The Shoulds

I keep thinking about things I ‘should’ do.

I ‘should’ eat better, I ‘should’ clean more, I ‘should’ exercise more/at all, I ‘should’ read more academic things, I ‘should’ be prepping for academic things, I ‘should’ write, I ‘should’ volunteer, I ‘should’ be in the streets, I ‘should’ do what my colleagues do, I ‘should’ call home, I ‘should’ go outside, I ‘should’ do this, that, the other.

And…yes. I mean, I ‘should’ do at least some of those things, for health. For safety.

But all I think about is what I should do and what my loved ones need and want. And when I fail to do those things or live up to my shoulds, I deprive myself–of things like sunlight and friendship and pleasure.

I decide I don’t deserve to go to that free pleasure event, because I haven’t done enough in my community–regardless of my energy level, regardless of my physical ability, regardless of anything that’s been happening in my personal life.

I decide I don’t deserve sunshine because I haven’t been able to get out of bed for days and weeks at a time.

I decide I don’t deserve a massage to help my aching body feel better because I haven’t lived up to the societal standards of feminine hygiene like shaving–even though shaving makes me ache so badly. And I decide I can’t get a wax even though I actually like the feeling of my legs being hairless because I just don’t deserve it. I haven’t done enough. I’m too much bad, not enough good.

I talk to myself like that all the time.

But I would totally tell my wife to do whatever she needs and wants to feel good about herself. I would say the same to my male partners.

What is it I want? And why is it so hard to figure that out *and* act on it? Why do I feel like I’m not good enough to do what I want?

My therapist tells me I only need to do what I want in this life. I keep looking at her like I don’t believe her. I think, to me, part of my personal definition of being a good person is doing good works. And if I’m not doing good works, I’m not being a good person. So then it makes it hard for me to feel like I ‘get’ to do things that are purely pleasurable for me.

But if I never let myself feel pleasure, how do I get out of misery?

Also, it’s hard to consistently do the good things I want to do, and I hate being inconsistent. It’s hard for me, I mean. Not knowing when my body will shut down on me makes it difficult.

Other people manage, and I tell myself that. I just…I’m not supposed to compare, and I haven’t figured out how I’m supposed to manage.

It’s particularly difficult when I’ve spent a lifetime being told–first by actual, physical people who were supposed to take care of me (my parents) that all my physical and mental ails were trivial/not real (from illness to broken limbs, not a thing was believed until hours/days had passed and I finally got them to take me to a doctor). Now, it’s hard for me to believe that about myself. I keep telling myself it’s not that bad, that I don’t have it as bad as other people, that I need to just pull myself up and get on with it, that I’m horrible for not just getting on with life, that all of this is just me being hysterical and manipulative and melodramatic (and hey, those are words from my past). It’s hard for me to take care of my body.

One of my partners is a sweet caretaker, but he’s the sort that wants to do for me. And he’s been so so helpful, but he’s not great at telling me to make an appointment. Not yet. I think he’ll get there. But I have to learn to do it on my own, because it really shouldn’t be on him, or on anyone else. I just…never learned how to do it, never learned how to value my body.

And that gives me this really really bad case of the shoulds all the time. I ‘should’ do all these things, but a lot of the time I can’t, because I actually physically can’t. Or I mentally can’t. And I need to be easier on myself about that.

Advertisements

TW/CN: Rape, Sexual Assault, Cis White Men Getting Away With It

There have been three or four high-profile cases in the news lately of young, cishet, white men getting away with raping women. Some of the victims have been vocal, speaking against the judge and system and man and family. Some have been ‘compassionate’ (I’ll get to that), talking about how a ‘mistake’ shouldn’t define a person’s life. Some haven’t really been able to defend themselves or speak for themselves. Some have been quiet.

