Monthly Archives: January 2016

Breaking My Silence – A Rape Survivor’s Story

Standard
Breaking My Silence – A Rape Survivor’s Story

As published in the Cincinnati Enquirer on 1/31/16 – http://www.cincinnati.com/story/opinion/contributors/2016/01/29/breaking-silence-rape-survivors-story/79525890/

So many people are doubting Bill Cosby’s accusers’ because they waited so long to tell their stories. And in reading those, I can’t help but look back to the five years I waited to speak up about my rape.

I was 20 years old. I was home for a year on a break from college and went on a date with a man I had just met. We went to the movies and then went for a drive afterward to get some coffee. We ended up in a secluded place and before I knew what was happening and despite my insistence that this was not what I wanted, he overpowered me. He took something very precious to me, something I intended to save for marriage.

This man raped me.

I was numb. I don’t remember how I got home. I sat in my driveway in a fog, wondering what I did to cause this. Thinking back to the night, and replaying every word of our conversation. I was intent on figuring out how I caused this to happen. I wasn’t dressed inappropriately. I wasn’t flirty. I didn’t “entice” him. But yet, I was focused on how this was my fault.

I grew up in a very religious home. We started attending church when I was 2 years old, and we attended three to four times a week. My sister and I attended the Christian school at the church. As a strict Bible-believing congregation and family, abstinence was preached from the pulpit quite regularly. Sex before marriage was a disgrace in the eyes of the Lord.

As teenage girls growing up in the church and youth group, we were reminded consistently that we as females had to guard ourselves. That we had to not cause the young men around us to stumble and fall into sin. We are responsible for our attire and actions, lest what we wear on a given day or say in a certain conversation would be the reason a boy had impure thoughts.

That’s a lot to take on as a prepubescent teenage girl. That’s a lot of responsibility to take on for someone that was in such a sheltered atmosphere. If a male sinned in a sexual manner, much of the blame was put upon the girls.

After my rape, all those church lessons flooded back to me. I believed that I somehow was the cause of this, and I couldn’t tell anyone. I had seen how my church had handled previous sexual attacks and turned the blame to the female. I saw how the church disciplined their members when this happened, and I was not about to let that happen to me. I would bury this deep inside. I would pretend that none of this happened. I would never speak of this to anyone, and keep living my life.

But, unfortunately, something this tragic and painful is not easy to keep silent. I was not only physically harmed, but my psyche was destroyed. I began to withdraw. I doubted all good intentions from anyone. I was angry. A lot. Everyone thought I was just being rebellious and running from my church upbringing. And in reality, I was trying to hide from it all.

I was ashamed of what happened to me. I was afraid of what others would say. I was sure that my family and friends would stonewall me. I distanced myself from my strict upbringing because I thought there would be no support. When I needed it most, I was sure it would fail me as it had others before.

I lived my life for five years. I attended a Christian college and started to become the “super” Christian. I thought that by doing this, I would somehow feel a weight lifted, that I would feel whole again.

I didn’t.

I just became more and more guilty. So, I buried my secret deeper and became someone I didn’t even recognize. This secret was eating me alive, and eventually I knew that I had to say something. I had to break my silence, before my silence broke me.

I apprehensively told some counselors at the Christian college that I was attending about my rape. The reaction was mixed. Some sympathized with me, some questioned how I let that happen. I decided then that I had to leave that school.

It wasn’t until I was gone, far from the religious atmosphere, that I began to question everything I was once taught. I learned the difference between being religious and having a relationship with God. It was then that I started to feel the proverbial weight being lifted.

I finally told my family, slowly. It was hard, it was painful, but I gradually began to experience true freedom. The pain that ate at me for years was starting to heal.

My attacker was never charged or convicted. I didn’t even know his last name. It was my first date with him, and I never saw him again. But even so, I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if I spoken up sooner. If I had the support that I needed to get through this awful situation, would I have been in a different place in my life? Would I have been a different person than I am now?

