in short spurts only

Today I learned that a high ranking state official where I live resigned in the wake of sexual harassment and forcible touching allegations. Even more egregious is the discovery that in this particular agency allegations of sexual harassment were regularly covered up, and there was a culture where female employees may have felt pressured into intimate relationships in order to gain promotions.

When I read this news piece this morning I caught my breath, and had to tell myself that these were different circumstances, not my own.

In 2008, at a different agency less than a mile away from today’s news making agency, I reported sexual harassment, which included a sexual assault, from my own director. Today that experience is nothing and everything all at once. I call it nothing because I hardly recognize the person I was then. My life is now completely different, and thankfully there are times when I recall that period of time and realize that the assault is no longer part of my every day thoughts. I thought then that there would never be a time when it was not somewhere in the crevices of my mind. I feared that the assault would become and be everything in my life, and at that time it was. There was rarely a moment free of the memory of the experience.

I’ve never forgotten the fact that I was so damn lucky in the simple serendipity that I drew a special investigator who was only interested in figuring out what happened. He had no political motivations, and was, by all measures, objective.

I want women similarly situated to know that reporting it is the best thing you can do I did for yourself myself, even in the face of awful hatred from colleagues you once thought were your friends, and the hell of a long investigation. Soon after it happened I went to see my doctor. I told her what happened, but I made it clear that I had no intention of reporting it. She said to me, “This will stay with you for the rest of your life if you don’t report it.” She was right and wrong all at once with that statement. By reporting it I’ve experienced a certain freedom from it that would not have happened if I never took action. However, it will always be with me in some way, but reporting it lessened it’s long term impact on my life.

I don’t regret reporting it, but I hope there comes a day when reading similar stories doesn’t shut my brain down to the point of wanting to jump out of my skin.

And with that I have to sign off for tonight. I have a small capacity for writing about this experience in that I can only do it in short spurts.

Then and Now

Four years ago I faced the one year anniversary of my sexual assault, and I was barely in a better place from the prior year. At the one year mark, my PTSD was overloading my brain with triggers.

I was on a business trip four years ago that had me triggered beyond recognition. It was raining hard, the kind of hard rain that leaves very little visibility, and it was pitch black dark. The hard rain scared me, and I could barely drive. At one point I realized that it was taking all my energy just to drive 50 mph on the highway, not safe at all. I pulled over at a rest stop for a while, but I was still freaked out when I resumed driving. In the end I decided to find a hotel to stay in, though I was only an hour away from home. But I knew it wasn’t safe for me to continue driving.

That whole experience caused a barrel of stress after the trip, as my employer at the time did not want to pay for an extra hotel night when I was an hour away from home. I started getting more serious about my treatment after that trip. Eventually I left this job because I realized that all of the travel was getting in the way of my appointments.

Now I am back doing the kind of work I was doing four years ago, but with a different employer. This position has travel, though not as much as my previous position. Without realizing it, this past week, I was reliving the trip from four years ago. I found myself on the same highway with heavy rain, and a dark night. But this time I understood myself better. I knew that some of the peeps inside were scared, and this is why my body was in stress mode.

When the rain was coming down at a ferocious rate, and I couldn’t see a thing, and I could feel myself start to freak out internally something just snapped me out of the scared mode, and I just said “NO! We are not going to die like this on a road to nowhere with no one around. We are getting out of this, and we’re having room service when we get to the hotel. You hear me? Room service! We’re living through this thing!”

Blessedly we made it to the hotel without incident. I ordered a seltzer and a cobb salad for dinner, and we were so happy to be alive, and safe, and dry.

Then the next morning I had my meeting, and headed home with drier weather and calmer skies. I’ve traveled this road a number of times since that sexual assault four years ago, but this was the first time I noticed the hotel, THE hotel where it all happened. It’s surely been visible from the road all these years as I’ve passed it by. But this was the first time I ever noticed it since that day.

I blinked. Could this really be the place? I stared as I drove by, and, yes, indeed, it was.

What happened next surprised me.

I stared at it, and drove on.

I don’t pretend

vintage bridal shower invite

I don’t pretend. It’s a gift and  curse rolled into one. I received one bridal invitation, and I am anticipating a second one soon for another person. The two gals, Anita and Anastasia are the brides-to-be. I work with both of them. Anastasia and I are not close at all. We’ve never been kindred spirits. We pretty much keep to ourselves and our own crowd.

However, Anita and I used to be very good friends. In fact, she was one of the first people I opened up to about my sexual assault four years ago right after it happened. Unfortunately, she was less than a friend about the whole experience. Her first words to me were, “I’m sorry, but I can’t handle this.” These words were devastating to me, and it took me a couple of years to understand that there was a very personal reason for her that caused her to respond this way that had nothing to do with me. I can now understand and respect a person feeling this way. What made it worse was the fact that she carried on after that as if nothing happened with me. She would not ask me how I was doing, and as soon as she realized I was no longer the “fun girl” I used to be she moved on and out of our friendship. We’ve tried to mend this fence, but we’re left just feeling awkward around each other. We have no ill will towards each other, but we also no longer have the friendship kind of love that used to connect us.

My point is that I won’t be attending either bridal shower. My logic is that I am not friends with either one. Some of my friends think I should go, especially since I work with both of them. Screw that! I don’t play politics. I don’t do obligatory crap, and I don’t pretend.

I pretended for so long in my life, and it’s no longer in my bones to pretend. I pretended to care about my parents long after the love had died, and it ate at me. I pretended to be fine while I drank and had sex addictively, so much so that those addictions played a part in my sexual assault.

There is no more pretending. I am not an actress. I am me, and the beauty and upside of that is when I tell I love you, and that you mean a lot to me in my life you know it is true and real. When I hug you and greet you warmly, and ask you how you are doing you know that it is real and sincere. You never have to wonder if I mean what I say.

I don’t pretend.

(Photo credit: lulubrooks)