Article

10 May

This article really struck a cord…

The Forced Heroism of the ‘Survivor’
First Words
By PARUL SEHGAL MAY 3, 2016

For most of her life, Virginia Woolf suffered from what she called “looking-glass shame,” an aversion to seeing herself in mirrors. She wrote about it late in her career, not long before her suicide, recalling that the trouble began with one particular mirror. It hung in the hall of her family home, and when she was about 6, her half brother Gerald Duckworth lifted her onto a nearby table and put his hands under her clothes.

Woolf’s other half brother, George Duckworth, also began molesting her a few years later, paying her almost nightly visits for a time. She would go on to speak and write publicly about the abuse, which continued into her 20s — even confronting George — but mirrors continued to distress her. “It is so difficult,” she wrote, with uncharacteristic and moving awkwardness, “to give any account of the person to whom things happen.”

The question of what posture to take toward our own pain is unexpectedly complicated. How do we understand our own suffering — with what words and to what ends? Does great suffering always diminish us? These are the kinds of currents swirling around the word “survivor,” the increasingly popular term for people who have experienced sexual violence. Commonly used to describe those who had endured the Holocaust, the word was picked up by feminist groups organizing against the sexual abuse of children in the 1980s and has since broadened in scope and gone mainstream. At the Academy Awards in February, Lady Gaga performed her Oscar-nominated song for “The Hunting Ground,” a documentary about campus rape, accompanied by 50 men and women who had been assaulted, their arms painted with words like “survivor.” A day later, she spoke out about being raped as a teenager. “51, surviving and thriving,” she captioned a group photograph on Instagram. On social media, people post messages of support to themselves or others with the hashtag #survivorloveletter. “You are not what they took from you,” one woman writes to her younger self. “You are the monument of survival and recovery you erected in its place … you are a queen.”

The word has caught on with law enforcement, the Department of Justice and the White House Task Force on campus safety: “We are here to tell sexual-assault survivors that they are not alone,” its first report announced in 2014. A “survivors’ rights act” intended to “empower survivors to make more informed decisions throughout the criminal justice process” and demanding longer preservation of rape kits, among other things, was recently introduced in the Senate.

The evolving legal definition of rape has always been a bellwether of changing attitudes to race and gender, and the legitimacy of “survivor” signals a subtle but important shift in thinking about sexual violence. The historian Estelle B. Freedman has argued that the story of rape in America “consists in large part in tracking the changing narratives that define which women may charge which men with the crime of forceful, unwanted sex and whose accounts will be believed.” But, with a few exceptions, there have been few historical records of how victims of violence have named and understood their own experiences.

After all, for much of history, the “good” rape victim, the “credible” rape victim has always been a dead one, a serviceable symbol of defiled innocence around whom a group can rally — a suicide like Lucretia, whose rape catalyzed the founding of the Roman Republic, or any of the Catholic Church’s patron saints of rape victims (none of whom, incidentally, were raped; they martyred themselves instead). In literature, women have been ingeniously silenced: In Ovid’s “Metamorphoses,” they’re turned into birds and trees. One has her tongue cut out to keep her from testifying — a grisly and beloved trope that reappears everywhere from “Titus Andronicus” to “The World According to Garp.”

But beginning in the 1970s, books like “Kiss Daddy Goodnight,” “I Never Told Anyone” and “The Courage to Heal,” which collected first-person narratives of women who had experienced incest and child sexual abuse, brought the issue to the fore of public consciousness. They were among the first to pointedly use the word “survivor,” often replacing “victim” in a form of deliberate rebranding to emphasize women’s resourcefulness rather than their helplessness and the decisions they had made that allowed them to stay safe and sane.

But what once felt radical has blossomed into a rhetoric of almost mandatory heroism. I’m not a victim, I’m a survivor is the common refrain from women like Trisha Meili, the jogger whose rape in Central Park in 1989 roiled the city, and the actress Gabrielle Union, raped at gunpoint at 19 (“I hated feeling like a victim,” she said, “it makes you lazy”). Others prefer “thriver,” even “warrior.” There appears to be such an insistence on toughness that it’s impossible to think of a book like Alice Sebold’s memoir of her rape, “Lucky,” being marketed today as it was in 1999; the flap copy calls her attack “the crime from which no woman can ever really recover.”

