Rising Survivor: Big Ride Campaign

**** This is the entry I wrote on the campaign page for my big bike ride.  I would be so greatly honoured if you, readers, would share this post on your networks.  And hey, maybe throw us $5.  SACHA is a support center for male and female survivors of sexual violence in the Hamilton area.  My ride is in support of their programs and services, so needed in my community.  If you have the time and wherewithal, a share of this page would be so very much appreciated.  More so than money, voices added to this campaign mean everything.  Below is the article I wrote or the campaign.  Thanks! ****

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My name is Jennifer and I am a rising survivor of childhood sexual abuse.  I am riding 260km along the Lake Ontario Waterfront Trail, from Hamilton ON to Presqu’Ile Point Provincial Park in Brighton ON, to raise money for SACHA.  My goal is to raise $500.00 for their excellent community services.

My story is simple; I suffered most of my life with a seeming inability to trust, get close to people, or feel good about myself.  I believed all the worst things about me, and I believed the world was a dangerous place to be.  I learned to survive by hiding, pushing people away and carrying the burden of my shame alone.  It felt safer that way… Until it didn’t anymore.

Four years ago I made a decision to deal with the pain and fear.  It was a hard decision and much of it has felt like recovery from frost bite; there’s an awareness that something is numb, a part that feels dumb and useless and barely alive.  As life and feeling are brought back, so comes the pain of all that I refused to feel before.  Healing hurt.  Healing hurt a lot.

My comfort came in the shape of being outside as often as possible.  Under the sky, I could be free from all the trappings of identities that were not mine, identities that had never truly belonged to me but were placed on my shoulders by the world of cement and buses and shopping centres.  In the woods, I could hear my voice, I could feel my heart and I could be safe enough to feel my pain and rock in the cradle of nature.

My bicycle has been my vehicle and my medicine for as long as I can remember.  Riding a bike is freedom to me.  The wind on my skin, the hum of the drive train, the whir of the pedals spinning on the pavement, the beat and rhythm of my heart and breath and the single line focus of just get to that next bend, just pump your legs to the top of that hill, just another kilometer, have been the medicine needed to let my spirit expand.  And of course, the occasional pause to help turtles and snakes across the road and the lingering admiration of birds and butterflies as they went about their journeys.

Riding took my mind away from the words of my healing and into the movement of my feelings.  When the words ran out or were to painful, movement became my expression.  Anger; ride it out.  Fear; ride it out.  Grief; ride it out.  Every kilometer of pavement I covered was another dose of medicine to getting the suffering out from the inside; the sweat, the tears and the shrieks of joy that ripped from me as I experienced each heart pounding, gear grinding moment of aliveness were reminders of a simple truth; I am who I have always been, experience only brings wisdom.

Riding gave me a way back into my body; after a life of living in my head through books and day dreams, my bike opened up a whole new, real, tangible world I had neglected to be a part of.  It showed me that I had control, that I had a say in what happened to this body.  I could choose many of my experiences, that me and my body were in this together.  That I wanted it to be that way.

My decision to ride from Hamilton to Brighton came last summer.  After a particularly rough summer, I decided I wanted to visit the place of my youth where I always felt most at home, the first woods I had ever known; the old family cottage.  It wasn’t until this summer that I was able to do it.

Personally, this ride is symbolic of the change I have gone through.  It’s a demonstration, to me, of the strength, grit, passion and power that I have inside me to do hard things, to engage myself fully in my life and my world, and to show myself that I have what it takes to achieve what I set my mind to.

One of the most powerful lessons I have learned, am still learning, is that I can’t do it alone.  Not anymore.  I can only get so far, reach so many, on my own steam.  At some point, we all need to ask for help.  Even hard core, do-it-myself survivors like me.  This has been my hardest lesson yet, to ask for help and receive it gracefully.  To learn to lean on others and trust that they can help me carry the load.  And in a lot of ways, that’s what this fundraiser is about personally.

Riding for SACHA to raise funds is my way of saying, we are all in this together and together we will rise.  This is me reaching my hands out to you on my behalf, on the behalf of the women in my community who are trying to heal all alone, on behalf of the children carrying terrible pain and suffering alone; we need each other and that includes you.

Your funds will go directly to SACHA to support their excellent counselling programs in the Hamilton area.  Every day their 24 Hour Support Line handles phone calls from men and women in crisis, needing support, attention and care.  SACHA offers free counselling to any person who has experienced sexual violence at any point in their lives who find themselves in the middle of a healing process they can’t manage alone.  People like me.  You probably know the statistics, you’ve heard the conversation, maybe you’ve even be a part of it.  Here’s another opportunity for you to take a step in the right direction.

