Rage

SUBMISSION EIGHTY CONTAINS THEMES OF: REFERENCES OF ABUSE AND RELATIONSHIPS. SEE ICONS BELOW.

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How can I hate you this much?

It doesn’t make any sense. 

How can I possibly hate you as you are now? Aren’t you normal? Aren’t I the one in the wrong?

I always thought I was the bad person for hating you, for not being able to stand your words or your opinions or your touch or your mere presence. I always thought it was so obviously my fault for being uncomfortable around you, for wanting to hide away every time your eyes landed on me, like a dramatic little girl playing the victim in a tragic situation that doesn’t exist...or, at least, doesn’t anymore. And so I always thought there was something wrong with me for feeling like this still, and that I should get this mindset — that is quite frankly my problem — fixed immediately, for your sake. After all, how could I feel this way towards someone I live with, someone who quite literally provides me with resources to survive? How could I hate you when you stopped so long ago, when you’re quite normal now? How could I hate you when you haven’t done it in years — not since I was that little girl, not since I didn’t know I wasn’t meant to hurt like that, not since I was weak and vulnerable and scared and I trusted you far more than I should have?

It was then that I should have hated you, I know this now. But I didn’t. 

I loved you. Or at least, I thought I did. And no matter how hard I try now, I just can’t do it. My heart refuses to forget, though everything else so desperately wants to — my healed bones and bruises, my faded scars. My sanity, what’s left of it. The rest of my childhood. 

Abuse is a funny word. And no matter how hard I try or how much time passes, there’s a part of me that won’t forget it.

So how am I meant to go on now, living here, existing here, pretending to be happy here while so steadily hating the man I am meant to love at my age, in my situation, for reasons so long gone that it is far too late to even think about revealing them now?

How can I hate you now when I should have felt it the moment you laid a hand on me, not the moment you stopped?

Alone

SUBMISSION SEVENTY-NINE CONTAINS THEMES OF: DEATH. SEE ICONS BELOW.

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I'm afraid to die alone.

You know? like to be a found dead body forgot somewhere.

And not just physically also in my mind. 

Alone and forgotten.

Not loved. Never an option. Never a thing to fight for. A thing to stay in. A thing to laugh with.

Alone.

Be Honest With Yourself

SUBMISSION SEVENTY-EIGHT CONTAINS THEMES OF: PREGNANCY, CHILDBIRTH, AND GRAPHIC MEDICAL PROCEDURES. SEE ICONS BELOW.

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I never saw myself as a mother growing up. My motherly instincts kicked in when my first niece was born; it was the first time I felt I loved someone more than myself. But being an auntie is easy. I was 32 years old, but I still didn’t see myself being someone’s mum. 

I always thought wanting to be a mum was an urge or desire that women had at some point in their lives. I was waiting for mine to come after getting married, but it never did. 

I wanted to have kids, but it was never a dream. It was just something I thought I was expected to do, imprinted in my brain either by society, my catholic education, or my traditional family — I don’t really know.

When I found out I was pregnant two years after tying the knot, I was surprised to say the least. And scared. Scared of what was to come, knowing in my heart that I was not ready, and at 35 — I wasn’t ever going to be. 

Instead of something romantic and sweet, making the decision of having a baby was more of a rational thing. I thought it was the next step. What was expected of me. What needed to be done.

Being pregnant felt more like being perpetually ill. It felt like a sickness; it was not enjoyable at all and I was miserable the whole time. Every month, there was something different that was wrong and I thought it was never going to end. From morning sickness (that hits you every damn hour of the day) to hemorroides, to UTIs, to heartburn. I could barely sleep. But the worst was still to come. 

Nobody really tells you how childbirth really feels. Every contraction feels like 10 men are kicking you on your stomach. Then when they get harder and you start pushing uncontrollably, it feels like you are about to push out a watermelon. And when you finally have the baby, it actually feels like you pushed out a watermelon. If you’re lucky, your vagina will be intact when it is all said and done, but for most of us that is not the case. My vagina was completely destroyed. I tore in multiple places even after having the episiotomy (a cut they make to prevent tearing, go figure). So, healing was extremely painful; peeing was excruciating and pooing...well, it felt like childbirth all over again.  