Tell that to Jessica Jones, Imperator Furiosa from the “Mad Max: Fury Road” comic book, Lisbeth Salander from “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” Olivia Benson from “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit,” the Bride in “Kill Bill.” The survivor — or pop culture’s fantasy of her — now cuts a distinctive silhouette: She’s damaged, but never so much as to be a figure of pity or revulsion; her wound makes her interesting, even alluring. Where the victim was abject, a figure of shame and isolation, the survivor is lithe and frequently well armed. She is a little scary and a little sexy, and her rage feels divinely sanctioned.

She crosses cultures: She is Priya, the star of a new Indian comic book who rides a tiger and fights back against her rapists. She is Maima, currently strutting across a stage on Broadway, an AK-47 strapped to her chest, in “Eclipsed,” Danai Gurira’s play about sexual captives during the Liberian civil war. Even when imprisoned, like the mother in “Room” or the “unbreakable” Kimmy Schmidt, she is endlessly resilient.

And she comes to life in recent campus protests against sexual violence. Last year Karmenife Paulino, a Wesleyan student, staged a photo shoot at the fraternity where she said she was raped, posing triumphantly in dominatrix gear alongside bound and gagged actors playing fraternity brothers. “One thing that has been very therapeutic to me as a survivor was finding creative outlets for my pain,” Paulino told a campus blog. “And so I just thought, What would reclaiming that space look like?”

The preference for “survivor” over “victim” is a shift in language that is as much ideological as linguistic. In “Bright-Sided,” her 2009 critique of America’s obsession with positive thinking, Barbara Ehrenreich noted a similar development among cancer patients. “The word ‘victim’ is proscribed,” she writes, deemed too self-pitying. Martial metaphors are preferred, and those who “lost the battle” are quickly forgotten. “It is the ‘survivors’ who merit constant honor.” And so, the pendulum swings from one extreme to another: from casting rape as insurmountable pain to casting the survivor as possessing superhuman strength.

It’s “looking-glass shame” all over again — that terror of facing your vulnerability — a treasonous thought in a society that is desperately optimistic and addicted to recovery narratives. There exists a small shelf of antisurvivor accounts full of frank, almost voluptuous despair — Edward St. Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose novels, Hanya Yanagihara’s “A Little Life,” Raymond M. Douglas’s memoir “On Being Raped” — all men’s stories, interestingly. But generally, the onus seems to be not only to survive but, as quickly as possible, to lift up others. Sexual-violence activists admit to the strain. Wagatwe Wanjuki, one of the people who stood with Lady Gaga at the Academy Awards, wrote recently at the women’s website the Establishment of the “invisible cost” of being a survivor: “You’re best known for enduring the worst experiences of your life.”

A word that was conceived to free women from stigma now feels, to some, prescriptive. “Compulsory survivorship depoliticizes our understanding of violence and its effects,” Dana Bolger, the executive director of Know Your IX, a “survivor and youth led organization” dedicated to fighting sexual violence in schools, wrote at Feministing.com. “It places the burden of healing on the individual, while comfortably erasing the systems and structures that make surviving hard, harder for some than for others.” The logic of “compulsory survivorship” neatly anticipates the conditions so many victims of violence face: the disbelief or indifference, the paucity of social support — to say nothing of the fact that, as Jon Krakauer notes in his book on campus rape, “Missoula,” if an individual is raped in America, more than 90 percent of the time the rapist will get away with it. It makes sense that an ethos of pluck and hardiness has taken hold. There is simply no alternative.

In Japanese, the word “trauma” is expressed with a combination of two characters: “outside” and “injury.” Trauma is a visible wound — suffering we can see — but it is also suffering made public, calcified into identity and, inevitably, simplified. Perhaps there was some latent wisdom in Woolf’s ungainly little phrase: “the person to whom things happen.” It’s roomy and doesn’t pin you down at any stage of suffering or recovery. It centers the person and not the event — which is crucial. Those who have faced sexual violence are so commonly sentimentalized or stigmatized, cast as uniquely heroic or uniquely broken. Everything can be projected upon them, it seems — everything but the powers and vulnerabilities of ordinary personhood.

