Pause 

As crazy as it sounds I never realized how hard I worked or how difficult it was to “be me” until I was incapable of keeping that pace anymore. Post-trauma I would find myself working twice as hard to get half as much and ultimately exhausting myself into about two anxiety attacks and multiple tearful breakdowns per week. 

I suppose when you look at me on paper and you see that I teach a graduate level course, am writing a dissertation, work for my university, and countless other volunteer involvements each week it seems like I do a fair amount. Before, it all seemed easy. I got my work done with ease. Writing was my greatest pleasure even when it was a struggle to get in all the right words in just the right way, and I was always happy to take on more so long as there wasn’t a schedule conflict. This is not to mention a bustling social life. 
Now? I haven’t been out to eat in two weeks. Hell, I haven’t even wanted to eat in two weeks. I’ve hung out with friends but only at home because social situations cause my anxiety to rise. It takes me a really long time to focus on anything long enough to make it good which wrecks havoc on someone trying to write a potentially publishable manuscript. In other words, I feel the weight of every task I used to do with such ease. So much so that in all my greatest effort I’m really only managing “average” at best. 
After talking to The Good Doctor last night she suggested I take a pause. For my mental well being. She said “I’m afraid of what the wall is going to look like when you hit it if you keep pushing yourself.” That’s strong sentiment from a friend who pushed herself through medical school, residency, and is now a ER pediatrician all before 30. Somewhere deep inside of me I knew she was right. Concluding our phone call I wrote to my boss letting her know I would be taking the week off. No work no writing no nothing. This was going to be my time to dedicate to healing. Giving myself what I needed each day. 
I’m not yet sure exactly what that means and to be honest I’m nervous about such open ended possibility. I enjoy certainty to some extent and I like feeling productive. Being tasked with il dolce far niente (the sweet art of doing nothing) is overwhelming. But I get to wake up and ask myself each day what I need and then I get to give it to myself. 
I’m not going to heal in a week. These seven days are just to give my body time to reset. To stop operating from straight up survival mode and communicate to myself that I am okay and I am safe. I’ve been going ever since it happened. Literally the day of the assault I taught class that night. And I’ve been at work and working (albeit poorly) ever since. I need the pause. 
All I can foresee is dedicated time for meditation. Some journaling and maybe working on getting my appetite back. 
Working on getting through this “healthily” as Jennie says has been so extremely difficult. It’s so much more tempting to fold into yourself and cry or pretend it didn’t happen and push through…but I guess I’ve seen enough of both outcomes to know I want something different for myself. So while it’s difficult and I hate it right now, I am hoping one day I can look back and be thankful I took these steps. Fingers crossed. 

Loneliness 

I find myself in a most curious position. Today I had another panic attack. Why? Well because I realized I’d stumbled into the same emotional place that caused me to invite “him” over that night: loneliness.

I cried because my dire need for affection, just to be touched, was so grave that the perversion of the fantasy left me scarred.

I cried because I somehow failed the test of enjoying one’s own company. Apparently there’s no time limit on that test.

I cried because I felt weak in my need for human contact. It was a confusing emotion because while I know I have to be whole and complete on my own, I also need someone to bring me into existence.

I cried because I wanted my best friend. She has been struggling with the same issue lately and somehow her concurrent battle makes me not so crazy.

I cried because what I want seems so simple that the fact that I can’t have it makes me feel like it’s me. Is it that hard to find companionship? Let me tell you-YES!

I find myself craving touch. Imagining intimacy. Acting out the types of conversations I’d like to be having with others but have to have alone. I cried today because I was exhausted with the charade.

I need someone to hug me. I need someone to rub my back. I need someone to squeeze my hand. I need someone to harmonize my laughter with. I do.

I was accepting just the pieces before to try and fill the void and pacify me until the full package arrived but I’m tired of that and I’m quite frankly tired of waiting. If I’m angry at anything right now I’m angry at that. Because I don’t want to harden with bitterness. But it’s getting harder to stay optimistic.

And people who have love always want to tell me I need to find it in myself. I always want to tell them fuck off, you have a dinner date on Friday nights. See? Bitter.