When you think it is all finally over, you have to wake up every two or three hours for months to feed the baby. 

You will never sleep all night again. 

If I could go back in time and talk to my younger self, I would definitely say: “You don’t really want kids, face it. Be honest with your partner, but most importantly with yourself.” Because right now, I regret being a mother. 

Don’t get me wrong, I love my child and I would die for them. But if I could change the past, I would change this. I hate being in this position. I hate motherhood.

Many More Years

SUBMISSION SEVENTY-SEVEN CONTAINS THEMES OF: DEATH AND MENTAL HEALTH. SEE ICONS BELOW.

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There's no way out, it's swallowing me whole

The dark abyss that’s become my heart and soul

 

Enveloped by neglect and unquenched desire

I may never know the joy that lights a heart on fire

 

Depression suffocating ever so silently

I grasp for hope, plead with my entirety

 

Those who lack understanding will inevitably judge

While those who don't will offer an encouraging nudge

 

To those slowly dying from the inside out

Their souls aching for a life they know nothing about

 

It begins with heartache, the pain deep and dense

With just enough of it the process will commence

 

It starts in the mind, coursing through every nerve

Soon to be distributed to each and every curve

 

That which destroys a heart will eventually take hold

Forced happiness causing the body to feel old

 

Feeling already dead, losing all composure

The thought of actual death melancholically taking over

 

It is not death that I want, but an end to the hurt

Trying to look up has become such work

 

I lie awake at night writhing in pain

Wishing I had someone to wipe my tears away

 

To hold me in the silence, and tell me I'm not too much

Conveying love with just a look or a simple touch

 

Maybe I will never know the love I've provided

Instead, always feeling the sting of my efforts left unrequited

 

Love and understanding was all I needed

I craved an end, death pleaded

 

It was there when no one else was around

It finally prevailed, putting me into the ground

 

The act of appreciation truly astounds me

For it is only discovered upon harsh reality

 

I am no longer here, my memory haunts you

Wishing to make it right you can only want to

 

Now you know, you feel something similar

You are weak, in need of a strong pillar

 

How does it feel, the aching sadness?

Does regret fill you, are you driven with madness?

 

That is no insult, just simple candor 

Maybe now you get it and you'll seek an answer

 

As to how and why you could be so cold

And idly sit by watching my demise unfold

 

You are not to blame, that's an unfair charge to be dealt

But you did contribute to what I had thought and felt

 

No one understands, I feel alone in my thoughts

With each passing day my mind has connected the dots

 

You are fine without me, you have been for this long

It shouldn't feel any different now that I'm really gone

 

I apologize to my friends, and the few people who care

I have no more tolerance, I've been overwhelmed by despair

 

Instead of ignoring, offer your time and ears

You might just keep someone for many more years

Fingers Crossed

SUBMISSION SEVENTY-SIX CONTAINS THEMES OF: MENTAL HEALTH. SEE ICONS BELOW.

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I can't breathe. It goes on for weeks at a time with, maybe, a couple days off for a brief respite. There is a tight band across my chest every day. I see my friends, my boyfriend, my colleagues and I can't breathe. There are no scientific theories that explain how to fix this…and that's what I do: I fix things. I fix things for myself and I fix things for other people. Ironically, I am so, so broken and, to be honest, don't see a way out a lot of the time. My story of anxiety and depression is a slow one and not very interesting. But, hopefully, one day, I will be able to breathe. Fingers crossed. 

Purest Soul Stained By Skin

SUBMISSION SEVENTY-FIVE CONTAINS THEMES OF: CHILD ABUSE, RAPE, PREGNANCY. SEE ICONS BELOW.

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This world is full of evil, evil that destroys innocence. At such a young age, by the time I was three years old, I had already been raped for months on end. By the time I was three, I was beaten for months. By the time I was three, he carved markings into my flesh to mark what he believed was his. Worst of all, his mother watched for her own sick pleasure.

Yet, no one knew of these unspoken horrors, and I carried this burden  until I was a teenager, only to discover that the same man who had ruined my view on the world had done it to others. To me, to my two cousins, to the poor girl he attacked after the Fourth of July.

He scarred me. My first sexual encounters with men were genuinely horrifying. By the time I was fifteen and a male touched my chest, I panicked. By the time I was seventeen, I had fallen for a male, one who I had trusted despite my past.