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Parul Sehgal is senior editor at The New York Times Book Review, for which she writes the Roving Eye column on international literature.

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Sums it up…

25 Apr

depression-quote-about-life-11-300x209

angry-depressing-lonely-sad-sleep-teen-Favim.com-103235

Blah

29 Feb

Do you ever wake up and wonder what the real meaning of life is?  What your purpose in this world is?  What your existence is really providing for yourself or for anyone else?

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A month of answers and more questions

26 Sep

September has been interesting to say the least inside my head. I am not sure I would want to be in my own head right now, and have tried myself to figure out how to escape, but after all, I started it all.

The end of August I was successful in getting the name of my biological mother and the last name of my birth father. Through internet search engines as well as some assistance from “adoption angels” on a Facebook group I was able to track down my birth mother and so at the end of August I sent her a letter (which I sent certified so I wouldn’t have the question on ‘if’ it got there).

The letter I wrote:

August 26, 2015

Dear Shari,

Hello, I hope this finds you doing well. I am not quite sure how to even begin writing this letter, so forgive me if I just jump right in.

Through research I have learned that you are my biological mother. I was born on July 3, 1978 in Long Beach, California. I was raised by amazing parents, if you had a hand in getting to say what family I went to, you made an excellent decision and for that I thank you. Speaking of thanks, I wanted to say thank you for giving me life, for not aborting your pregnancy and for choosing to give me up for adoption knowing you were too young to take care of a baby (that part was in my adoption letter).

I decided to reach out this way for a few different reasons, first, I thought perhaps a letter would be more appropriate. Secondly, I don’t know what your husband or two daughters know of your past and did not want to reveal any of that and reach out via social media.

So, why am I writing? I wanted to see if I could get medical history from you for your side of the family. This has been the only obstacle of being adopted, not having medical history. From research it looks as though both of your parents have passed away, may I ask if cancer or if anything else runs in the family? Also, would you be willing to tell me my birth father’s first name and any details about him? The only thing I know is that his last name is Doucette (from the original birth records). Besides that I only have what was in my non identifying information in my adoption papers, so no name or medical records, etc. I just thought if I could get a first name and possibly birthdate I could do some research.

I lost my mom 5 ½ years ago to cancer and since then the urge to get medical history if possible has been weighing heavily upon me. With the advances in medicine and with knowing what runs in the family I can be more proactive on my own health. Since my mom’s passing I have devoted countless hours towards raising funds and awareness towards the fight against cancer… a friend suggested I include a link to show you my fundraising link with my story about why I participate in the event I do, I will share that with you and leave that up to you as to whether or not you choose to look. The link is: http://www.the3day.org/goto/loriannolson.

I hope that writing to you has not upset you in anyway. It certainly was not my intent to do so. After 37 years of unknown, I thought maybe I could at least get some known information.

Thank you for taking the time to read this and I do hope to hear back from you. I am willing to answer any questions you may have as well.

Below is my mailing address and email address.

Take good care,
Lori Ann Olson
loriannolson7378@gmail.com

The letter was signed for on September 4th by her husband… and so I waited, hoping for a response… and I waited…

On the evening of Yom Kippur I got a notification from our concierge that I had a letter at the front desk from her (notification had her name) as she sent a letter back certified. I went down to get it, halfway shocked that she actually wrote back and 100% nervous as what she had to say. Her letter read as follows:

Lori,

I must admit your letter caught me off guard. I always knew there was a possibility of you finding me, especially with the advent of the internet, but still did not expect to hear from you. My hopes were that you would have a wonderful childhood and adult life that there would be no need to search for me.

In truth, your letter has caused some difficult emotional times for my husband and me. Up until your letter, very few knew this part of my past. My husband read your letter and that was the first he heard of this, but my children don’t know yet and I wish to inform them on my terms. We debated for a while on how/if to reply, but thought you were asking for reasonable information, so I decided to finally reply.