I’m resenting the lack of availability of truly intimate relationships. It always feels like skimming to me. And maybe I need to adjust my expectations. Which is what I think I did today after I stopped crying. The people I consider my very best friends are irreplaceable and cannot be replicated. No matter how much I wish the latter were true. I need to accept the friendships I have now in full knowledge of what they are and what they are not.

And as for my loneliness? I guess it’s just here to stay for a while. I should stop trying to scurry it away. Sleep with loneliness at night. Have dinner with him. Brunch. Happy hours. Maybe I need to just BE lonely ?

What it feels like 

Yesterday was a bad day I told her. She asked what made it bad? I told her it was my anger and frustration, crying and feeling so tired I could barely keep my eyes open. She urged me to not let him continue to control me. It was then that I fully grasped that she didn’t understand what it was like, not really. I do not fault her because up until last week I didn’t get it either. So I want to try to explain it. 

It has permeated my being. The most prevalent thing is my decision making. It’s difficult. Because now I second guess myself. And third guess myself. And fourth guess myself. I don’t trust me to take care of me and that’s perhaps the scariest feeling in the world for someone who previously saw herself and self-sufficient and independent. 
I don’t trust my intuition because we were the ones that invited him over that night. My gut is currently on trial. How could I have not known? I’ve asked myself a million times where the red flags were and how they could have escaped me? 
Then there’s smaller things. I don’t want to wear make up because he told me how beautiful I was. I don’t want to wear perfume because he remarked how everything even my bedding smelled like me. The bedding he held my face down in so that for what felt like eternity all I smelled was that perfume. I never want to smell it again. 
I haven’t wanted to wear anything attention-seeking. Which as it turns out is more than half my wardrobe. I’ve never felt so far away from who I was. I feel splintered in a way much more absolute than after the accident or after my miscarriage. 
What I’ve learned so far is that he may have raped my body, disregarding my wishes and asserting his dominance continually temporarily igniting the fire of his manhood. But he did so at the expense of my Self. Not damaging my core but all the shelter I kept around her to maintain her safety. So when I get questions that ask me how I am? I want to answer, “I’m fragile. I’m vulnerable. I’m hurting. I’m exposed.” When I’m asked how long will he continue to control me its confusing because this (healing) is not about him. Yes it is the residual of an unwanted invasion, but I do not choose to make it about him when I frame it that way in my mind. Because then each step in repair would be done out of fear, and I am instead choosing to operate out of love (for my Self). 
It is difficult to learn to trust yourself again. To become frustrated when you need to just put on clothes but to spend so much time thinking about the messages your clothes communicate. To see the hundreds of dollars of beauty products currently going to waste and feeling so insignificant as the latest You just needs to be seen for and as who she is. Be it sad or be it happy, I don’t have a desire to pretend with people. 
That is, I supposed, the one thing I can say has been interesting about me. I’ve chosen not to house the shame of the act. Of being a victim of sexual assault. It happened. I carry a lot of things with me as I heal but shame is one I put down early. I am okay if people know. It gave me permission to be exactly how I felt in my daily life. I tout that I am in repair and it is no secret. I have tried not to judge myself for needing help, for accepting help. I have allowed myself permission to ask for it when I need it. 
I am becoming more aware that I won’t be the same me that I was before. That Jessica already feels untouchable. But the process of becoming this new me….it is bitter work. But I have the opportunity to lay good ground. And so I will take it. With more truth telling. Less hiding and covering up. Less stoicism. More authenticity. Less me and more us. I refuse to believe God allowed this awful thing to happen and for it to have been to my detriment. My resilience through this healing process is going to be noteworthy. I may be shaky and I may cry but I won’t always. I have to be patient with myself. Kind to myself. Bury shame and blame and guilt and water them with love. My reaction will say more of who I am than the act ever would.

Help 

God,

Help me to learn patience with myself. Help me to accept the love in the forms you send it. Help me to be gracious and not dismissive. Help me to understand my own limits at this time. I know that my circumstance is temporary and that I will not always be in repair, but while I am, Lord, help me to accept “Good Enough.”
Help me to believe it is okay to be angry. Help me to believe it is okay to feel used. Help me to believe that even in my anger and even when I feel used that that is not the sum of who I am and what I can offer this world. Help me to continue rejecting the shame of my present truth. I, Jessica J. Williams recently experienced sexual assault. I said “No” and I never again said “yes”. Help me to forgive myself for not fighting and for choosing to survive in the way I knew how at the time. Help me forgive those who do no understand the difference between silence and intentional compliance. Help me to release the anxiety from my body. It feels as if I’m raw, inside out and everything touching me is permeating my boundary. Help me to re establish my boundaries. Help me to trust again. Help me to desire intimacy again. Help me to contribute in meaningful ways to people meant to be in my life. May your light be present in me always. May it shine through even in times of despair and confusion.

