It’s not fun when you aren’t in control of what your body is doing.

My conscious mind knows it’s just a stupid acorn, but my unconscious mind was trained a long time ago to spring into action when it perceives a threat. A loud noise is perceived as a threat.

There was a period of time in my life when not being hyper-alert might have gotten me murdered. This same heart-racing reaction, 17 years ago, could have saved my life. Now, it’s a nuisance. But, again, our hearts don’t listen to our commands.

A trigger can be anything that jerks a person with PTSD out of the present and smashes them up against the wall of their past trauma. It’s violent and it’s ugly.

I’m lucky. I don’t actually trigger all that easily, and when I do I’m pretty good at coping with everything until my body chills the eff out and goes back to normal.

What the #Triggered Joke Says

When I see someone post #Triggered as a joke, it tells me they are not a safe person for me to be around. They don’t understand the long-lasting effects of being traumatized, or they just don’t care.

And you know what else is a trigger for me?

Christians.

I already have a hard time trusting anyone who claims to be a Christian. I was traumatized by a group of Christians, after all. A #Triggered joke from one of them is like kicking me when I’m already down.

Oh, I get that they don’t mean it “that way”, but let’s get real. “Trigger” means something. Just because some kids use it incorrectly doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a real meaning.

But, Kristy, how can you get down on people who just don’t understand how damaging those jokes can be? Ignorance is innocence, right?

Well, this is me, explaining how damaging those jokes can be. And I don’t attack people when they do it. I try to educate them, but most people tend to be pretty damn resistant to be corrected on this one. I guess defending their joke is usually more important than saying, “I’m sorry I was an asshole to all the people out there who have uncontrollable and painful reactions to traumatic triggers.”

One of the factors that contribute to developing PTSD is a lack of social support after a traumatic event. And one of the contributing factors in healing from PTSD is positive social support. Which one do you think a “triggered” joke looks like?

It’s Just a Joke

Is it a joke that I was almost murdered? That when I was still just a kid, I woke up every day, wondering if that was my last day? If I’d have to kill or be killed?

Is it a joke that when I hear a noise at night, my body immediately jumps to, “I’m about to be murdered!”, even though I’m sitting there telling myself that that’s a ridiculous reaction?

Is it a joke that some vets can’t go to fireworks shows with their families because it takes them right back to a time when they were in a life-or-death situation, maybe even when they saw people being killed?

Triggers aren’t comments that offend us or upset us. Triggers are things that make us feel like we’re about to die. How is that funny?

But, Kristy, I’m not making fun of people with PTSD. I’m making fun of those kids who misuse “trigger”. Really? By making #Triggered comments that those kids won’t see, but people with PTSD will? By making a joke that further supports the misuse of that word, as if those kids are the ones who get to define it?

It’s Not My Problem

No, it’s not your problem. Lucky you.

I can’t speak for every single person who’s experienced a traumatic event, or for every person who developed PTSD symptoms after it, but I can speak for me. I don’t expect people to tip-toe around me. I don’t ask people to avoid talking about stalkers or assault or Christians. Sometimes people say something that sets me off on an unwanted heart-pumping adventure through my mental issues. But, that really isn’t that person’s problem. It’s my problem, and I deal with it on my own.

I can’t expect everyone to know what might trigger everyone’s PTSD. Hell, half the time people with PTSD don’t know what might trigger their PTSD, so we’re never going to be able to do that.

What I can expect is people to show some compassion and respect for people who have PTSD. To not make fun of people who were strong enough to survive whatever it was that could have killed them. To not make fun of people who are unexpectedly ambushed by their past, and have to learn how to live like that. It’s not easy to do.

Maybe you didn’t know making that #Triggered joke was such a big deal. Well, now you know. I forgive you. Now, do better.

Or don’t. Say what you want, but know that your words affect other people. It’s your call whether or not that matters to you.

For more information about PTSD.

Mandatory Year-end Blog Post 2016

2016 started rough. I was still working on the first draft of my memoir, and writing a book is hard, y’all. This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done (and I once managed to get my car out of a snowbank using nothing but McDonald’s bags). I feel like a wizard should show up to tell me I’ve fulfilled my destiny or some shit. Except I’m still revising a little, so the wizard will have to come back sometime in 2017.