I accepted the fact that I did the right think giving you up for adoption and felt it would be beneficial to us both. I knew my situation at the time, young and alone, would not have given you a very good prognosis for a good quality of life and there was not going to be the family support either of us would have needed. I had long ago accepted the fact that you were a member of another family and had no right to ever be a part of your life. I’m not sure how you feel, but my thought at this time is it wouldn’t be fair to either of us to pretend there is (or should be) some sort of social relationship. I’m still trying to work this out and need more time to fully digest the situation.

I did have a say in which family did adopt you, and from the sound of your letter, a good choice. I’m glad that you had such a good family and your quality of life was equally good. I’m sorry to hear about your mother; it sounds like she was a loving mother you cared for a lot.

Concerning the medical history: I can tell you that there are no real systemic hereditary medical problems from either side of my parent’s family to my knowledge. The cause of deaths of parents and grandparents are due to a variety of reasons, none of them I have ever been concerned of from a hereditary standpoint. Medical problems and causes of death for my parents and grandparents are:
Mother: died of lung cancer caused by smoking for 40+ years
Grandmother: died from a stroke due to high blood pressure
Grandfather: died from a heart attack (smoked for many years)
Father: died of complications from adult onset leukemia
Grandmother: died from a heart attack due to atherosclerosis
Grandfather: died from cirrhosis of the liver due to alcoholism
Me: I have high blood pressure, but it is controlled by medication.

Your birth father’s name is (provided name), born in 1961. I believe he passed away in 2003 based on information I recently found on Find-A-Grave (provided link). However, I haven’t had any contact since your birth so I don’t know any other specifics about his life and/or death.

I hope this info answers your questions fully, however, I understand that you may have additional questions and I would not mind if you were to email me at (she provided email address).

I do wish you well in the future.

Sincerely,
Shari
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With that I wasn’t sure what to feel. While I had received the answer to my question with regards to medical history, I also felt a sense of loss which I am not sure I have the right to feel. So my birth father is dead. And while I didn’t expect my birth mother to be thrilled that I had popped out of nowhere, her letter just left me feeling a sense of emptiness.

So back to ancestry.com I went in search for information on my birth father. Found an obituary, found out his living relatives names and then did a search on social media, which led me to finding his older brother. I decided I already felt empty, so it wasn’t going to hurt to attempt to reach out, and so I did. I wrote a message in facebook about who I was, learned that his brother was my birth father and said that since he was older than my birth father that I was assuming that he knew of my existence and that I hoped that my reaching out didn’t cause any difficulties.

He wrote back the next day and was extremely nice and polite. He stated that “Yes I have known about you and my brother always carried the one picture he had of you. As far as medical there is no history of cancer in the family. There is addiction and alcoholism in the family.”

I went on to ask if he would mind telling me how my birth father died, as the obituary said ’cause yet to be determined’… what came next was something that I was not ready for and am still trying to absorb. “He died by killing himself with a rifle. Apparently he tried suicide by police and that was not working so he shot himself in his house. He did have a lot of gamble and drinking problems that were the main problems. Figured that once he started shooting at the police he had to end it. FYI he did not shoot any of the officers, nor did he want to harm them. He was a good shot, as am I, and this is the reason I can say this.” There was that emptiness feeling again. Whether anyone feels I have the right to feel it or not, whether he was in my life or not, the fact is, he is who made me, and so there is a sense of loss I feel, which is a bit deeper knowing the cause of death.

He went on to tell me that my birth father had a son and that if he and I both agreed he would give us each other’s information as he believed that Kyle knew about me. I said that was fine to give him my info and Kyle actually messaged the next day. Things Kyle shared with me about his father (my birth father) included: “My dad had a picture of you as a baby on the nightstand as long as I could remember. From the stories I had heard was he did not want to give you up but his parents kind of left him with no choice. Shortly after he joined the army and left home I do remember that. I can tell you that he looked for you for a long time and he was hurt about the whole thing. My dad was a great man gave everything he had to include his life for others. He was a helicopter mechanic in the army which I followed his foot steps and am currently enlisted. He had some problems but don’t we all? I was born in 88 he died in 03 I had just turned 15. He married my mom about a year after I was born.
Apparently giving you up wasn’t so much his choice or your birth moms. My dad was in the demalays and your birth mom was in jobs daughters which are both part of the masons and eastern star. My dad was a high rank at the time and Apparently having you at a young age and out of wedlock “brought shame on the families” and the families made the choice for them. Never really liked the part of my family’s history A lot of tines they made huge mistakes that there is no turning around from. A good portion of the family to suffers from one mental illness or another. My father was a manic depressants all of them are alcoholics.”