I eventually went through counseling and saw a therapist for a while to help guide me through the journey ahead. I still have trust issues. I still have flashbacks to that night. I have lost a lot of memories from my childhood and much of my adulthood, but that one memory is still as vivid as it is painful.

I can fully understand why some of Cosby’s accusers took years to speak up. Maybe all these women finally found a support system that builds them up and embraces them, instead of tearing them down and belittling them regardless of what may have occurred. Maybe these women have finally found their strength to come forward, because they now have an avenue to voice their secret. Regardless of their reasoning, their silence does not in any way negate the circumstances or their story.

I can only speak for myself and what I know without a doubt, that in the midst of the pain and awful turmoil and the hurt, I found a voice that I didn’t know existed. I found the strength and courage to speak out against this depraved act that was carried out against me. I discovered that I was not alone and that there were others out there that could relate to and support me.

No amount of time or silence could change what happened to me. I pray that no one ever has to go through what I went through – what many millions of others have gone through. I can only hope that the women who have been unable to speak of these actions will finally find their voice and and the healing that comes from breaking the silence.

Assistance after rape

After a sexual assault, those who have been attacked have a number of options:

• Anyone in immediate danger should call 911

• Local 24-hour hotline: 513-381-5610

• Toll-free hotline: 877-889-5610

Hotline counselors can provide information about a range of assistance options.

If a friend or relative confides having been attacked, the first, most important thing for them to hear is: “I believe you, and it’s not your fault,” according to Women Helping Women’s Kristin Shrimplin.

Doubting Thomas

Standard

1453824723874
There goes the phrase, “assume good until you are proven wrong”. I’m the opposite. I assume the worse until I am proven otherwise. I know it’s not right. I know it’s not healthy. I know it puts me in a bad light. Believe me, I know this all, and I’ve dealt with those thoughts for quite some time. There’s a reason for this thought process. Bear with me. . . ..

I’ve been too trusting in my life. Way too trusting of people. I used to think that everyone was good. That everyone had the best intentions. That everyone was true to their word. That everyone was what they said they were. Then that trust and belief in good was demolished and thrown out the proverbial window down 2 million stories.

I trusted someone and their “good” intentions. I was innocent. I was naïve. I was hoping and trusting that this person meant what they said. Believed they wouldn’t hurt me. And those thoughts and beliefs were not at all what I had imagined. This person took advantage of me. This person hurt me. Not only physically but also mentally, emotionally, even spiritually to the core. This person was a monster, and changed my life completely and caused me to question everything in my life.

This in turn made me question everyone. Made me distrust what they said. Made me be suspicious of their intentions. Wondering if they really meant what they said. Convincing myself that what they said couldn’t be true. Doubting everything about them. I used to think that there was inherent good in people and in society as a whole. I guess I’ve become a hard core cynic. And I hate that. That’s one of the things I really dislike about myself. Of course, there’s other things, but that’s the one that really shakes me up.

And to this day, I still struggle with it. And it gets in the way of having healthy relationships. It gets in the way of moving forward with my life. It automatically puts up a wall. It makes me push people away. It makes me give pause to letting people in. When I get a compliment, I pass it off as just a kind gesture, not having true meaning behind it. Compliments in general I have a hard time taking. And part of that is because I’m way too hard on myself and can’t see what this person sees. I doubt that they mean it. I assume there are unwanted intentions behind it, and I just push it away. It’s not fair to that person, because I know that they probably sincerely meant it. See, even there. They “probably” sincerely meant it. It’s so hard for me to accept that, because I doubt them.

Now that a new chapter in my life has started, I’m determined to make this chapter the best one of my life. I’m the author of this chapter and I’m the one that determines which direction it’s going to go. Now, while I’m not going to be that overly trusting girl that I was in the past. That’s not a healthy way of life either. BUT, I am going to do my best to not doubt everyone’s intentions. I’m going to turn my thought process around to that of one that will see the best in people until proven wrong. Easy? Heck no! Worth it? In the end, absolutely! So, a doubting Thomas no more. A cautious Abby. A more accepting Abby. An Abby that I will like and others will in the end.