Support me, I am asking to lean on your shoulders.

Support us, we are asking to lean on your shoulders.

Whether you can donate to the cause, or simply share, all that you can give is so deeply appreciated.  At the end of the day, simply being seen and recognized as human is all any of us have ever wanted.  See me.  See us.

Together we will rise.

If you would like to read more about me and my story, I would be so delighted and honoured if you visited my blog at Survivor Rising.

And thank you, so much, from me and from all of us.

Identity Crisis

As you have born witness to these last few posts, I have been struggling with my identity.  When it finally came to a head in a rush of tears and grief and sorrow I wept for having had to always be the strong one.  The tough one.  The one who knew what to do.  The put together one.  The one who would come through it, on her own, by the seat of her pants.  With very little support (though support where it counted most, like when my life was in danger) I survived being abused by my father by learning to communicate.  Then I survived the aftermath of him leaving and my mom’s personal mental and emotional battles just beginning.

No one wanted to talk to me when I needed to talk.  No one wanted to hear the horrible things I needed to say.  I was often told to be quiet.  Though I was taken to therapy, no one at home, the first place a child turns for support, was able to support me.  I was on my own with a problem that was so much bigger than even one adult person.  Sexual abuse, sexual assault, hell any kind of assault or abuse – be it physical, emotional or spiritual (or all three) – is a problem bigger than one person.  It’s a problem that requires a community unit to take on.  And in my family, a unified front was not what we had to face it.

Just a 3 year old girl to wander in the woods.

I have always been applauded or my accomplishments, especially by people who know I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse.  It bugs me because it is almost like saying, it’s only impressive because someone took so much away from you and you got to here all by yourself.  In a way it almost feels like it robs me of something, my unique me-ness that has nothing to do with what I came through.  In a way I feel reduced, my accomplishments feel reduced, to that single event in my life.  I can’t deny that it has shaped a lot of my outlook and the way I show up in the world, but it hasn’t changed who I believe I am, who I have always been my entire life.  The way I feel about things yes, but not the one who is feeling.  And at no point does anyone step back to consider how much I have hurt because of being so unsupported.  It doesn’t seem to occur to most that the one who is walking alone, fighting it all in isolation, desperately wants and needs your help but the spectacle of this person slaying monsters alone is of greater value (or something) than lending a hand.

In our culture we place a lot of value on the person who goes it alone.  We have anthem songs from every genre of popular music about walking it alone, standing on your own yet… no one applauds those who ask for help or who receive it.  In our culture, asking for an accepting help are signs of weakness.  Yet how much courage do you think one has to muster to ask someone for help, and not just because of the backlash from cultural attitudes, but because it requires one to show another that one is not all powerful, that one is backsliding, losing the fight, losing their way, and is in need of support?  How much courage do you think it requires to let your guard down and rely on another person to carry you when you no longer can carry yourself?

This very courageous thing is where I am right now and it is terrifying.  Every step of the way I am doubting myself for relying on other people, I am doubting the people I rely on.  I can see, feel, hear and taste my vulnerability and it makes me sick.  I learned that to be vulnerable was a dangerous thing.  I learned that the people I’m supposed to be able to count on are the people I can not count on.  But now, as an adult, I have run out of “pants” to fly by.  It appears as though my good luck train, my saved by the nick of time gift, has run out.  And now, I’m having to learn how to ask for help, how to ask for support, and how to lean on that support.  And then how to assess how that support is working for me, determine if I need more support or if I need to move on to a new support.

These are skills that we are supposed to learn in childhood from our relationships with our parents.  The skills I learned were danger assessment, self preservation, super human strength, concealment and toughness.  It is now as an adult that I am learning to ask for help, to receive, to identify who is a good helper, to lean on people, to trust.  To have the open mind and heart of a child would make this so much easier.  Instead I have my history as reference.  History is a tricky thing, most of my childhood is unremembered, I have mostly impressions of things than I do of actual memory and if I were to base all my present day interactions on what I can derive from history well… I wouldn’t get to where I want to go.

When I look around at people who have the kind of success I want (healthy relationships, comfort at home, a sense of belonging at work, confident self expression, a belief in their ability to set and achieve a goal) what I see most often are people who know how to ask for help from the right people, have a strong network of support around them should they stumble, and lean into that support network regularly.  How they develop this I don’t really know, not entirely.  It is what I am learning about right now.  A friend of mine is running a really successful fundraiser for a local mental health hospital and it’s really got me to thinking about my fundraiser.  The one I have only just barely started.  The one I am probably erecting barriers to as we speak.  The one I am so afraid of launching because what if no one cares.  What if no one cares how important this ride is to me, how monumental this ride is to me.  How much this ride will affect and change me.  What if no one cares that this ride is symbolic of me taking charge of the direction my life goes in, of demonstrating to myself that I CAN do hard things of my of determination, I can do hard things for personal development and I CAN do hard things for me.  I can be a leader.  What if no one cares?  What if I raise $0?  What if the ride is awful and takes longer than expected or rains the whole time or we get lost (honestly, how does one get lost in the land of cell phones…)?  What if it doesn’t meet my expectations of being a super hero?