Amen and Ashe

Blame Game 

…and what business did I have sleeping with someone who didn’t see my value?
I blame myself for much of the circumstance. Not the act. I can see it on the faces of others too. Unspoken words resting quietly on the pursed lips, casual sex is still forbidden for women. So much talk of worth and the preciousness between our thighs. Was my only mistake the flippant disregard of my chastity?

God incepted me with the thought, “I will have healed when I can forgive him for searching for power through my body.” An energetic goldmine, I almost can’t blame him. Except I most certainly can. It’s left my boundaries weak. Unable to keep others out of me, my body “overheats” and shuts down so easily. Jessica, You must be responsible for the energy you bring into this space. So, then, it is my fault.

Back and forth I ping-pong between finding solace in my naivety that I had no idea he would violate me in all the ways that he did. To asking myself to take responsibility for the circumstance which made it possible AND the eventual silence which made it look complicit. In shock by the audacity I survived in the best way I knew how. Only I ask myself why I didn’t know better?

None of it is what I’m supposed to be doing. Certainly not negotiating with myself. Surely not sharing it with the world. A woman, me…I, should be able to engage in sexual activities with a partner or partners without an expressed wish for commitment AND without her self appraisal being questioned. It is possible to love myself to honor myself to cherish myself and to value myself without others’ interrogating my evidence. Without my own interrogation. More tear soaked tshirts. Pillows. Blankets. How much of it do I comfortably carry? How much of it was mine?

Does any woman who has experienced rape ever truly believe she was not to blame? I’ll bet she simply stops admitting it out loud. Drowning in the chorus of “Its Not Your Fault”, does she ever break to the surface gasp for breath and cry, “but maybe…”

In Progress

Everyone is sorry.

I am too. 
Mostly, though, I’m scared. 
Scared of how far it bleeds into my life. 
I don’t enjoy smells. 
Or food. 
Or being pretty, honestly all three make my stomach churn. 
I’m anxious to the point of trembling. 
Chewing my jaw. Grinding my teeth. 
Everyone is sorry. But asks me how I am? 
Knowing I’m unable to answer that question. 
In progress, I respond. It feels more true. 
Than okay. 
I am not okay. Not even a little bit. 
I’m frazzled. I’m nervous. I’m afraid. 
I feel best in the sunshine. 
Free. 
I wish I could feel it all the time. 
But then I always did. So maybe I’m getting back ? Maybe. 

Bent

I’ve struggled for three days to find the words. It was like holding my breath for seventy-two hours under water. I was confused and couldn’t make sense of things. No way to tell up from down and no way to understand what was happening to me or why. In my three silent days I’ve been plunged light years from who I was before. This post is the story of that journey. 