I ended up pregnant. I miscarried after a fallout between the two of us, not long after discovering he had been cheating. And not long after that…  

Not long after that, the unspoken horrors of my past were revealed. Family began to pity me. Yet, if they truly cared, wouldn’t they have done something instead of just patting my shoulder? Why didn’t my aunt believe me? Why did she even give love to his mother after finding out she watched him hurt us? 

When the purest soul is stained by skin, to the public eye, where can she begin? What was I supposed to do other than dread the world I was brought into?

Nothing Gets Past Seventeen

SUBMISSION SEVENTY-FOUR CONTAINS THEMES OF: INTIMACY AND MENTAL HEALTH. SEE ICONS BELOW.

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I have never talked about this, not with my friends, my mom, not even myself. I never said it aloud, never wrote it down. I deleted every photograph and blacked out every memory hoping that doing these things would make it less real. Like, if I didn’t acknowledge it, it never happened and I’d be okay. But I don’t think that I am. Really, truly, as often and as hard as I try, everything in my life is affected by these few key moments. Things that happened at such a pivotal age. Nothing gets past 17, I guess. I have never been more than a convenience. I’m here, you’re alone. I’m willing…I think. Nothing about me is important to any of these men, except something explicit that I can half offer. I feel like everything is ruined. I used to tell them, “But you don’t like me, you like that I’m here.” I don’t remember a real rebuttal, ever. No one denied it, no one admitted it. It just hung in the air, and I knew what that meant. If it hadn’t been me, it would’ve been someone else — it’s all the same and I don’t matter, they just need somebody’s company. Something to have, someone to have. And that hurts. It hurts to be a body. It hurts to not be wanted for anything other than something physical. To know there is better and better, to be treated like there is someone better and better. To be a ‘just for now’ because now needs someone. One of them said to me once, “I wish you had more confidence,” and I asked why.

No one had ever tried to seriously tell me to believe in myself, that I was worth believing in myself. It’s been said matter-of-factly between groups of friends, or sometimes family, but no one had ever done it in a way that matters. And I hoped, maybe this time someone sees value, like that would take back every awful thing he said to me. But he responded with, “You know, for like, when we do stuff.” And that was what he valued. I can’t bring myself to be confident now. Not when this word has become so dirty for me. Not when it makes me feel used and sad and anything but. Intimacy is like a swear word to me now; physical intimacy makes me wish I was dead. When I try for something more, something meaningful it’s met with, “But we talk all the time,” as we sit there with our shirts off and I ask for a break. “I’m done, I don’t want to do this” is followed by, “Please, please, please,” and “Just for a second.” Continuing because I’ll change my mind when the mood is back and “No,” feels too harsh, or I fear it wouldn’t be heard so I stay quiet. I’ve been told he would’ve stayed longer if he’d known he’d get lucky, because what’s the point of hanging out if he won’t get off, right? I can’t bear the thought of having a body. I don’t let people I love look at it, comment on it, photograph it. As far as I’m concerned, my material self doesn’t exist because for too long it’s existed for the convenience and pleasure of others. I flinch like I’ve been struck when a friend tells me I’m hot, or tries to build me up. I panic when someone touches me, and then feel guilty for it. These men, they didn’t care about my credentials, my aspirations, my intellect, my sense of humor, my passions, my anything. So, I killed nearly every part of myself. If no one cares to see what I have to offer, why offer it at all? Seen as nothing, so be nothing. I think that’s the worst part about it all. There’s so much control there still. I can cut them all out, I can move as much as I want, I can stay busy and preoccupy myself until I drop but at the end of the day, when it really counts, I’m not real anymore. These men didn’t hurt me in the way men can really hurt women, but they killed the desire for life; the excitement to be and to grow, to trust and to love. Maybe this is really just word vomit at two in the morning, but here it is in writing. I don’t have a life or a self and I don’t know if I’ll ever get them back.

Anything You Want

SUBMISSION SEVENTY-THREE CONTAINS THEMES OF: MENTAL HEALTH. SEE ICONS BELOW.

