Sunday, April 21, 2019

So here we are at Easter.  My mind is stuck on a conversation I had yesterday with a friend who is undocumented.  Tears spilled down her cheeks as she talked about losing everyone to come here with her husband and children.  Obviously someone doesn't do that unless the situation is dire.  Now her husband's father is on his death bed in Mexico, and they can't do what most of us take for granted: go home and say goodbye.

Two of their children are U.S. citizens.  They face the agonizing choice of staying here with their kids, or going home to say their goodbyes and risk being detained and/or separated from their kids.  The choice is obvious, so they wait... 

Imagine for a moment to be in their shoes.  Fleeing hardship for your children's safety, knowing you will probably never see your other loved ones again.  
And please don't start with the "they should have done it legally" crap, because if you say that sort of thing in reference to refugees, you don't know anything about the current U.S. immigration system, which has made it extremely expensive and nearly impossible for anyone to "do things legally" for decades.  As usual, people without money are disproportionately affected by these policies and live with the consequences of a broken system, sometimes paying with their lives.

Both of these parents work very hard to support their family.  When I suggested to the mother that she apply for food stamps for her two younger kids, who are are legal citizens, she refused because she wants to earn everything, even though they have struggled.  Can we please trade this family for some of our current citizens?  I'm still waiting to hear what Melania Trump has contributed to society to earn a "genius Visa," and using chain migration to bring her parents here.  The genius Visa is supposed to be awarded to "an alien who can demonstrate extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics through sustained national or international acclaim."  Her only claim to fame appears to be nudity, but her husband is wealthy so the system works for them.  There's your money lenders and Pharisees, right there.  Meanwhile, honest and hard-working families and children endure hardship for the simple crime of being refugees, and not being able to afford to buy their way out of the problem.

If you are in church today worshiping a brown refugee, while simultaneously blaming and turning your back on present day refugees, you are part of the problem.  Don't pretend you care about human suffering.  If Jesus came back today, you would sooner look at his skin color and put him in an internment camp.  What if His pregnant mother had been met at the border by armed militia or border control, and Mary and Joseph had been separated, while Mary went into early labor alone in a concrete cell and had miscarried?  If this thought upsets you, I'll remind that's what is happening to current refugees in this very country.  Jesus would not be welcome in the United States today, unfortunately.

If, on the other hand you are someone who actually follows Christ instead of just putting up Easter memes, take a look around the community at people who may be having a hard time, and just be kind. Be like the innkeeper who at least had the minimal decency to offer Mary and Joseph a stable.  

It's probably also worth mentioning that ICE was in our small town a couple weeks ago and quietly took some wage earning people from their families.  I don't know who they are but I  may be able to find out.  Maybe as a community we can band together to help them?  That's something Jesus would do.  He wouldn't ask for a green card.  He wouldn't roll His eyes and point fingers, He'd just help.  

Posted on Sunday, April 21, 2019 by Peace Out Loud


Tuesday, September 25, 2018

In the fifth grade, when I was ten, I was bullied by a boy in my class who told me about how he and a group of boys had pinned a girl to a haystack with pitchforks and raped her.  He said he wanted to do that to me.  I was scared but trying not to believe him in the hopes he would go away.  I never told anyone.

The first time I was sexually abused was when I was eleven.  Life was difficult in my home at that time.  My dad was usually drunk in the evenings, and often physically and emotionally abusive. I was grateful for the next door neighbors.  I vividly remember running with a bag of clothes across our pasture, to the little road, and up that road to the neighbor’s house for overnight refuge, with my dad chasing me and cursing.  I needed these neighbors to turn to, and was grateful to them for giving me rides places as we lived in a rural area and I was trapped.  On the way home from one of these errands, the husband pulled into the local car dealership where he worked and said he needed to meet someone there about a car.  It turned out to be true, but not before he molested me in his office, while telling me I would make a good secretary.

I didn’t tell anyone for years.  I was ashamed and confused and wondered what I had done wrong to cause that to happen.