I was quiet. For a long, long time, I was quiet. I still am, in most ways. Most of the people who knew me then don’t know. Most of the people who knew us then–me and him–still don’t know. And I don’t use his name when I do talk about it. I use veiled references. I hint. I don’t give exact dates, I don’t give details. I know that people on my friends list are also on his friends list, and they don’t know, and I don’t want to go through he-said/she-said drama and bullshit. He’s a my-age cishet white male. I never turned him in. There’s no evidence. And at the time, I don’t even know if there would’ve been bruising or tearing. I know a hymen is no indicator of anything (they’re so varied naturally), but mine had torn at a young age to a bouncy horse incident. Whether it grew back..? I don’t know. Anyway.

We were dating. Boyfriend and girlfriend. In love, or so we said. I thought so. I found out later that he mostly wanted sex with virgins. He grew tired of me when I was no longer virginal enough for his tastes. Of course…that was his fault. And of course, virginity is a ridiculous societal construct meant to hold women down…but that was the point, right?

Anyway.

I didn’t speak, for years. I didn’t even call it rape, for years. I lied to myself. I lied to everyone, because who would believe me? I knew my parents wouldn’t. They always assumed I was having sex, doing drugs, drinking underage, smoking, partying. What a laugh. I got straight A’s, never did find out where to buy drugs or alcohol. I still awkwardly call it alcohol. I still have only had champagne at weddings and wine at the Table, and a little mead at my own wedding. Two swallows, enough to know the fire of it and that I wanted no more. I never even snuck out. I was too terrified to try.

And, because of my Purity Promise, I thought I had to marry him. I thought that the first person to stick their penis in me–with or without my consent–claimed me.

Even if I felt my soul die the instant it happened.

Even if I liked women, too.

I lied. To myself, to my parents, to my grandparents, to my friends, to him. And when he kept using my body, over and over, and telling me I was too stiff, too unemotional, too uninterested, I tried to force my body to respond.

Because that’s how it had to be, right?

Years later, when I finally began to hesitantly call it rape, I realized he probably didn’t. And, at the time, I thought, “Okay, there are two sides to this story. To me, this was rape. To him, it was sex.”

But that’s not how this works.

It has taken me almost half my life since then to realize that.

Rape is rape is rape is rape.

And I say that even though I know consensual non-consent is a Thing. Because that is different. See how ‘consensual’ is included there? Trust is a Thing there. Conversation, knowledge, consent. It can still go too far, it is a dangerous Thing, but consent is built in.

Anyway.

We had talked. He knew I wanted to wait for marriage. He decided–apparently–that he didn’t. And just like that, suddenly, I had no choice. I was trapped, and there was no escape.

I put it off, thinking about it, dealing with it emotionally, for years. I couldn’t make a scene, you see. Every tiny emotion I showed was so -dramatic- in my family.

And so I live with the knowledge that every time I show emotion about this, or about any rape, I might be seen as ‘dramatic.’ I hear it in that Emily Gilmore voice, “Everything’s so *dramatic* with you, Lorelai.” I am keenly aware of how my family takes this any time I talk about it.

I have told my mom and my dad now. It was…it was traumatic and relieving, telling them. Terrifying. I had panic attacks and nightmares, but they both accepted me and my story. I don’t know that they would have all those years ago, but they did now. Half a lifetime later. I’m glad.

But I’m also still aware of how my mom is still with my step-dad, and how my step-dad said, multiple times, that women were to wear skirts so men could have “easier access” to them.

I wore pants. Not even shorts. Jeans, always.

I finally bought a pair of shorts I like this year. For the first time in…I think since I was a little girl, I wore a dress without pantyhose and shorts underneath, too.

I am very aware that whenever a rapist gets away with it–and they are always cishet white men, almost invariably young–that all of this is going on in the back of my mind. My stomach is tightening. This all comes to the forefront, washing over me.

I want to tell my story, but how can I? How can I, when I lied for so long? How can I, when I know that my family is watching? How can I, when I know that so many people are mutual friends even now? How can I, when I am battered with the idea that women are supposed to be compassionate, even to their perpetrators? How can I, when talking about it in the company of mutual friends–like on my Facebook feed–feels like I am somehow hurting him?