Honestly, I haven’t done much this year besides write, read, watch Kimmy Schmidt, and eat insane amounts of wintergreen Life Savers. I have a super glamorous life.

 

Top Five Most Viewed Posts

What Does Being Stalked Look Like? 

Last year, my parents found several rolls of undeveloped film. When they developed them, we found a whole roll of pictures that were taken while I was being stalked. While working on my memoir, I pulled out all the pictures my family has of just before and after this time as well. Seeing a visual timeline spread out like that hit me harder than I thought it would. It was like watching my life fall apart. When I shared some of those pictures, I didn’t think people would be very interested in them. I’m still not sure why this post was so popular. Maybe it helps drive home just how young I was. Maybe people just like seeing me in tie-dye (I know I do).

 

When Supporters Strip Rape Victims

header imageVictims are often stripped of their voice. Because of fear or shame or people who won’t listen. It’s important to allow them to speak about their experiences, on their own terms, without projecting our own assumptions onto them.

Sometimes I write a post because I’m frustrated with a trend. This was one of those times.

 

The God Who Suffers

God knows what it’s like to be abandoned by the people you love. God knows what it’s like to be falsely accused. God knows what it’s like to be humiliated and shamed. God knows what it’s like to suffer.

While I don’t fully understand the Trinity (who does?), I have a much deeper appreciation for it. I’ve grown more attached to the crucified Christ through that.

 

What Does Forgiveness Look Like?

What does forgiveness look like when you’re still broken? When you’ll never not be broken? How do you forgive someone who doesn’t think they did anything wrong?

If you ever get down on yourself for being slow to forgive, just remember it took me 15 years just to get started. (Bonus: Y2K fantasies)

 

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Creeds

Credit: Steve SnodgrassChristians all over the world, in different traditions that wouldn’t normally agree on much, stand up together on Sunday mornings and as one body recite the same words Christians have recited for centuries. And that’s a powerful thing to be a part of.

More evidence that I’m some sort of denominational Frankenstein’s monster. (See? I know the monster’s name isn’t Frankenstein. How impressed are you right now?)

I’m Just Getting Warmed Up

Credit: Amy

Credit: Amy

One of my cousins posted this Medium article today.

I’m not exactly crying, and the language goes a little further than I would sometimes, but yeah. A lot of women are feeling this right now. I’ve been the most competent person in the room, but was interrupted and talked over by men who didn’t know what the hell they were talking about. I’ve been the woman who worked harder and contributed more than the men at my level, and was still valued less. I’m her too.

Maybe I’m coming across as extra obnoxious lately, but I have two daughters and a whole generation of girls coming up in life right behind me. Do you think I want any of these girls living through my experiences? I can’t afford to ignore sexism anymore, even when it pops up among people I really like. So, I’m fine with coming across as extra obnoxious. I’m fine with ruffling a few feathers. I don’t have time to sit here and hold your hand and teach you how to treat women like human beings. You’re a grown ass adult. Figure it out.

In case you really need a little help, here’s a quick tutorial:

  1. Find a human being.
  2. Treat this human being the way you would want to be treated.
  3. Now, add a uterus.
  4. Congratulations!

I don’t care if you call yourselves egalitarians or  complementarians or some hybrid of those two. I’m just as valuable as you are, and you will listen to what I have to say. And if you refuse, I’ll make you listen. Y’all, I haven’t even scratched the surface of obnoxious yet, and I’m not even close to being alone out here. It’s going to be a long four years if our culture doesn’t shape up fast.

You want me to stop harping on this and shouting so loudly about sexism?

Stop being so fucking sexist, and I will. Until you do that, I’ll be here to fuck shit up.

Frivolous Outrage

I only have so much outrage to rage with. No matter how much my hero/martyr-complex kicks in, I can’t carry every flag.

What I believe is important isn’t necessarily what someone else will believe is important. Our life experiences do a lot more to shape our belief systems than we like to think.

There are some issues that most of us can agree are important. Issues that deserve our energy. Issues that should cause outrage.

And then there are issues that probably don’t deserve our energy.

Over the past few years, I’ve watched wave after wave of social media outrage over one ridiculous thing after another. What gets a person fired up says a lot about them.