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This past year I have severely struggled with my mental health, a newly developed sleeping disorder, and a heart-wrenching breakup that made me realize I had been neglecting my friends. I felt at a complete loss of identity because I had always been the strong, loyal, dependent friend…and now I felt like I was 16 again and plummeting beyond rock-bottom (a place I refer to as Actual Rock Bottom —ARM if you feel like it). It was like the world was suffocating me with every little thing it brought my way — a new project, a plan to see family, a payment off of my credit card, a text message I hadn't read yet — simply because it knew I couldn't handle it. And, even after a year of this, the struggle didn't stop. My head spins when I'm reminded of an assignment, or I'm invited to a new event, or someone out of the blue messages me. But giving up can't be an option because I've always fought for my right to live. That's sort of what we all want: to live. We don't choose to live solely for the bad. It's for the good memories, the happy emotions, and the hope for a better tomorrow. 

Sure, this past year was rough, but I also made beautiful new friends, discovered new blogs, and found a resilience in me I had lost years ago. I don't have to be the strong, loyal, dependent friend because I, and those around me, don't define each other with limitations.

I can be anything I want.

You can be anything you want.

Also Why

SUBMISSION SEVENTY-TWO CONTAINS THEMES OF: DRUGS. SEE ICONS BELOW.

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I always wonder what’s going on with his mind. He reminds me of that Bowie song, "Space Oddity." His curls are thick enough to strangle and I’m pretty sure he wears the same sweaty jeans and green sweater everyday. It suits him from what I know, though. Indie boy, a girl I know calls him. I wonder sometimes how many drugs he’s taken before. I also wonder why. 

The Observatory

SUBMISSION SEVENTY-ONE CONTAINS THEMES OF: RELATIONSHIPS. SEE ICONS BELOW.

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It was the summer of '97 and boy, did I love him. I never saw him again after that night, but, oh, what I'd give to feel his skin on mine again. I'd go back, not to change anything, but to cherish it. Etch every moment in my mind. I'm married now, with children, and I love my husband. At least I think I do. All jokes aside, I miss him more and more each day. Way too often, I find myself thinking back on that night: a hot, July night set the stage for the best night of my life. He came to pick me up on his motorbike from my apartment, he sold it but thought he'd take us out on it one last time,  and we rode out to the observatory. Naturally, it was closed, but he somehow got us to the perfect spot. The city lit up beneath us in the shape of the grid. It was beautiful. He was beautiful. And with the way his eyes looked out unto the beauty, the bright lights of the city reflected upon his face, the gentle but promising grip he had on me, I could've died right then. That was the last night of my youth. I'm sure it was his too. I want nothing more than to go back to that night. A single night with him but I wouldn't trade it for the world. Often, I wonder what it is that we had. We were broke students of the world just trying to make the best of this strange feat we'd been chosen to tackle. He gave me a lust for life and I've determined that a lust for life keeps us alive.

Breaking The Looking Glass

SUBMISSION SEVENTY CONTAINS THEMES OF: SELF-HARM, SUICIDE, MENTAL HEALTH, AND BULLYING. SEE ICONS BELOW.

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“If you are silent about your pain, they will kill you and say you enjoyed it.” - Zora Neale Hurtson

In April of 2006, I received my first letter. A package of band-aids anonymously mailed to my dorm suite somehow made it to my college mailbox — someone had found my dorm number in the early days of Facebook, but not my mailing address. Shout out to the USPS for finding me. My first year of college.

I asked around — I had recently had a very hilarious trip-and-fall in broad daylight that left me a little banged up. Was someone trying to rub it in that I’m a klutz? No one knew what I was talking about. I shrugged it off as some weird but harmless joke I didn’t get.

A month later.

I had decided a few months earlier that this school was not for me. I had applied to transfer to another school.  I got in! A week after, I made the announcement to friends and family, I got another letter. This one left no room for interpretation. I was not welcome at my new school, my reputation preceded me. I was a “freak.”

from: (college) welcome committee

NO CUTTERS ALLOWED.

YOUR FRIENDS LAUGH BEHIND YOUR BACK.

SO DO WE.

YOUR BOYFRIEND LIES.

YOU HAVE NO FRIENDS HERE.

YOU ARE A JOKE.

Someone knew. 

Panic. Shame. Silence. I only told my best friend and my boyfriend. They were at a loss, as was I.