“Every mental act is composed of doubt and belief, but it is belief that is the positive, it is belief that sustains thought and holds the world together.”
― Soren Kierkegaard

“Without trust and respect, only fear and distrust of others’ motives and intentions are left. Without trust and respect between parties, it is nearly impossible to find good solutions to effective communication.”

Perspective

Standard
Perspective

Is your glass half empty or half full? We have all heard this phrase in our lives…but have we really thought about it? We shoot off a quick answer, and we usually all try to say that our glass is half full, of course! Of course we have a positive outlook on life. Of course we are striving towards excellence. Of course things in life are just peachy keen. Really? You seriously think that we are going to believe that? Now, while there ARE several people who I know that can truly say their glass is half full, I would venture to say that many of us, unfortunately, see the glass as half empty in a perpetual state. We constantly look at things as how they SHOULD be. How they WANT them to be. How we THINK life should be. Who made you the all-knowing? Who laid on you the ultimate gift of knowledge. Now, I’m not being snarky, because in all honesty, I am talking to myself here. This could be a diary entry for all you and I know. I think it’s something that we all struggle with, and it’s something that we need to turn around and stop doing.

First and foremost, I think how we look at the glass depends on our perspective. In all reality, this is the only way we can look at our glass. We have to see that our half-empty glass to us, is a half-full glass to someone else. We tend to be so negative in our lives, dragging ourselves down. We look at all the “bad” things in our life and let those things define us. While we know that shouldn’t be the case, we still do. We are brought down to a level of despair, not thinking that any good can come of our lives. That we are defeated before we can ever have the victory. But then someone comes along and sees the other side. Someone comes along with a different perspective on life and sees things in a way that we never could. Does that mean they are wrong? Does that mean that we are wrong? No, neither person is wrong. And on the flip side, it doesn’t mean that either person is right. What I’m trying to say is that perspective is what puts our thoughts and actions in motion. Perspective is what makes us either open up, or put walls up.

“There are no facts, only interpretations.” (Friedrich Nietzsche). While obviously there are some concrete facts, I think what he was getting at is that everything we know can be interpreted differently by different people. For example, if I say that we were clobbered by a snow storm, your interpretation of snow storm is going to be different from another persons. Having grown up in New Hampshire, my definition of snow storm is vastly different from those living in South Carolina. I know those examples are extreme, but I think you can understand where I’m going with this. You have to be careful to not force your interpretation onto other people. Just because you are strong in your beliefs in something, just because you are firm in your convictions, just because you are steadfast in your thoughts and aspirations…this doesn’t mean that another person is wrong for those very same characteristics, just because they differ from you. Yes, I sometimes go to church. Yes, I believe in God. Yes, I am glad that my children go to church and enjoy it. Does that mean I’m going to try to force that down your throat? Nope. Does that mean that I am more right that you? Nope. Does that mean that just because you don’t believe the same things that I do that you are condemned to live a horrible life because it differs than what I think? Not at all. You have your perspective on life. I have mine. And we have to accept that we see things differently. Is that such a bad thing?

Now, while we all have things that we firmly believe in our lives, I understand that none of us will change our perspective on certain areas. And that’s alright. A person with conviction is a person with an unbreakable spirit, and we could all use a little of that spirit in our lives. What I AM saying is that while you have that firm conviction, it doesn’t mean it’s the same for every person. And instead of forcing it down their throats, or believing that what you say is the only concrete answer, you need to stop right there. You need to take a look at your perspective. You need to give the other person a chance to divulge into their perspective. Give them the decency to explain their perspective before you even take it upon yourself to say they are wrong. Maybe they see something in a way that you never even thought about. Maybe they interpret something differently than you do, but that doesn’t make either of you right or wrong. That is one of the greatest things about the human race. We have our own brains to think of our own perspectives. We have our own thought processes, and while neither of them are concrete to those surrounding them, they are concrete to you. But is the concrete wet and still forming into place, or is it dry and cannot be changed? I would venture to guess that we would all want to have some wet concrete in our lives. Ideas and thoughts that can be formed and molded into the finished product.