You know what getting outraged over some little thing (when there are so many issues out there that are more deserving of your attention) says? That you have a pretty damn easy life.

If you didn’t have such an easy life, you’d have a better understanding of what actually deserves your ire.

Like food insecure and starving children in your community. Yes, your community. Just because you haven’t met them doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

Like systemic racism.

Like the way women are objectified and devalued.

Like the way men are taught to adhere to a narrow view of masculinity.

Like the way gender and sexual minorities are discriminated against.

Like the way our society punishes poverty.

Or the many other worthwhile causes out there that could have a positive impact on our society.

But, no, you go ahead and spend your energy getting all irate about some tiny, little thing you’ll easily forget by next week. Because that’s the important issue here.

But these inconsequential things do seem like important issues to people who’ve never had to face actual struggles head-on. This is where I use the P word.

Privilege.

If you have the energy to latch onto some here-today-gone-tomorrow bullshit, then congratulations on your awesome, largely-trouble-free life. People who are out there dealing with actual problems can’t go around getting all worked up about every little thing that crosses their path. Because their energy goes to, you know, dealing with actual problems. Maybe they’re busy figuring out where their kid’s next meal is going to come from. Maybe they’re caring for a dying relative. Maybe they’re moving their garbage bag of belongings from one homeless shelter to another. Maybe they’re busy filing for bankruptcy because of their outrageous medical bills.

Maybe, instead of getting outraged over every single distasteful thing you run across, you could stop for a minute and express some gratitude for having such a great life that those little irritations even register. Because, let me tell you, when you’ve got a severed limb, you ain’t gonna notice a mosquito bite.

And, for the Christians out there, this is absolutely an issue for us. When we’re out there raging about that pesky mosquito while people are suffering and dying around us, what sort of witness is that?

I get it. Sometimes things rub us the wrong way and we just want to vent about it. That’s cool. Just be aware of how you come across when you do that, and make sure you also pay plenty of attention to real issues as well if you’re going to devote time to mosquito swatting.

Be thankful you’re in such good shape you can notice that little bite, and then think about helping the person with the severed leg instead of bitching about how itchy you are.

All The Things I’ve Done Since I Died

Sixteen years ago, this week, I found an obituary with my name on it. Here’s what I’ve been up to since I died in 1999.

I lived in Indiana.

I started smoking.

I bought my first car.

I got lost in a cornfield in Iowa while trying to find the gas station the sign on the interstate promised me was out there somewhere.

I lived in Kansas.

I voted in my first presidential election.

I was cast in two plays because I was the only person who could speak with an authentic southern accent.

I lived in Michigan.

I met wonderful people.

I met less-than-wonderful people.

I went back to college.

I ate cake at my wedding.

I flew on an airplane for the first time.

I read all of the Harry Potter books.

I quit smoking.

I went to the top of the Space Needle.

I built a house with my husband. Well, I watched people build it.

I gave birth. Twice.

I found out I’m mysteriously talented in accounting, even though I hate math, and people will pay you to be good at accounting.

I saw Mount Rushmore.

I watched the Evolution of Dance video.

I lived in Washington.

I fulfilled my childhood dream of seeing the Redwoods.

I got lost in a pitch black lava tube cave because my sister doesn’t double-check her flashlight batteries.

I drank wine on a yacht that was sailing around Vancouver harbor. (I also spilled some of the wine while telling a story because I talk with my hands a lot.)

I learned how to hard boil eggs.

I visited Mount St. Helens.

I binge-watched the new Doctor Who.

I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone to my daughters.

I got into stupid arguments.

I got into valid and important arguments.

I learned how to make coffee (depending on who you ask).

I wrote a book.

I ate junk food and watched TV and went to the movies and sat through meetings and shopped for presents and yelled at the computer and filed my taxes and bought socks and left crumbs on the counter and decided not to drink milk on its expiration date and laughed at jokes and helped with homework and fell asleep on the couch and broke my iPod and forgot to set the alarm clock.

I lived.

Trigger Warning: This Post is About Trigger Warnings

Credit: Lishmay

Credit: Lishmay

TRIGGER WARNING: Wolverines

All right, kids. Let’s talk about those awful trigger warnings the dirty, dirty liberals are out there throwing around in order to censor everything that isn’t rainbows and puppies and pansexuals.

