Category Archives: OpEd

Breaking My Silence – A Rape Survivor’s Story

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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.

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Bracing for the Storm

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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.

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The Priceless Gift of Music

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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

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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.

Reds Reignite Family Passion

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As printed in the 7/9/15 Edition of the Cincinnati Enquirer (During All-Star Game Week)
http://www.cincinnati.com/story/opinion/contributors/2015/07/09/opinion-reds-reignite-family-tradition/29920763/

Baseball has always been a part of my life. As a child growing up in New Hampshire, I watched the Red Sox play at Fenway Park. I saw the home runs fly over the Green “Monstah” while reaching high to the iconic Citco sign.

My mom played in the “Lassie League” when girls weren’t allowed to play on the Little League teams. To this day I can hear my mom tell me during softball season, “Watch the ball hit the bat.” You could say baseball is in my blood.

I’ve lived in the Cincinnati area for the past 11 years, and I can’t think of a better place to create the same memories with my sons Eli, 8, and Ethan, 5. Baseball in Cincinnati is like no other.

My boys had been asking to go to a Reds game for quite a while. So last year, after some time and careful planning, I was able to get us tickets. They weren’t the closest or the best seats at Great American Ball Park, but they were the perfect seats for us. We could see the whole field. We could see the Jumbotron, and we could see the players’ faces and stats.

We could see the fans filling the ballpark, the Cincinnati Bell Riverboat and the scoreboard to keep track of the runs. My boys were in heaven. And so was I. You see, this was not only my boys’ first Reds game, but it was mine, as well. Despite living here 11 years, I hadn’t made it to a single game.

The amazing memories I had growing up suddenly swept over me and I realized all over again what an awesome game baseball is. My love for the sport was back. Dormant for years, all it took was one walk into Great American Ball Park to bring those childhood memories back.

We had an unforgettable time at the game. The Reds won. Devin Mesoraco hit a grand slam, and the fans went crazy. My boys went crazy. They were hooked. They had found a new joy, a new love. It was a memory that I will always have.

As a single mother, I want to afford my boys all the opportunities and good memories in life that they can have, and going to Reds games is exactly that.

Now, going to see the Reds is something my boys and I anticipate, just as much as I looked forward to going to Red Sox games when I was a child. We each have our favorite players. We have our Reds hats, T-shirts, bags and our gloves ready to catch that foul ball hit in our direction. Eli and Ethan are even part of the Reds Heads Kids Club now.

Most important, baseball created a bond between my sons and me that will never strike out. I have the Cincinnati Reds and the great game of baseball to thank for that!
 

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Stop Panhandling Online Daters

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As printed in the 6/1/15 Edition of the Cincinnati Enquirer
http://www.cincinnati.com/story/opinion/contributors/2015/06/01/stop-panhandling-online-daters/28301135/

Can you even imagine taking to the internet to ask strangers for money? Now, I’m not talking about for a good cause, such as a family down on their luck and have had a recent health diagnosis and no insurance.

I’m talking about women asking men for rent money, looking for free drinks and meals and an easy way out, misrepresenting all of their online intentions. You don’t think that’s possible? Think again!

Many women perusing online dating sites are giving us seemingly good girls a bad name.

When I wrote my article about how I’m having a hard time finding a good guy online (“Where are good guys? Not on dating sites” Feb. 24), I had comments coming out of the woodwork about how the women are just as bad. Now, being a woman searching for a man, I had no experience with those situations, but believe me, I’ve had plenty of examples shared with me since then.

Take, for example, my one friend who chatted up a girl on one of the dating websites. They started talking and within about 20 minutes, she was asking him for $100 to pay her rent. She said she wished she was his girlfriend, and then continued to hound him for rent money. He obviously declined and sent her packing.

And yet another friend went out with a woman who told him that she was on the dating site just to get free meals. She’s a single mother and times are tough and she needed food. I’m hoping that she at least ordered the unlimited pasta and breadsticks so that she had a doggy bag to bring home to her children that she’s unable to provide meals for.