So, that is a lot of information to find out and just ‘deal with’, but I did want to know and so I need to figure out a way to deal with it all. Makes me shake my head and think, yeah, there are certainly some traits/genes picked up from my birth father’s side.

Just a lot to digest…

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She was done…

30 Apr

I read the below this morning and many points hit me… really hit me.

“She was Done” by Adrienne Pieroth

She was done not fully being herself.

She realized she was the only self she could be—and not being unapologetically true to herself was a disservice to her soul and the world.

She was done listening to the noise of the world. She realized the quiet voice of her own soul was the most beautiful sound.

She was done questioning her motives, her intentions, the call of her soul. She realized questions seek answers, and maybe she already knew the answers.

She was done striving, forcing, pushing through and staying on the hard path. She realized toughing things out might be a sign to pick another path.

She was done with friends that admonished her to be more light and breezy. She realized they didn’t understand she swam in the deep waters of life, she felt at home in their dark depths and died if she lived on the surface.

She was done with the distractions, the denials, the small addictions that pulled her away from the true desires of her soul. She realized that strength of character came from focus and commitment.

She was done not following the desires that yelled out in her soul every day. She realized if she did nothing about them, they died a quiet death that took a piece of her soul with them.

She was done with dinner parties and cocktail hours where conversations skimmed the surface of life. She realized the beverages created distortion and a temporary happiness that wasn’t real and disappeared in the light of the day.

She was done trying to please everyone. She realized it could never be done.

She was done questioning herself. She realized her heart knew the truth and she needed to follow it.

She was done analyzing all the options, weighing the pros and cons and trying to figure everything out before leaping. She realized that taking a leap implied not fully seeing where she landed.

She was done battling with herself, trying to change who she knew herself to be. She realized the world made it hard enough to fully be herself, so why add to the challenge.

She was done worrying, as if worry was the price she had to pay to make it all turn out okay. She realized worry didn’t need to be part of the process.

She was done apologizing and playing small to make others feel comfortable and fit in. She realized fitting in was overrated and shining her light made others brave enough to do the same.

She was done with the should’s, ought to’s and have to’s of the world. She realized the only must’s in her life came from things that beat so strong in her soul, she couldn’t not do them.

She was done with remorse and could have’s. She realized hindsight never applies because circumstances always look different in the rearview mirror and you experience life looking through the front window.

She was done with friendships based on shared history and past experiences. She realized if friends couldn’t grow together, or were no longer following the same path, it was okay to let them go.

She was done trying to fit in—be part of the popular crowd. She realized the price she had to pay to be included was too high and betrayed her soul.

She was done not trusting. She realized she had placed her trust in people that were untrustworthy—so she would start with the person she could trust the most—herself.

She was done being tired. She realized it came from spending her time doing things that didn’t bring her joy or feed her soul.

She was done trying to figure it all out, know the answers, plan everything and see all the possibilities before she began. She realized life was unfolding and that the detours and unexpected moments were some of the best parts.

She was done needing to be understood by anyone but herself. She realized she was the only person she would spend her whole with and understanding herself was more important than being understood by others.

She was done looking for love. She realized loving and accepting herself was the best kind of love and the seed from which all other love started.

She was done fighting, trying to change or not her accepting her body. She realized the body she came into the world with was the only one she had—there were no exchanges or returns—so love and acceptance was the only way.

She was done being tuned in, connected and up-to-date all the time. She realized the news and noise of the world was always there—a cacophony that never slowed or fell quiet and that listening to the silence of her soul was a better station to tune into.

She was done beating herself up and being so hard on herself as if either of these things led to changes or made her feel better. She realized kindness and compassion towards herself and others accomplished more.

She was done comparing and looking at other people’s lives as a mirror for her own. She realized holding her own mirror cast her in the best, most beautiful light.

She was done being quiet, unemotional and holding her tongue. She realized her voice and her emotions could be traced back to her deepest desires and longings. if she only followed their thread.