Over two years, I would receive four more letters, including one on my birthday, and several anonymous emails threatening to spread my secret. Threatening that everyone already knew. Threatening they knew more about me — that they would tell if I didn’t quiet down (on my now defunct emo blog? in real life?  I don’t think it mattered).

What was my secret? It seems so embarrassingly small now.  But at the time, it was my world. It was ME. I was a cutter.

It started in high school. I now know I have PMDD (Pre-Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder), but throughout puberty and adolescence, my emotions, particularly my anxiety and depression, would cycle so quickly and unpredictably, I never knew what the source was. I convinced myself that I was emotionally incapable of being “normal,” “happy,” or “socially talented.” I would often feel suicidal for “no reason.” It was a chore to get out of bed most days in high school. Cutting was my last resort — when the walls were closing in, it helped me feel in control of my pain and ironically, in control of my self-compassion — it was the only time I would allow myself to cry, to sit, and breathe deeply and sob until I was numb and exhausted. I told a few friends, mostly because I was so desperately sad and scared that what I was doing would escalate. I think, like most teenagers (people?), no one I told knew what to do with it. So, I floundered and floated. I blogged.  About everything — my feelings, my depression, my relationships, my frustrations. Everything except that I cut.

I found a great therapist at the counseling center my first year of college. She started me on my journey toward bravery, toward self-compassion. That story is for a different time, but I blogged on several platforms through the journey. So, of course, my social media presence became very specific — very emotional — very analytical, though relatively anonymous, about my relationships, people I observed and experienced directly or vicariously. I didn’t blog about the cutting, that was too much and it was clear that this secret would “ruin” me. It’s okay to be an emo college kid who keeps to herself — it’s not okay to be the freak cutting herself in the co-ed bathroom.

It’s always been ironic to me that the letters started on the tail end of a six year depression fog. When they came, they were such a punch in the gut. It was salt in the wound of a girl who was barely learning how to deal with daily stress, how to dismantle nineteen years of perfectionism and self-isolation, much less deal with this new type of assault. Violence. I still have to let that sink in. I can now say I have PTSD. That I was emotionally abused by someone who still doesn’t have a face.

Each letter in the mail followed an almost comical formula — red watercolor paint smears, a stack of band-aids, magazine letters cut out with mocking, mean threats and insults — usually calling me a freak, referencing some Facebook or blog post (meaning they were “watching me), and confirming my worst fear — that everyone already knew what a messed up loser I was. The emails were worse. I still can’t talk about those — mostly because that is where my story gets wound up in others’ stories. That’s not just my story to tell.

I don’t know exactly what made this person stop. I have some ideas of who they are, but in the last several years, I have been able to make my peace with dying never knowing exactly who tried to orchestrate my emotional death.

This person wanted to silence me. And they largely succeeded, for many years. I have been practicing, albeit in the most tentative ways, to be more vulnerable with friends, even acquaintances. Like a lot of people, I’ve made sure to tie it up with a bow, “and then I loved myself, and all was well.” But most don’t get in the grit and grime and messiness of the middle parts. It is sanitized. And I know for me, that’s because, to really talk about it, to share the blow by blow, means to relive it. To call up the panic, the fear. To feel the electricity course through my veins. To feel the fight, flight, freeze impulses cycle through me in seconds.

We rarely share our defining moments. I mean, some of us will talk in global terms about our experience — that’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve talked about being stalked, bullied, harassed. I’ve even talked about self-injuring. But I haven’t even come close to describing the level of psychological terror I felt as I opened each letter. The hard swallow I still do every time I open the mail. The sinking heart skip I feel when something is hand-addressed. How I am always waiting for someone to twist my words, twist my identity, make it ugly, and publicly shame me for it.

It is still so hard to tell this story in full because I am ashamed.  I am ashamed of admitting that I was so weak, and sometimes still am,  that I would prefer physical harm to sitting with my emotions like a good girl.  That I would scar a body that was meant for others — men. I was even ashamed that maybe I had legitimately pissed a friend off in the early days of blogging about my relationship/friendship anxieties – that I had proven I really was a navel-gazing, self-involved brat, and this was my punishment. I am still terrified that I stupidly, carelessly made enough of a frenemy that they knew exactly what a fuck-up I was and that they would tell everyone I knew.