 

These are some of the things that keep me up at night, that make me think I am a terrible person. Reason #3383 Why I Am A Terrible Person, on repeat as a litany through my mind: I lied. I lied in a big way, and I lied to myself, and I can’t trust myself, and so how could anyone else trust me? I lied to cope, to deal with my circumstances, but it hardly seems to matter when honesty is such a big part of my foundation.

And that’s part of why I want to tell, too: confessionally. I want to cleanse myself of the lie, to let it go. But who deserves such a burden? And how many times must I unburden myself? How long before I will be able to get out of bed with ease, and for more than a day or two at a time?

 

Will this ever get easier, seeing these stories? Will we ever learn to treat victims/survivors of rape better? Will we ever stop telling victims/survivors that they must be ‘compassionate’ to their perpetrators? Will we ever start treating cishet white male perpetrators of rape the same way we treat cishet black male perpetrators of rape? Will the day ever come that we teach consent to everyone, candidly, from birth on up?

 

I don’t know, but now, I am exhausted.

 

Wrestling With Anger

I haven’t written in a little over a month because I’ve been dealing with anger, with being angry.

It’s a scary place for me.

So I’ve been running away, hiding. Mentally abusing myself for feeling anger. Verbally abusing myself, when there’s no one around to hear it. It’s a thing I can’t stop. I’ll think of all the things I should be doing, and all those shoulds that I’m not doing (no matter the reasons), and then “I hate myself” will pop out of my mouth, or “I’m not a good person” or “I’m a terrible person.”

Being alone has been hard.

Being with people has been hard.

I keep assuming that all the people I care about who aren’t around me every day, who don’t see my physical and mental struggles every day, must hate me. I keep assuming they think I’m terrible and a fake.

I keep wanting to take time away from what little activism I do, because my first response to it is anger.


 

I do some of my best writing in anger.

It’s a white-hot flash, an energy buzzing over me. I hum with it, almost sing in the clarity as words flow from brain to keyboard.

Whether I write or not, though–whether I publish or not–once the flow stops, something else happens.

If I write, usually I feel good. Usually, I write well, and I write something that I think furthers the cause, or helps my audience understand better.

But then there’s a crash.

If I don’t write…if I just press it down, ignore it, try to move on…I’m sad. I usually wind up more depressed.

The solution seems to be to write–but I don’t want to be angry all the time. I have these flashes of things to write about all the time, and I’d love to write more. I just don’t want to be angry all the time.


 

I have a complicated history with anger.

Anger–rage, really–prefaced many of my step-dad’s worst abusive bouts.

Anger had center stage at my grandparents’ dinner table when my dad was home, as he and my grandpa shouted at each other, red-faced over politics and mashed potatoes.

Anger fueled the retorts that protected me from more physical abuse, but also shamed my family.

Anger has made me feel both impotent and powerful, both clouded and clear.

I can’t trust it.

Anger scares me.


 

Anger is an appropriate response to social injustice, particularly when one experiences that injustice.

Often, we as a society treat anger as something totally unacceptable, particularly in women and people of color. I’m a white woman. I ‘win’ on the white front, but not the woman front. It’s never been acceptable for me to be angry, even when it was appropriate.


 

In my depression, I am deeply angry at myself for disappointing everyone (myself included). Sometimes I’m angry at my family for how they treated me growing up, but mostly I turn that rage inward.

I don’t want to always be angry. Reading social justice things has become dicier for me lately, because I feel the flash of anger, and that flash too quickly reminds me of my self-anger and how I’m not doing enough.

I don’t want to respond to things out of anger always. I want to respond out of empathy and gentleness and compassion. Those are the things I admire. I’ve spent so long trying to do that, but the walls I’ve put in place are crumbling down, and now I don’t know how to rebuild them. I don’t know if I can. I don’t want to be my dad or my step-dad, always yelling, frowning, red-faced, wild-eyed.


 

I hope I can find peace with this soon, because I don’t know what to do with all of this anger.

The Town of Angry Bees

For me, there’s a town full of angry bees.

Sometimes the bees are dormant, as if covered in snow. The buzz is there, but buried under feet of cold crystals. It can be ignored, talked over…for a while. But there will be a price to pay if I wait too long, because snow does eventually melt.