I’ve read a lot of opinion pieces, mostly from people who don’t have emotional triggers because they haven’t been through any sort of major trauma. Well, I’m traumatized just enough to have triggers, but I’m also the kind of person who doesn’t shy away from difficult material. So, now you get to hear from me.

What’s a Trigger?

A trigger is not “something I don’t like”. I hate canned chicken. I hate it with a fiery passion. I want to shoot every can of chicken straight into the sun. But that doesn’t make canned chicken a trigger for me, because I was never traumatized by canned chicken. Canned chicken never broke into my home and attacked me.

A trigger is really associated with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. What happens, is a person with PTSD can come across something that reminds them of their trauma, and it brings on an uncontrollable physical reaction. I don’t mean they get a little upset and misty eyed. I mean that no matter how much they tell themselves they’re OK, their body believes they are in imminent danger and their fight or flight instinct kicks in. I don’t know about you, but I find it’s pretty dang hard to concentrate in a literature class when my body is itching to drop kick a bitch.

A few years ago, I was sitting in my office, taking a quick break from some reports I’d been working on all day. I hopped online to check the news and read a breaking story about a teenage girl who’d just been kidnapped by her father’s friend after he killed her mother and brother in a house fire. Now, that hit a little close to home for me and my uncooperative body shot off into a heart-racing panic attack. I had a hard time concentrating and didn’t get much done for the rest of the day. If I’d known what the story was about before clicking on the link, I’d still have read it, but I’d have waited until I got home so it didn’t disrupt my whole day.

How Do Trigger Warnings Work?

In reality, almost anything could be a trigger. Maybe your attacker was wearing a red ribbon, so now red ribbons trigger that panic response. We can’t blanket the world in trigger warnings for every little thing. What we can do, though, is catch some of the more obvious triggers.

Literature that includes abuse and sexual assault can easily trigger a person who’s been through either. I mean, if your father was ripped apart by wolverines, and then you sat down in class and had to read a short story about a father who was ripped apart by wolverines, don’t you think that’d upset you to the point where you had a hard time participating in the class discussion about it?

But what if the syllabus warned you ahead of time? TRIGGER WARNING: Includes a father being killed by wolverines.

You’d have weeks to prepare yourself. Maybe you’d read the story ahead of time, on your own, so you didn’t have to worry about having a panic attack in the middle of class with all your peers watching. You would have time to process your emotions on your own before tackling the discussion in class. It would mean you could participate more effectively in class.

Now, I think a wolverine trigger warning’s stupid. There aren’t many people out there who’ve had a wolverine rip apart a family member. But, there are so many people out there who’ve been raped and abused. A trigger warning on material that includes those topics would catch a huge number of people.

In a college setting, a trigger warning wouldn’t mean those people get to skip that material. That’s not how this works. All it means is they’re warned ahead of time that it’s going to be difficult for them. Because if you know something difficult is coming up, you can come up with a plan for how to handle it.

My Personal Expectations

A lot of opinion pieces paint people like me as whiners who want to be victims so they don’t have to do any actual work and don’t ever have to challenge themselves to learn about things they might not like.

Well, sure, there are people like that out there, but it’s not the rape survivors. It’s not the veterans sitting in class with PTSD. These people just want to learn without being startled by a panic attack in the middle of class. They just want the same shot at learning that everyone else in the class has got.

Personally, I don’t expect to see any trigger warnings for my issues. Delusional hippie religious stalkers aren’t exactly a plague on our society, so trigger warnings about that would just waste ink.

What I do expect to see are rape and abuse trigger warnings. Because, guess what. Those are a plague on our society and until that changes, we’ve got a lot of legitimately traumatized people out there.

Drive It On Home

Trigger warnings aren’t for things we don’t like.

Even if there’s a trigger warning, we still have to study the material if it’s on the syllabus.

Trigger warnings help people prepare for handling material that could harm them (because, face it, panic attacks aren’t cool).

Trigger warnings don’t hurt anyone. If a subject doesn’t cause you severe emotional distress, then ignore the warning.

See how easy that is?

And one more quick comment for any Christians out there. If you have the opportunity to reach out and help “the least of these” by typing a few extra words, shouldn’t you?

Mic drop.