Shortly after my freshman year, I was coerced by an older boy into losing my virginity.  He knew I didn’t want to have sex, but he refused to stop.  It took me over thirty years to realize that sex without clear consent is rape.  I did not consent, though I finally caved in.  I remember when my parents came to pick me up from his house, I was convinced that they could tell, and I was certain I had the word “slut” emblazoned across my forehead.

Later in high school, a boy named Billy, who I momentarily thought was cute, saw me lying on my belly in the carpeted hall by the auditorium alone, studying for something.  He unexpected ran up and sat on me, pull up the back of my shirt, and unsnapped my bra.  Then he ran off laughing.  I never told anyone about it, and I didn’t think he was cute anymore.

When I was eighteen, I had two male buddies who I hung out with.  We were smoking weed one day at my house when one of them wanted to wrestle.  He began trying to pull up my shirt and fumbled with my pants while his friend watched.  I fought back, angry and betrayed and his friend laughed at him for “getting his ass kicked by a girl.”  I didn’t hang out with those guys anymore, and I didn’t tell anyone.  I was ashamed.

About a year later, I lived in a tiny studio and had some friends over for a beer or two.  As was often the case in that apartment, everyone crashed out in various places, with me on my mattress in the corner of the room.  I awoke to being raped by someone I thought was a friend.  In a sleepy half-drunk stupor, I pushed him absently away, and he stopped but not before threatening my friend who was crashed out next to me.  She and I stared at each other in shock without saying anything.  I think he left before we got up.  I don’t remember exactly how that ended, just that I had to work that day and I was a wreck.  I remember telling my brother, but I never reported it.  I don’t remember his name, and I remember thinking, as is still often the case, there were no indications of a struggle, and no bruises, etc.  It would be a he-said, she-said, and I was humiliated enough already.  I think I may have seen him one time after that, on a city bus.  I was traumatized and hoped he didn’t see me.  Oh, if I could go back as who I am now…

A couple of years later, I was married and pregnant with my first child.  I learned during that time that the person who molested me when I was eleven had committed suicide after being accused of molesting many other girls.  He ran a hose of carbon monoxide to his car, proclaiming his innocence. 

When I was 27, I was in a local bar with my now ex-husband.  We were friends with the musicians playing there, and I had had no alcohol.  I was there to dance and have fun.  I was wearing a short skirt, and leaned against the bar talking to my friend whose sister had just had a baby.  As I asked him all about the baby, my ex came up to me and said it was time to leave.  I started to argue but he looked upset, so we left and I asked him what was the problem.  He waited until we were several blocks away, and informed me that a few guys were sitting at a table behind me and one of them was about to hook his finger on the hem of my skirt and pull it up.  I was furious and wanted to get out of the car and stomp back to the bar and beat him up.  My ex asked me what I would have done if he had lifted my skirt, and I said I would have spun around, grabbed him by the hair, and repeatedly slammed his face into the table.  I wasn’t kidding.  I have no idea who it was but I still want to do that.

A few years ago, I learned that the story that I was told in fifth grade about the girl being raped by a local group of boys in the hay, was true.  If I’d known in fifth grade what I know now, I would have told the teacher.  At the time, I didn’t believe him and didn’t want to be a tattle tale.

I also learned that the man who committed suicide after molesting me had molested his four children, as well as all of his grandchildren, male and female, including a special needs child with developmental disabilities.  This was before moving to another state where he continued to hurt children until it caught up with him.

Since those things have happened, I’ve learned that probably every person who violated me has other victims out there.  Things like that don’t just happen in a vacuum.  Sexual abusers depend on silence and thrive on shame.  There’s a real sense of entitlement to the bodies of other people.  As long as they can make the victim feel ashamed (by trusting them, by drinking/smoking too much, by wearing certain clothes) they can shame them into silence and continue the pattern of abuse.  If I had reported the rapist who attacked me when I was unconscious, I would have been the one on trial for drinking with him.  I knew that. 