Perspective when it comes to people in your life can be a whole different story at some point. As a parent, I want my boys to surround themselves with the best possible people. With people who have respect for others. With people who see the needs of others and put kindness into action. With people who love unconditionally. With people who will build up and not tear down. Will that always happen? No. And as much as I try to make that happen, as my boys grow older, I am going to have to trust them in that choosing. I can’t control them forever. And from a parental perspective, I would love to keep my hold on them and choose the best people for them. But I can’t. And from their perspective, they see a mother who won’t let go and give them space. Especially through their teenage years, but that’s a given! We both have our perspectives, but we can all see both sides. Those that are teenagers and those that are parents. Neither side is wrong nor right. Perspective may put things in a different light for us, but is also can direct us to choose a different path than where we were headed.

I love these quotes about perspective. They can apply in so many areas in our lives, and depending on your perspective on things, you’ll take away something different from everyone else. And yes, that is perfectly ok, and welcomed!

“The question is not what you look at, but what you see.”
― Henry David Thoreau

“The greatest risk to man is not that he aims too high and misses, but that he aims too low and hits.”
― Michaelangelo

“You can’t see the world from somebody else’s point of view and not be changed.”
― Lena Coakley

Let these sink in. Think about what these authors, philosophers, humans are saying about perspective. Just on one website, there were 574 quotes and thoughts about perspective. Obviously many people think it’s an important topic, and one that needs to be addressed because it is one thing that we as humans lack and need to empower ourselves to embrace it. That we all need to respect the perspectives of everyone. We need to let everyone have their views and convictions and beliefs. They see things one way, you see it another. I think that once we get that into our mindset and incorporate that into our daily life, I think a lot of us would be more accepting of people and less judgmental. The last thing we need in this world are more judgmental people. More people who refuse to listen to what you say or your explanations. More people who go through life so narrow-minded that they fail to see the nose on their face. Those focus on the spec in another person’s eye rather than the beam protruding out of their own eye. Quit being that person and start being the person that accepts the cup, filled to whatever level that we may have.

Rise Up….

Standard

How did I make it without hearing this song?
How can one song pretty much sum up my very existence the last several years of my crazy life?
Why am I sitting at my desk crying right now?!

No matter what you’re going through, or what you’ve already gone through, PLEASE know, you are not alone. You may think you are alone, but you aren’t. There is always someone waiting in the wings, ready to lift you up and carry you over the highest mountain peaks and carry you through your lowest valleys. You just have to look and find them. They are there. I’m here…I can be that for anyone.

Rise up…you aren’t alone….this is my new mantra. It needs to be on constant replay in my mind.

Bracing for the Storm

Standard

I feel as though I should preface everyone about my upcoming article in the Cincinnati Enquirer. All my previous pieces have been pretty upbeat and what my editor will term, “slice of life” pieces. I’m proud of all my work; I wouldn’t submit them for editorial consideration if I wasn’t. And while I’m usually (or at least attempting to be) an upbeat person and that’s reflected in my writing, there are times when my writing (which is my reality) is not always upbeat. It can be raw and sometimes painful.

My next article being published is one such piece.

This piece touches on a very sensitive topic and it’s not one that I take lightly. To me, it’s not a joking matter, and while it can still technically be considered a ‘slice of life’ piece, it’s not a slice of life that I want anyone to have to suffer through.

My next article is on the topic of rape, specifically my rape that happened almost 17 years ago.

Some of you may already know about this in my life, but many do not. And it’s not because I don’t want to or can’t talk about it. Quite the opposite. I don’t like to “be a drag” or a “Debbie downer”, so it’s not a topic that I will go out of my way to talk about for that reason. But it’s a topic that NEEDS to be talked about and people need to know more about it. Not just specifically my story, but so many other victims which have had to keep silent about their story.