I’m building a new identity now.  I’ve been survivor girl for a long time, scrapping it out, making the quick saves, getting that incredible stroke of luck or insight and survivor girl is tired now.  She’s dragging all the rest of me down while I am trying to climb out of this pit and into a new arena.  An arena of friendship building, collaboration and partnerships.  Of giving and receiving, of being supported and supportive.  She’s done a great job of getting me to here but it’s time for her to rest.  And of course she doesn’t want to because her identity is all about the fight to the death.  Thing is… I’m choosing to fight to the life.  Survivor is a part of that identity and no doubt her skills will be called upon when the ground falls out from under me, there will be times when I will need to remember how to make those quick saves and dodge bullets.  But hopefully I will need to do that less often because I will have a team with me, people who will snuff out the dead ends before I find my way into them, people who will stand in front of me with great battle shields to protect me, people who will help me devise strategies and challenge me to think, and people who will hold and heal me when things go awry and we all need help to clean our wounds.

I don’t know the name of this new identity, how she works, but she is taking shape.  I can feel this old skin coming undone, flaking away and something new, and shiny underneath is coming through.  I look forward to helping this new sense of self emerge.

Not Enough Sleep Again: the morning after

And so it rose from the deep, a great bubble of pain, anguish and exhaustion.

I always had to be the strong one.  There was never anyone else to turn to.  There was no one to protect me, no one who knew what to do.  No one who was able to listen.  So I carried it all inside, like a pregnancy of sorrow.

A few nights ago, maybe Wednesday night I had a pair of dreams.

I’ll discuss the first:

I am at a support group for women survivors of childhood sexual abuse.  I have been waiting (in waking life too) a long time to join this group.  I am both relived and nervous.  The building is busy, the room in which the group held just barely private.  It is sectioned off by partitions and book shelves, one wall is all windows that look into the building.  I sit at a table with 3 other women.  One to my left and two to my right.  I am there to support and listen to my fellow survivors; I am there to be supported and heard.  The woman two to my right is the facilitator and she invites the woman to my left to speak.  She informs us that there are certain things we are not going to be talking about; we don’t want to hear about what actually happened, just how you feel.  I nod feeling a slight mix of confusion and acceptance.  The woman to my left begins in a cool and disconnected manner.  She is nonchalant with her feelings but beneath I can tell there is pain.  I listen to her pain, I hold the space for her and feel deeply her sorrow.  Then the woman to my right speaks and she is much more emotional.  I listen attentively sharing with her the same compassion I held for the first woman.  Finally it is my turn.  I begin to speak saying “well I’m not sure where to begin, I was very young-” and I am cut off by the facilitator.  She says, “we aren’t talking about what happened to you.  Start with what you are feeling now.”  I nod, feeling a bit afraid.  I begin to speak again, and 3 more people enter the room, 2 of them men.  They all sit and look directly at me; one o the men is setting up a notebook to write, the other just stares at me.  I continue speaking, feeling very concerned that there are men present, confused that they were allowed to enter this space in the midst of the group.  One of the men interrupts me and asks me something, “what was rehab like?”  his question comes at me like a spear.  It is not only inappropriate to interrupt me while I try to tell my story, but it doesn’t pertain to anything.  Gently, I say, “no, I was never in rehab.  I was molested.”  He says “oh’ disappointedly and pulls out some yarn and begins to busy himself with a weaving project of some kind.  I feel insulted and wounded by is lack of interest or care.  I resume telling my story and am interrupted again, by the woman who arrived with the men.  She is writing in a notebook and says “this is getting kind of wordy and it’s hard to take notes.  Can you wrap this up?”  She speaks with an air of needing to go, like she doesn’t have the time for me, and I am devastated.  I give up and then wake up.

Upon waking, I am over come with intense emotion.  Feelings I don’t know the names of.  I get out of bed and move to the living room, which has become my solution to difficult sleeping.  Shortly after my partner wakes and comes out to see if I am ok.  His concern helps me, I feel a bit better.  In the dark a single tear slides down my cheek as I assure him I’m ok, just need to sleep out here.