If I found out now that one of the people who hurt me was running for public office and I could identify them, the older, wiser, stronger me would report them in a heartbeat.  I would want the world to know what they did and have accountability. 

There would be people who would claim I was making it up.  They would say, "She waited over 30 years?  She must be lying."  “Why didn’t she report this earlier?”  Rape survivors know why.  They have to live with the blame and there’s very little accountability.  That’s why.

Here’s a handy little statistic from RAINN (Rape, Abuse,and Incest National Network).  An American is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds and every eight minutes it’s a child.

994 out of 1000 rapists will not go to jail, and it’s not because people don’t report!

THIS is why people don’t report.  They feel powerless.  This is why the alleged victims of Brett Kavanaugh waited 30 years.  I believe them, and I don’t blame them.  After seven years of working with sexual assault survivors, I learned that the one you need to fear isn’t the boogie man in the bushes we were all taught to fear.  It’s your neighbor, your family member, your friend.  And statistically, only a very tiny percentage of rape allegations are false, yet that the go-to for people who simply refuse to believe that the “nice guy” would do that.  They don’t understand that nice guys groom people in order to assault them.  There aren’t many rapists who aren’t going to try to earn trust so they can violate it.  Attacks by strangers are the exception, not the rule.  In fact, 75% of rape survivors are assaulted by someone they know.

I know very few women who haven’t been sexually assaulted.  The statistics say it’s one out of three.  I disagree, because there are too many people who equate sexual assault with injuries and force, when in fact sex without fully informed and enthusiastic consent is sexual assault.  When I look back over my life, I understand more about what that looks like.  One training I attended presented it like this:  Consent is not the absence of “no.”  It is the presence of “yes.”

An unconscious person cannot say yes.  “Letting” someone do something you don’t want to do isn’t consent.  When in doubt, ASK… then accept the answer. 

I’m proud of the women who have come forward to identify their attackers.  Enough is enough!  Nobody deserves for any reason to be sexually assaulted and it’s time for the cowards to be called out from the shadows and held accountable.  They certainly don’t belong on the Supreme Court.

I’m proud of the parents who are raising little boys and little girls who understand that their bodies belong to only them, and what consent is.  Say what you will about millennials, but I think they are a fantastic generation and are elevating the conversation about respect and human dignity to a whole new level. 

I pray for those ones tonight who suffer.  You aren’t alone.  We go on, through suffering, and live and learn.  If this happened to you, you didn’t deserve it.  You are a part of a loving community of survivors and we believe you and we have your back. 

Posted on Tuesday, September 25, 2018 by Peace Out Loud

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Saturday, February 17, 2018

February 15, 2018.  Five years.  FIVE YEARS.  It’s been five years today since the first arrest and I gained two small children.

I was by no means prepared mentally, emotionally, or physically.  I was anemic and sick, and devastated by the nightmare we were facing as a family.  I was terrified by the possibilities, and five years later, I still am.

The next three years were a blur of court dates, both for my daughter’s ongoing drug charges, and for the legal ramifications of eventually adopting her children.  All the while I believed that the nightmare would be over long before now.  She’s so smart, so sweet, so beautiful, she HAS to straighten out quickly, right??

Well, addiction doesn’t care.  I’ve learned that and I’ve learned a few other things as well.

“I didn’t cause it, I can’t control it, and I can’t cure it.”  This quote is so true.  I’ve spent countless nights searching for the answer to what I did wrong.  The answer is everything and nothing, and none of it matters.  I, like moms everywhere, did my best.  It’s been so agonizing that I’m glad I didn’t think it would continue for five years.  I don’t think I could have taken it.