I didn’t write my story to gain pity from people or for you to feel sorry for me. I don’t want you to coddle me or treat me any differently now that my story will be out there for everyone to see. What I want is for my story to inspire change. I want my story to give hope to the hopeless, a voice for those who cannot speak, a comfort to those who feel like they are alone. I want a discussion to springboard from this article where people can feel safe from judgment and hatred and blame for coming forward with their life stories. I wasn’t as fortunate so many years ago, and I don’t want people to continue to suffer through this like I did for so long.

So with that being said, please keep an open mind. Please remember that there are so many people that suffer, sometimes silently. There are people that keep a smile on their face, despite what is truly going on in their lives. Remember that everyone is fighting a battle, sometimes visible, but oftentimes invisible, even to those who know us best.

I’m thankful I was able to finally have the courage to tell my story. And while it’s not been a secret story to everyone in my life, it’s now a story that everyone in my life will know. And yes, being that vulnerable is scary. It’s intimidating. But it’s necessary. Sometimes you have to go through the fire and the pain and the torture to find your true self. Without pain and heartache and sorrow, you could never know the depths of love and strength that surrounds you.

One of my favorite quotes says this: “Often it’s the deepest pain which empowers you to grow into your higher self.” In order for me to learn, and grow, and become a better person, sometimes I have to go through the pain. But the only way I can do that is if I don’t let that pain and trauma DEFINE me. I can’t let those situations pull me down, never to get back up. Those situations need to become my refining fire. They need to be used as a way to better myself, to find the greatness that can come from within me. I’m stronger than what is challenging me.

I’m not a victim anymore. At the moment of my trauma, I was the victim. But I won’t allow myself to be that person anymore. Telling my story is my way of looking tragedy in the face (so to speak) and saying, “You have NO hold over me. You won’t defeat me. I’m stronger than you.”

And through all that, I’ve found strength immeasurable. On the days I feel I can’t go on, I push harder. In the moments I think that I’m going to lose it, I find it, and then some. When I feel as though I’m a failure and worthless, I look at myself, hard and long, and find that I’m a jewel of rare distinction, and that I have more worth than the pain which tries to tell me otherwise.

And you can too. You aren’t alone. You don’t have to be silent. There is support, everywhere around you. You just have to be willing to step out and ask for it. And that’s why I’m telling my story now. Because I don’t want anyone else to ever have to suffer through life and these trials like I did.

greatest-joy-cactus-poster-400x301

The Priceless Gift of Music

Standard

As printed in the 12/23/15 Edition of the Cincinnati Enquirer
http://www.cincinnati.com/story/opinion/contributors/2015/12/23/opinion-priceless-gift-music/77845342/

Last year, I was talking to a friend about my plans to see “Frozen” again with my kids. We talked about how we knew all the songs and that every time we got in the car my sons asked me to play the soundtrack. Of course, being the amazing mother that I am, I always obliged (secretly because I wanted to hear it, too). I told her that when we would listen to it, the boys would sing along, or would yell out from the back seat, “Sing it Mama!”

I broke down at this point in the story. Tears were flowing and I was barely able to speak.

I came to a simple realization: I may not be able to give my kids much materially in this world. I can’t take them on expensive vacations and adventures, and I can’t promise them that they’ll always have a new bike or the hottest electronic gadget.

But, the one thing I can give them is a love for music.

Music has always been an integral part of my life. When I was 8, I was given the option of braces or a piano. I chose the piano, and I’ve never regretted that decision. (My teeth look amazing by the way!) Piano lessons, recitals and competitions as well as school and church choirs were a mainstay. I started college in a piano and vocal performance program. This passion followed me into my adult life as I remained involved in music as a church pianist, soloist, and a member of the worship band. There has never been a time when music has not played an integral part of my life.

Both of my boys were exposed to music via headphones on my burgeoning pregnant belly. I’d like to think that was their first foray into the world of music. Even to this day, they cannot fall asleep without music. My 8 year old has expressed a desire to play piano, “like mama,” and knowing that something so important to me has been “passed down” to my children is a truly rewarding feeling.