After last night I have a better grasp of what this dream was expressing.  It was obvious at the time I had it that it was expressing issues around being heard and supported when discussing the sexual abuse I lived through.  What I did not realize immediately is that I’ve not had this kind of support before.  The pain I felt last night was due to having to carry this story for so long, buried inside me, festering away like some sort of tissue eating disease.  As a child, there was no one for me to talk to; no family member was able to hear what I needed to talk about.  No one was able to validate me and the feelings I had, the confusion and terror and pain I lived with, even after it was over.  I’m sure I still loved my father and couldn’t comprehend why he had hurt me, nor why he was gone.  My mother was a wreck after leaving my dad, her own pain threatening to express itself through the experience of her daughter and she could not afford to face it having had even less support than me.  I was often silenced.  I was often told to keep my story to myself, to keep my words simple and colourless.  No details, don’t tell me what happened to you.  I’m only concerned with how you are feeling right now.

The message in the dream is clear; I feel, and have felt, silenced.  Over-full with words of anguish, horror, pain and suffering.  The sound of my tiny screaming voice fills my ears, the only ears to hear it that care to do anything about it.

Last night, I sobbed in my partners arms.  He held me, stroked my face, brought me a cold cloth, a glass of water and tissues.  He told me to let it out.  Don’t hold it in, let it out.  He held me against his chest, unflinching, as I wailed and sobbed.  He has been able to hear me, to hold my words when i can say them, without needing to say anything back or fix anything, simply listen and hold my words.  Last night all I had to say was he was supposed to protect me.  I always had to be the strong one.  I had to carry this inside because no one could listen or hear it.  He listened.  He heard it.

This morning I am exhausted, raw, light headed.  I am under slept.  I have not slept well in weeks.  My hope is that this purge will allow me to return to sleeping again.

Not Enough Sleep again

I think this is part of the pattern.  The pattern of not remembering.  The pattern of keeping history down in it’s grave.  The lack of sleep.  It is an inability to relax.  My mind stands vigilant guard and I feel certain – CERTAIN – I have typed this before.  My thoughts are disconnected.  They do not roam or meander, they hop from one to the next, like searching through a library of books on any given subject seeking an answer to something yet … trailing of half way through a sentence uncertain of what I am looking for, certain it is not here.

I am so tired.  I want nothing more than to sleep.  But sleep will not arrive until at least 130am.  Maybe later.  Maybe I will wake every 2 hours.  Hot flashes, the inside of my body hot, my skin cold.  My mind instantly awake and on alert.

A monster is coming.

Memories rise from the bottom of a pond like dank bubbles of gas that burst with a burp and release their cloud of awful.  I attempt to tread this soup of shame, pain, frustration, bordering on drowning, so focused on keeping my head above water I haven’t the breath to cry for help.

I know it is there. A memory.  It is being pulled by the work stress I have had – completely unrelated and yet tainted by the experience of a person unformed.

I have been turning my back on you, survivor.  I do not not want to be associated with your groping for air, your struggle, your fight.  I do not want to be surviving anymore.  I want to be done.  So done.  So 10 million life times done.

I see the pattern.  I see how the sleep deprivation is likely a part of it.  I see the obvious; the compulsive eating, the recurring thoughts of drug use, the listlessness, the distractedness, the pounce on anything happy and pleasant and the cold undercurrent of dark history.  And I am coming to see the less obvious; the disconnection, the distraction, the obsession.

Sleep is surrender.  Sleep is vulnerable.  I once said to my mother, when she tried to give my night light to my brother, “no I need it, it helps me sleep.  I was molested in the dark by my father.”  At the time I said it I just wanted to be in control and I knew it would give me leverage.  Not sleeping, somehow, is leverage.  I my mind is so deprived and exhausted, it can’t possible dredge up the past.  If I can not trust myself, then I don’t have to believe anything I say.  If I am crazy with lack of sleep, I will probably just say anything anyway.

I just want to sleep.

I just want to be normal.

I just want to be an average person with an average past free from the intrusion of tear stained memory.

But mostly, I just want to sleep.

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Post Script.

I realized just now how angry I am.  Just for a split second and then gone.  I am angry.  I am pissed off that this shit isn’t done.  Im enraged that I am not healed yet, that I am taking so fucking long, that I have to keep remembering all these broken pieces of my heart.  Why can’t they just stay dead and in the dust?  What’s the point?  I don’t want it.  I just don’t want it anymore.

No one told me choosing to heal was something I had to do every day.  When I wrote about step one… I wrote with this fantasy in mind that I was so over step one.  That I would never be grovelling on its plateau again, head hung, choosing between numbness and full spectrum existence.  No one told me it would be this bad or take this long, that it would feel basically the same the whole fucking way through.

I dont want it anymore.

i just fucking don’t.