She was done having to be right. She realized everyone’s truth was relative and personal to themselves, so the only right that was required was the one that felt true for her.

She was done not feeling at home in the world. She realized she might never feel at home in the world, but that feeling at home in her soul was enough.

She was done being drained by others—by people who didn’t want to take the time for their own process and saw shortcuts though hers. She realized she could share her experience, but everyone needed to do the work themselves.

She was done thinking she had so much to learn. She realized she already knew so much, if she only listened.

She was done trying to change others or make them see things. She realized she could only lead by example and whether they saw or followed was up to them.

She was done with the inner critic. She realized its voice was not her own.

She was done racing and being discontent with where she was. She realized the present moment held all it needed to get her to the next moment. It wasn’t out there—it was right here.

She was done seeing hurt as something to be avoided, foreseen or somehow her fault. She realized hurt shaped her as much as joy and she needed both to learn and grow.

She was done judging. She realized judging assumed the presence of right and wrong—and that there was a difference between using information to inform and making someone else wrong.

She was done jumping to conclusions. She realized she only needed to ask.

She was done with regrets. She realized if she had known better she would have done better.

She was done being angry. She realized anger was just a flashlight that showed her what she was most scared of and once it illuminated what she needed to see, she no longer needed to hold on to it.

She was done being sad. She realized sorrow arose when she betrayed her own soul and made choices that weren’t true to herself.

She was done playing small. She realized if others couldn’t handle her light, it was because they were afraid of their own.

She was done with the facades and the pretending. She realized masks were suffocating and claustrophobic.

She was done with others’ criticism and complaints. She realized they told her nothing about herself—only informed her of their perspective.

She was done yelling above the noise of the world. She realized living out loud could be done quietly.

She was done needing permission, validation or the authority. She realized she was her her own authority.

She was done being something she was not. She realized the purpose of life was to be truly, happily who she was born to be, and if she paused long enough to remember, she recognized herself.

Words

19 Feb

how are you

i am okay

A Simple Act

8 Feb

I have always been a firm believer in random acts of kindness. I especially like the kind that the person receiving does not know who the giver was, no kind of recognition needed… a simple act to hopefully lighten the persons spirit even if for just a moment.

While this act was not of the anonymous type, the person who possibly reaped more of a benefit from it was the giver, me.

Saturday night in Pittsburgh we were meeting a woman and her husband in order to give them tickets to the Garth Brooks concert they had purchased from us (well really, Sandi handled the whole organization of the selling of the tickets) as Sandi had secured a different set of tickets that were better seats, and so we sold the ones we had purchased to not lose out on funds. Through the selling process this past week, Sandi learned that the woman who was purchasing them was currently battling breast cancer, she even said to Sandi that she felt this ticket purchase was meant to be as they began talking and she learned that Sandi was involved in breast cancer events and fundraising and that her mom is a 15 year survivor.

So we arrive at the Consol Center at the agreed upon meeting location and they found each other right away. The woman had a pink hat on, covering her quarter inch hair that has just started to grow back. Sandi introduced us and we walked in making sure that we got through with all the ticket exchaanges, etc. We then wished the woman and her husband well and told them we hoped they enjoyed the concert.

We rode the escalator a few sets of people behind them up to the arena and the whole time I kept looking at the pink silicone bracelet that has adorned my wrist for the last almost 5 years since my mom’s passing. A bracelet that I do not take off, I wear it 24 hours a day. A constant reminder for me of my mom’s battle and the promise I made to her that I would not give up until a cure was found.

When we reached the top of the escalator I moved quickly through the people and caught up with the lady and her husband. I tapped her on the shoulder and told her I wanted to give her something. I slipped the bracelet off my wrist and placed it on her’s. I told her that the bracelet has gone to 9 Susan G Komen 3-Day breast cancer events, that it has helped me through the death of my mom in that it provided a promise that we would never give up. I told her to kick cancer’s ass and that I was proud of her. And with that, I turned and walked away… glancing down at my wrist that no longer was adorned with pink, but with a full heart knowing that in that moment I felt I made a difference.

While just a piece of silicone, and something that cost no more than $1.00, the memories of it are priceless and the memories that it will have go forward I hope will be just as precious.

What you do matters.