I thought of this recently after attending the Symphony Spooktacular, which was part of the Lollipop Family Concert Series by the Cincinnati Pops. What a fantastic experience. Giving my boys the opportunity to be exposed to various genres of music at this young age is truly a blessing. The same overwhelming feelings I had talking to my friend about “Frozen” a year ago returned during this concert.

Music and the arts are vitally important to children’s growth and development, yet funds have been cut in more than 80 percent of U.S. school districts since 2008. The very first programs to go are often music, art and foreign languages.

According to Americans for the Arts, students with an education that includes the arts have better grade point averages, score better on standardized tests in reading and math, and have lower dropout rates.

Not only that, but exposing our children to music at an early age sets the groundwork for future accomplishments and success. Research shows that children who are actively involved in music are better readers. They often learn coordination, goal-setting, concentration and cooperation earlier. They are more likely to excel in math and science because music helps build reasoning skills and cognitive development.

I can only hope that my love and passion for music will have the same powerful impact on my boys’ lives as it has on mine.

The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche expressed it perfectly: “Without music, life would be a mistake.”

At Symphony Spooktacular - Music Hall, Cincinnati - 10/31/015

At Symphony Spooktacular – Music Hall, Cincinnati – 10/31/015

Online Dating Actually Worked

Standard

As printed in the 8/25/15 Edition of the Cincinnati Enquirer
http://www.cincinnati.com/story/opinion/contributors/2015/08/25/opinion-online-dating-actually-worked/32332747/

When I wrote about the challenges of online dating several months back in The Enquirer, I didn’t expect all the emotions and backlash that would come along with it.

I received support and encouragement from those who could “feel my pain,” and name calling and mean-spirited comments from others. I received several Facebook friend requests and date propositions. That was definitely not the purpose of voicing my frustrations with online dating.

However, I also never expected to be where I am right now.

I had been on and off several different dating websites over the last few years. I was on the free ones, the paid ones, the popular ones, the obscure ones. And while I met some great guys and have gained friendships from my experiences, nothing really panned out romantically, and I was getting frustrated.

Maya Angelou once said, “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” Truer words have never been spoken. My attitude toward online dating was that there were no good guys out there (“Where are good guys? Not on dating sites” Feb. 24). After two years of trying and failing, I was ready to give up.

But I didn’t give up. Instead, I changed my tune. And not only did I change my tune, I changed my approach. Instead of taking a passive approach to searching for love online, I became proactive and stepped out on the limb I was scared of the most. I didn’t wait idly by, hoping that someone would approach me first. I put aside my longstanding fears of rejection and made the first move and messaged a guy online.

All the proverbial dating advice I was getting from seemingly everyone I came into contact with was starting to come to fruition. Timing is everything, and when I least expected it, I took the plunge, and I met him.

I’m so thankful for this man who has come into my life. He’s not perfect, and we already know that I’m far from perfect. But he’s just what I needed. He keeps me grounded and lets me vent when I need to. He has helped me see a different perspective on life, and for that I’m thankful. He keeps me laughing, and he tries to keep me from taking everything too seriously. Hey, it’s a work in progress!

Together we have survived a family vacation where he met around 40 members of my extended and immediate family in a span of five days. He’s met my children – a first in my two years of being single – and they adore him and have a blast together. I’ve met some of his family, and we have all hit it off. Imagine that! Online dating worked for me.

We may not know what the future holds, but I’m thankful for each day that we have together. I’m excited to see where the road of life takes us and as long as he’s by my side, I’m more content and happy than I could have imagined.

Now, while I still believe that online dating is a crap shoot and sometimes it’s just the luck of the draw, I now believe that sometimes you have to step out of your comfort zone and risk being rejected and hurt. I’ve been rejected and hurt several times over the last several years, and it’s a horrible feeling. But, sometimes you have to take big risks.

This one paid off for me.