Having an addicted child is a different kind of grief.  It’s the grief of the anticipated and the unknown.  It’s having a panic attack because the phone woke me up, then being unable to go back to sleep.  It’s seeing a blonde girl with a hoodie and a sloppy bun, and for a split second, thinking it’s her, then feeling the crushing realization roll in.  It’s finally getting to see her and hug her, then crying all the way home because I don’t know when or if I will again.  It’s checking my Messenger app to see when she was last active so I know she’s alive.  It’s unanswered texts and calls.  It’s people asking how she is and not knowing what to say.  It’s getting mad at her, then hating myself for getting mad at her because what if something happened to her and I was mad at her at the time?  It’s having the cops show up at my house looking for her and bursting into tears because I think they’re coming to give me bad news about her.  It’s fretting that while I’m warm and comfortable she’s out there somewhere probably cold and hungry and all I want to do is trade her places.  It’s hearing certain songs and bursting into tears.  And the worst part is not knowing when the grief will ever end, or when things will unexpectedly get worse.  This is the new normal.  Any addict’s mom can vouch for this.

With raising her children, a new dimension is added.  It’s a balancing act to make sure they have accurate, yet age-appropriate information about her.  I want them to grow up strong, and not feel abandoned.  I want them to know who she really is, not some caricature of her former self, but the loving, witty, smart sweet person she really is.  At the same time, I’m petrified that someday, maybe tomorrow, maybe in ten years, I will have to deliver horrifying news to them.

I have learned that these are probably the good old days.  I can think of so many times in my life that I have wasted good times longing for former times.  I think I’ve done a lot of that over the last five years, and I’m trying to change that.  Not so much for me, because I’ll never be the same again, but for the sake of the kids, who don’t deserve to grow up in the shadow of my sadness.  These might be sad times for me but I have a responsibility to seek happiness for them.  This is their only childhood. Sometimes now I get through a whole day without crying.

I’ve learned that love won’t make any difference.  It might make me feel better to try to remind her how much I love her, but she already knows.  I can’t love her clean.

All I can do is to do the one thing I don’t want to do.  Let her go.  I am gradually learning.  I hate the word “detach” with a passion.  It flies in the face of everything I am about as a parent.  Detachment sounds aloof and uncaring, when all I want to do is wrap her up in my heart and love her better until she is healed.  Ain’t gonna happen as long as she isn’t ready.  I won’t detach.  So instead I am backing off and letting her contact me.  I have quit sending endless messages about being worried because all it means to her is pressure to witness my pain.  It sends her the opposite way.

I’ve learned that there’s no way to prevent this.  I remember kids that were friends with my kids.  Some of them had no supervision at home, or serious abuse or neglect.  While I was by no means a perfect parent, I tried hard to set an example.  There was no alcohol or drugs in my home, except for a very occasional wine cooler or a beer in the fridge.  I had all the right talks with the kids about addiction.  I tried to be a mom figure to those kids who I felt were at risk, and I was grateful every day that my kids would never go down that road.  I thought our family as somehow inoculated against addiction because I raised kids who were opposed to it.  Well, I have news.  It doesn’t matter what you do, because addiction doesn’t care.

I’ve learned that addiction is for the long haul, and there’s not a damn thing we can do to change that.

I’ve learned that people are ugly and say horrible things about addicts, things they wouldn’t dream of saying about someone with any other disease.  I’ve developed a short fuse in this area, and sometimes I have to remove or unfollow people on my social media feed for the sake of my sanity.  I am too grief-stricken to deal with their ignorance and rudeness in using hateful language to describe, or laughing at, people in addiction.  That’s my baby they are hating on, and frankly, it’s hard not to hate them back.

I’ve learned quite a few techniques to guard my health, which has been compromised greatly by anxiety.  I’ve learned quite a bit about panic attacks and insomnia.  I’ve learned that when my heart starts palpitating, it’s not a heart attack, it’s my anxiety.  I’m still learning how to deal with the constant fear that something will happen to me and her kids will lose their main caregiver AGAIN.

So I’m writing this because it’s been five years today and my heart is more broken than ever, she’s further away from me than ever, and all of my sadness and grief has not helped in any way.  In spite of feeling hopelessly alone, I know that there are many other moms and dads and family members who are dealing with this.  For five years, I’ve been very careful about talking about her addiction on social media.  However, she doesn’t have anything to be ashamed of, and neither do I.  I’m the mother of a beautiful, funny, wonderful person who is suffering from addiction.  I can’t fix it, and I’m stuck here, but I offer my support and love to others in this situation.