Other times, the bees are very active. Sometimes they’ve been swatted at by others, made angrier, ready to sting with no provocation. Sometimes they’re just…there…being angry bees…and it’s wise not to go near.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference, especially if I’ve been away or out of contact for a long time.

I’ve discovered that there are bigger bees and smaller bees; bees whose stings I notice immediately and those whose stings take a long time to show.

I thought some of this swelling was protective, and to a certain extent, it was–but it turns out it never needed to be there if the stinging hadn’t taken place.

I almost never want to go to this town of angry bees, but I keep getting pulled back. Responsibilities. Guilt. That one bright spot amid all the bees.

The bright spot plans to get out.

After that…I think that town will always be filled with angry bees for me.

What I Wish I Could Un-Know

CW: Abuse


The sun brightens most of the rooms of my family’s house. Mom sits at the table, working on a paper for her college course–an emotional piece, designed to sway people.

I’m in the long, skinny bathroom next to her, doing laundry: bend, dig out one of my abusive step-dad’s work shirts, shake it out, turn and hang it; fish out a sock for the sock box; fold one of my siblings’ shirts and toss on their pile of clean clothes.

The TV patters in the background. Kids shout. Mom finishes her draft.

“Can I read it to you?”

“Sure.”

She’s written about my step-dad. About how he was abused as a boy. She’s persuasive. I don’t know how those details could fail to make anyone’s eyes fill with tears.

My heart breaks.

I hate her for that, a little bit.

“How was it?”

“Good.”

Awkward Poly Moments

After my last post, I thought perhaps the blog could use a little levity. So! Awkward Poly Moments! Warning that this may be TMI for sex, though it is funny in retrospect.

I have a tendency to lose my clothing in my apartment–if I’m feeling warm, if I’ve just had sexy times, if I’m asleep, if I’m not feeling well, whatever. We joke I’m a partial nudist. It’s not unusual (when it’s just the polycule) for me to be in nothing but underwear, or just a T-shirt and panties and socks.

Several months ago, our apartments had some electrical updates done to bring them up to code. The electricians (many many of them) came in and did lots and lots of work–our apartment was the last one of the day, and they were here for a long time, and then finally they were done.

It wasn’t until after the fact that I realized our lovely Nib calendar was up with the illustration by Erika Moen re: men in lingerie enjoying themselves, prominently displayed on our wall.

That wasn’t the awkward part.

The awkward part happened a few months later, when the electrician came back–unannounced–with the fire chief. Apparently after all that time, the fire chief had to inspect each apartment to insure that everything was up to code.

Now, I’d had some pretty spectacular sexy times that involved toys. Eren and Zyn were home. My toys were out. I was asleep post-fun on the couch, mostly naked. (I have a tendency to fall asleep post-sex.)

Eren thoughtfully covered me…but not the toys.

One of them let the fire chief and electrician–who were by then charging up the stairs–into the apartment.

My eyes opened to two strange men stretching over me to reach an outlet near the couch. I quickly closed them, pretending not to notice.

I heard, “Is she sick?”

Eren and Zyn hemmed and hawed a little.

I mean, it had to look strange–sex toys and two clothed people and a presumably-naked woman on a couch? (And if they’d looked, another partner in a Skype call on my computer.)

I kept my eyes shut.

I heard Eren pick up my toys after the chief and electrician left the room briefly, and I muttered, “Now you think of that!!”

She whispered, “Sorry!!” and shuffled them out of sight.

The chief and electrician came back, finished their work, and left without saying anything about me, my partners, or the toys.

Lessons I should’ve learned: don’t fall asleep without putting toys away; don’t trust Eren and Zyn not to let people in when I’m naked on the couch.

I’ve learned at least one of those.

I Got Breasts When I was 11.

CW (content warning): Personal post about a sexual/bodily violation I experienced as a child at the hands of other children. I’m writing/sharing partially for my own edification–for my own healing journey–and partially because I recognize myself as one of too many who have experienced such. You are not alone.

Thank you to the friend who helped me find the words.

Continue reading