Sunday night I was raped. After first expressing consent I said no to other acts and my wishes were dismissed. That and several other acts ensued until it was done. And I was left in a pool of grey confusion around what had just happened. Sore enough to look for bruises from being held down or held in place I wondered if it was just a matter of misunderstanding. I continually asked myself, “It wasn’t rape…was it?” I could not bring myself to say the word. 
I reached out to friends. I shared the experience and sadly almost every woman I told had a similar one to share. Sexual assault, I thought, should not be our admission ticket into womanhood! As I calmed from the shock of the event it became more evident that what I’d experienced was in fact sexual assault. I had said no. Multiple times. It wasn’t a “weird experience” as I had previously described it, it was a crime. 
Telling my mother was difficult. Talking to my younger sister, a college freshman, was worse. I tried to be as transparent with her as I could. Her big sister who felt anything but capable or competent, her big sister was disappointing her because I had, up until that point, decided not to report the assault. I later had a change of heart and did report it. To the police and to my campus police and sexual assault advocates. Having to detail the horrific story over and over again. “How many times approximately, Ms. Williams?” “Why did you continue?” I felt stupid for having to explain my fear. Worse knowing that as a counselor, a professor who trains couselors, a professional who trained sexual assault advocates, that in that moment I failed myself. I am working on forgiving myself for simply surviving in the best way I knew how in that moment. In those moments. 
I also told my direct supervisor and my dissertation committee. Why? Because beyond academic support they are the three people who have supported me personally spiritually emotionally and mentally throughout my time here. I wanted them to know what was going on with me. I wanted to ask them to be patient with me. I wanted to ask them to support me now more than ever. But not to lower their expectations. 
In the three days I’ve just wanted to feel like myself. A friend and colleague told me “he stole your ‘used to’ you’re going to have to find a new one.” In a way her reflection gave me permission. Permission to reframe this experience as an opportunity. I am choosing to find purpose in my suffering. I am choosing to share this journey as I do all my others because that is a part of why I’m here; Why I was allowed to remain all those years ago. I am choosing to be candid and open and honest because that is who I am. 
Something so incredibly private….in it houses so much shame. And so much secrecy. I thought about how I’ve felt in the mornings. Not wanting to wear make up. Or do my hair. Or put on perfume. Or wear fitted clothing. Somebody out there needs to know that they aren’t the only ones feeling like that. I need to know I’m not the only one feeling like that. And why should I house the shame? It was an act of such intimate violation and yet you ask Me to bear the scarlet letter? I respectfully decline. I have nothing to be ashamed of; this was not my fault. ((Sidebar: I’d be lying if I said I fully believed that. I am trying very hard to fully believe it. I know at my core it’s true but I still indulge in the self-blame game)) 
Lastly I shared with my roommate the story of the nun I met who when being raped continually told herself and her perpetrator “I will NOT turn on you.” The man who disregarded my voice and my expressed desires, my boundaries and my comfort…he doesn’t get anymore from me. No more. I have been split in two but I will not turn on you. I will not become some broken thing filled with hate and malice. I will heal and I will thrive. 
Much of what I tout is aspirational. But maybe just saying it out loud is one step towards becoming the woman empowered from this situation versus the woman victimized in this situation. Being a victim was never a role I cared to play. I was not sent here to play small my life and my purpose are much bigger than that. And I choose to believe that I was given my talents and my trials to become. He may have taken parts of me, but I am mine. I will remain mine. The most important parts of me cannot be taken. 
If it is one thing I want him or any woman who has experienced sexual violence to understand its that. Your most precious parts are unable to be stolen or even extracted. Your essence is yours and belongs to you alone. Your light. The world did not give it, the world cannot take it away. Do not electively dim because when you do, you’ve turned. And they continue to steal from you. 
I feel afraid. I feel as though I’m never warm enough. Cozy enough. I don’t want to eat. I can’t stand the idea of being “beautiful” which is what he kept calling me. I am healing. But I am going to do it without shame. Without abusing drugs or alcohol. Without feeling like I have to do it alone. With love. I asked myself how I could love myself through this process? And all I got was that I had to give myself what I needed and what I needed more than ever was kindness. Was loving care and kindness. I decided I would remain open and share my pain as I always do. Finding courage along the way and bravery in the rearview of fear-filled over share. 
So this is me trying.  Not to heal the whole world, just to heal myself. This is me trying to find my new normal after experiencing violation of the worst kind. This is me being honest in my pain and open in my struggle. This is me not having answers but struggling through options. This is just me. Bent though I may be but not broken. 

Learning Outcomes

“What is it that you want to know?” It seemed like a simple enough question. Only with six eyes on me it felt impossible to answer. My Chair urged me to take a deep breath, insisting on it, even. I knew…I was so certain of what I wanted to study and at some point it felt difficult but doable. And I realized that somewhere along the way I’d begun to doubt myself. That the difficult complex messy questionably measurable dissertation that I dreamed of would be too much to get me out.

“Forget about graduation. Put the work first, just focus on your work.” My friend and colleague would later encourage me. His hippie ways always speak right to my bohemian spirit. I opened up my notebook and looked at notes from my committee. I had no idea what direction to go in at the present time, but something the meeting was so striking to me. Here were vastly different people with varied ways of being and understanding the world and they believed in my ability to do the kind of work I was (eventually) able to articulate. And then I decided to recall the pop-wisdom saying, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

I wrote a note of thanks to my committee and I asked my writing partner if we could, in some ways, start from scratch tomorrow. Going back to the literal drawing board. Reminding ourselves of what it is we really want to study. Speaking to the literature and seminal works which have informed our ideas and writing from our heart space versus our head space.