You aren’t alone.  You aren’t the only one hurting. Of course you are devastated because that’s your baby and you’re witnessing a terrible ravaging disease.  I’ve spent a lot of time looking through old photos this past week or so, and every picture of her is a stab in my heart.  I find myself looking for clues in her face where it all went wrong.  I have my theories but they aren’t a comfort.

I’m the mother of an addict and I’m not ashamed of her.  I’m sad for her disease, but she does not deserve to be stigmatized.  I’m proud of the times she’s tried to get clean.  I’m proud of her big generous heart, and her love for her kids.  Our kids are dropping like flies from the outcomes of addiction and all I wish for is understanding and healing, not blame and shame.  She doesn’t treat others that way and doesn’t deserve it either.  Don’t try to tell me that addiction isn’t a disease or I may well go off on you, if I have the energy to try to bother to educate you.  Don’t try to blame parenting for addiction; it just showcases your ignorance, and your smug arrogance that it couldn’t possibly happen to you. 

I refuse to be shamed or allow anyone to shame my girl.  I will fight like hell against cuts in services for people in addiction.  I will fight like hell to keep Medicaid and other services that keep people alive.  It increases the odds that she and so many others won’t succumb to the disease.  I will fight like hell to keep people in addiction from criminalized or mistreated.  I will speak out on behalf of efforts like drug courts and rehabilitation.  I will speak out when I see mean-spirited videos of people who are high and out of their heads, and call people out for laughing at them.  It’s damn cruel.  I see the face of my daughter on every addict, every homeless person, every hopeless person.  How could I possibly turn away?

In my community, I know countless people who are in recovery and leading lives that far outshine those who would put them down.  They are my heroes and they know who they are.  They pay forward kindnesses and mentor those who are still struggling.  They have fought the battle and keep fighting daily for a better life for themselves and those around them.  And they don’t forget where they came from, so they don’t judge.  They just help.  Compassion is a beautiful thing and it creates healing miracles.

I won’t change the world today.  To everyone else it’s another day, but to me, today is five years.  I don’t know how long the marathon is going to last, and I try not to think about it because I become weary.  All I know is that for five years, I’ve been busy healing my beautiful grandbabies, who are safe and warm and getting the chance they deserve for happiness.  The trick is to channel my grief into something useful, and that’s my something useful.  My little reminders of her.  It would be great if next year at this time I were writing a whole new post, about healing and redemption, but if not, it won’t be for lack of effort.

Even if I can’t personally fix my daughter’s illness I can at least do those things.  It’s letting go of what won’t help and focusing on what will.  I invite other parents of addicts to reach out to me so we can support each other.  And hopefully as a society we can agree that access to treatment is going to be more effective than disdain and ridicule.  Most addiction is linked along the line to some sort of trauma, so it stands to reason that traumatizing and demeaning someone in addiction isn’t going to make the world a better place.

I’m not even sure why I’m writing this, but I guess it’s to commemorate that for this day I’m still here and kicking, and I have two small humans depending on me to do so.  I’ve spent plenty of time in that place where you don’t think you can go on another day.  And I know what it’s like to not be able to talk about it because only other parents of addicts will understand.  To all you other moms out there hurting, I am sending you a big hug.  I’ve made it in one piece for five years now when I didn’t think I could.  I’m a little sadder, and a lot older but I’m still here, and I still dare to hope.  Human beings are remarkably resilient and can heal in time.  No matter who you are, you have people who love you too.  You are needed. 

If your kids are all healthy, be grateful today.  Light a candle, give them an extra hug, whatever makes sense for you to celebrate.  And when you see that homeless person, that person who is hurting, or living in the pain that is drugs, remember that they are someone’s kid too.  Someone out there is probably worried sick about them and doesn’t know where they are because they are too ashamed of themselves to stay in touch.  Please be kind.

Posted on Saturday, February 17, 2018 by Peace Out Loud