Or my one friend who has been through a series of unfortunate dating circumstances, some just too unbelievable for words. From a woman who admitted on the first date she was still married, but her husband didn’t mind if she brought guys home, to the one that broke the news on the first date that she had just gotten out of a nine-year relationship … with a woman … the week before this date, to the one that during dinner constantly talked about the bedroom antics of a previous boyfriend.

Seriously, ladies? What is wrong with these scenarios? Why do you think that it’s acceptable to act like this and work a shady angle, under the guise of a person truly seeking to find companionship and love online? For those of us that have searched for a real relationship, you are really giving us a bad name, and leaving a very sour taste in the mouths of those gentleman who are sincere and honest in their quest for love.

Dating is a crap shoot. Let’s just be honest about it. Meeting an appropriate mate online or in similar channels is hit or miss. Some have been lucky in online love. Many more have been unlucky, repeatedly. Just as I’ve experienced that it only takes a few bad seeds to ruin it for the seemingly good guys who are out there. The same goes for these less-than-desirable women giving the good girls a run for their money – quite literally, it would seem.

Men and women both fall prey to the lure of online dating. The choices are endless. The possibilities go on and on. It’s new, it’s flashy, it’s fun. It’s exciting to anticipate new messages and attention from the opposite sex. Yet, we still fail to find someone. It’s overwhelming to weed through the good, the bad, and the proverbial ugly, even harder when the chips are stacked against us by those just playing the game.

It’s Easy to Fake it on Facebook

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As printed in the 4/9/15 Edition of the Cincinnati Enquirer
http://www.cincinnati.com/story/opinion/contributors/2015/04/09/faking-facebook/25504555/

You know the type. The friend who only posts about the fancy parties she goes to. The couples who only post about the exotic vacations they take. The doting mother who only talks about her kids’ amazing accomplishments in school and sports. The successful co-worker who constantly elaborates about his salary increases and career advancements. I could go on, but you get the point. It’s so easy to post the best things about our lives on social media.

If you only post the positives, people will think you’re something. And in many cases, something you aren’t.

Why can’t we be raw about ourselves? Why can’t we post who we really are sometimes? Instead of posting about all the upscale restaurants you eat at, post about the times when you’re sitting around the house with your family in your T-shirt and sweats, eating pizza from the local pizza joint. Or instead of posting about how wonderful and perfect your kids are, post about teaching moments with your children or that you are struggling with your children’s attitudes at school or at home and look to find support from other parents dealing with the same issue.

A recent survey by researchers at the University of Missouri showed that active Facebook users have a higher likelihood of envy and stress, which can lead to depression and sadness. You’re down on yourself and your life because you just don’t stack up to your friends and their lives that are supposedly better than yours. You just can’t seem to keep up with the Joneses.

I am guilty of this myself. I am a very active Facebook user and have been for over seven years now. During that time, I’ve posted over 11,000 pictures and countless status updates and notes. I’ve published albums of family vacations and our many adventures, written about new jobs and promotions and of course the accomplishments of my amazing children. And then I look at my friends and see how much more their lives seem to be “put together” and I start to compare and complain.

Social media is an easy way to hide behind the veil of hurt and disappointments we face in life. When I went through my divorce, I shut down my Facebook page, deleted several hundred “friends” and just kept plugging away at life, as if nothing bad was happening. Even to this day, almost two years later, I still get messages and friend requests from people who didn’t know about that part of my life story. It’s just as easy to hide on social media as it is to showcase all the seemingly newsworthy events of our lives.

But we can’t always bring ourselves to be raw. Why? Because that would mean we aren’t perfect. That would mean that we don’t have it all together. We try to be so much better than others, but in all reality, we’re just the same.

I’m not suggesting we air all our dirty laundry or spill our deepest, darkest secrets. That would be absurd. But we should not be afraid to be honest – honest not just with our friends and family, but even moreso with ourselves. We all have daily struggles and moments of weaknesses. We all fail and have regrets. But that doesn’t make us less of a person. It makes us who we are. We should never be afraid to be who we truly are.