One of the things I was reminded to do was to remember why I started. What it is I really want from the work. I was “called out” by my committee mainly because they know me. They know the things I’ve been talking about for the last four years. They know my strengths and my propensities. They also know my weaknesses and my areas for opportunity. I never took myself as one to so easily succumb to self-doubt and not to excuse it, but when you are chartering unknown territory there is LOTS of self-doubt. Why not do something smaller? Safer? More this? Less that? And it’s tempting. To not take the risk and to do what you know you can do. But to stretch yourself…and to do the thing you’re not yet sure you can do. To risk failure. To elect for the unknown and all that might come as a result of that? It’s terrifying and of course you wonder. I wondered. Can I do this? Do others know better than I do?

Quite simply the answer I arrived at was no, yes, and maybe. No one knows, for sure, what my purpose is nor how my story unfolds. Yes, there are others who have come before me (and sometimes after) who can offer their perspective their learning their knowledge and insight to help guide me, but…Maybe when it’s times like this when you could go either way, you step out on faith and believe that what is meant to be will always find a way to be. I was prioritizing the comfort of others over the fulfillment of my own self. It was not their fault. We are all just bumping into each other; but I can’t take on that anxiety as any indication of what I am or am not capable of.

I still don’t have my research questions. But they are coming. I haven’t added to or restructured my literature review, but I will. I do, however, feel so supported. And sure that I’ve chosen the best possible committee for me. I trust them and they are teaching me to trust myself. Because who knows me better than me? Unintended learning outcome of the dissertation process, day 1 and 1000.

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Lent: turning off tuning in

I knew I wanted to make it a good Lenten season. Previously I’ve given up my cell phone, ketchup, meat, fried foods, and a host of other things I cannot remember. Ketchup was by far the most difficult, by the way.

There have been quite a few things going on which have largely felt out of my control. Yet, each situation has required an astronomical amount of energy from me. Last night I came home on empty. I went to the grocery store and bought all the ingredients for a cake. I needed to bake something. I bake when I’m upset and somehow the creating and the chemistry (a dash more of this, a pinch more of that) is soothing. I also came home knowing that the thing I’d been thinking about “giving up” for Lent was spot on necessary. I needed to turn off and turn in.

I’ve decided to abstain from various forms of social media. In effect, after today no more Facebook and no more Instagram. They are the two I consume myself with most readily. In fact, sadly scrolling Instagram sneakily became part of my morning ritual taking the place of my gratitude journaling. The effects have shown in my life. I desperately need my peace right now. I need to get to my center. So, I am giving up IG and incorporating back in my gratitude journaling and I am giving up Facebook and incorporating in walks with God. Yes, literal walks with God. I need time to reconnect with spirit and it is my hope that after Lent I can return to both with a renewed and different way of interacting with each medium.

I will not be giving up my blog. Nor will I give up tumblr as I use it for the class I’m teaching. It is not about disappearing from the Internet. For me, this year it is really about love. When I asked myself how I could love myself better through this time the only thing I could think of was to trust God and trust myself. But the lines of communication to either entity had become so clouded that I simply needed restoration. So I am allowing myself that in the best way I know how.

I talked to my class last night about how I teach, my method. And I shared with them that often I go about things in a manner some may find odd but it’s the only way I know how to do it. It’s instinctual and feels right but often in the moment I have no idea if it’s the right thing or how people will react. My core tells me that by and large people appreciate honesty and authenticity. Even if they hate what you’re saying.

So much of this life is guesswork. And we are all just doing the very best that we can. The decisions we make or don’t make, they are the consequence of our best judgment in that moment; right or wrong don’t shake out until after the fact. Maybe that’s another reason to be patient with people. Because we just want to do good but we are not always sure of the methods. Which is fair, no one has lived this life before us to show us the way. Emphasis on ‘this life’.

I suppose my last thought is one about richness. As I was baking I kept thinking what makes it rich with flavor. More eggs for fluff. Vanilla pudding for texture and flavor. Butter… I wanted facets and dimensions to it. The same is true of my relationships. And it is my hope that with the giving up of Facebook specifically I will be able to take advantage of the richness of my relationships. I will call more. They will call more. We will make dates and keep them. We can “lol” and be witnesses to each other’s tears too. I’m hoping for it all.

Love Surprises

It’s Valentine’s Day and my word for the year is love. So, I asked myself how I could love the people I love better. First, I had a conversation yesterday with my Work Wife and effective west coast best friend. I told her I have a really hard time repeating myself–in that, I could probably think of three things I hate more (wet socks brown bananas and cats). My issue becomes particularly problematic in friendships because unlike with my students there’s no syllabus to refer to. That sounds trite, but there is great comfort in an outlined contract of sorts which details expectations and means of measurement.

A long time ago I stopped giving advice. Why? Because nobody listened anyway and I found myself getting more involved than was necessary in not-my-problems. I drew a thick line in how I cared for my friends after a particularly tense situation with a friend and her boyfriend. I thought I was doing the right thing for her, she disagreed. It was a mess but we recovered over time. Still it taught me a valuable lesson: that love sometimes means leaving people to their own muck.

One of my favorite quotes from play therapist Gary Landreth is “When you do for others what they can do for themselves, you rob them of the opportunity to learn their own strength.” I heard it once in a play therapy training and I latched on to it like crazy. Because I was doing this habitually. I wanted to help give advice, be the 3am phone call, talk through problems, come up with solutions for people but in my doing so people were NOT listening and effectively creating their own misery cycles, and I was right there with them. What I know from counseling is that you don’t make a change until you are ready and nothing solely externally can force real change. So I was setting myself up for failure too. I was exhausting myself and growing angry with my friends. I had to change.

Now I have become much better at “letting grown people be grown” but the fact still remains that when someone asks my opinion of me, I am extremely hesitant to give it. One friend of mine was particularly bothered by it. I shared my reasons for withholding but of course that doesn’t change the experience of feeling someone is keeping something from you. And for me it doesn’t change the experience of having to share my opinion (for what)? In the end people do what they want to do anyway. It feels like a no-win situation.

So how can I love better? How can I reframe my experience? It is, of course, no ones job to listen to me. Why do I get so upset when I repeat myself? Because it feels I have been unheard. Specifically now, unheard when you sought out my voice. But that current frame only causes frustration for me. So I need a new one. WW said I need to feel less responsible for fixing. I don’t think I do feel that sense of responsibility anymore. But admittedly, I do find it difficult to be around people who continuously create their own misfortune. In this sense, it’s not an issue of me wanting to fix its me wanting to sever. I don’t like the way they feel.

WW suggested an impatience with people. Or maybe I heard it underneath something else she said as I do not believe those were her words specifically. That is one I’ll own. Not that everything is easy for me, it’s not by any stretch of the imagination, but some people require a bit more time. I think it’s insulting when people insinuate that my impatience comes because I’m so good at… Or I don’t struggle with… Because a) I see it as an excuse and b) of COURSE I’ve struggled. I struggle every day. And for the most part, publicly. That’s elective and it’s not meant to make “it” look easy. It’s to illustrate how very difficult it is to be real with yourself. Calling myself out in front of others…not to be an exemplar but to be in solidarity with.

My impatience comes from watching potential circle the drain. Millions of stars in our personal universes go wasted because of I cants, I don’t deserves, and but hows. That is hard for me. Maybe because I know, to some extent, what it feels like to believe all those things about yourself and how grossly untrue it all is. And no one could have learned that lesson for me. But I sure am glad my people stuck by me while I turned my life around. Randy Pausch says if people haven’t surprised us then we haven’t given them enough time. I just want to love people enough to wait for the surprise. I “simply” need to let go of the timeline on when that should be.

This work…self-work can be so bitter sometimes. Especially when you’re looking at the parts of you that you want to change. It is immensely helpful, though, when as a result of your other work you now have the wisdom to believe you Can change. That you are indeed capable of it, you are worth the goodness which lies on the other side of it (and that revealed during the process), and that by faith in yourself you can get there. I suppose the love goes both ways. You’re a person too and sometimes when given enough time, you might surprise yourself.