I still don't know if I was willingly vulnerable with this person who stalked and harassed me for years.  Someone must have broken my confidence at some point — but was my stalker a wolf in the weeds who heard secondhand or were they a former friend?

When you own your stories, no one can use them to hurt you. I am tired of blaming myself for this part of my story. I am so proud to say that I can now count my recovery from self-injury in years, not days or weeks. But it’s still a daily mindful practice not to internalize the shame and mental abuse of those letters — not to mentally cut myself.  I have had to become less ashamed of the dark parts of me, largely because the secret is already "out" among those who want to harm me — they shot their shot, and I survived. I am open now about my journey with depression and social anxiety and my belief in therapy. And still, this experience has made me trigger-happy. I still leap into relationships too quickly, over-share, panic, and isolate.

I am still stone cold afraid this story makes me the fuck up. So I am telling the midnight circle first.

My kind mind reminds me that I have no reason to be ashamed. The person who did this to me is the only guilty one. The person who did this to me was in more pain than I was or ever will be. And I have reached a point where I can wish them peace in the same breath as I wish for peace for myself.

I can now see this for what it was: I was attacked by a ghost for being an emotional, expressive young woman. 

I am tired of feeling in my most shameful moments that I am blowing this out of proportion. I’ve kept these letters in a box under my bed as tokens because some days I convince myself that it never happened — that it was all a figment of my imagination and neediness to be a Pretty Sad Girl. But even as I write those words I can hear them as my tormentor’s words; the implicit shame carried by those letters was meant to make me lock my own cage. But no more. This is real. 

This happened.

I am sometimes depressed, lonely, and anxious. Years ago, I used to cut myself. I was stalked, harassed, and emotionally abused over several years by a phantom, with my shame about self-injury as the primary gun aimed at me. I have PTSD. Part of my stalker’s mission was to gaslight me — to make me believe I deserved to be ashamed and quiet about all this. I sometimes convince myself that I dreamt it all, that it’s not real.

Protest has always been how I coped. First through blogging, even in coded language, about my experience through the years of panic, anxiety, waiting for more. This story, typed out, is part of my way out of wonderland. Of breaking the looking glass so that I can’t ever go back to wondering if this happened to me.

This happened to me. I survived.

Until I Can Rise & Try Again

SUBMISSION SXITY-NINE CONTAINS THEMES OF: INTIMACY AND RELATIONSHIPS. SEE ICONS BELOW.

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I remember the way your lips brushed against mine the first time you kissed me. Electricity pulsed through my veins, my mind screamed: you're actually kissing her after all this damn time! And you... your sweet lips kissed away all of my sorrows; your fingers tangled in my hair, you gave me the attention and devotion that I craved. You acted like my body was a temple that only you were meant to explore. So, I let you. I let you take off my clothes, one layer at a time until I was bare naked and exposed. You asked to go down on me and I felt like the luckiest girl alive. That you were giving me this attention, that you wanted me that way. How could I refuse? The passion I felt, the closeness I felt to you, it made me feel like the adult I pretend to be. We laid in bed and you whispered how sweet my body was. How good I was. How you never wanted to leave the bed. I didn't either.

And then, the airport turned into a place of sadness. You walked away, and we fruitlessly tried to stay alive, but technology can only get you so far. You pulled away and now I feel empty. That day at the airport you took my heart with you. Blackness creeps up on me every day when I know you're probably whispering those sweet things to another beautiful girl that you met. You'll take her to bed and you'll treat her well. She'll be the luckiest girl alive. Meanwhile, I'll be forgotten. A distant fuck. My heart aches every time I think of you. I long for the sweet release of being normal again. Every girl I meet, I can't look at her, because I think of you. Someday I'll be rich and whole again, but for now, I'll rebuild my temple. I'll build until I can rise and try again. Because of you. 

Relay

SUBMISSION SIXTY-EIGHT CONTAINS THEMES OF: MENTAL HEALTH AND MENTION OF DEATH AND SUICIDE. SEE ICONS BELOW.

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Older — and some wiser — people say life is a marathon. You don’t rush.

You just run with the pace you can handle and reach the finish line. One has to practice, of course, and build stamina. Sure, it makes sense.

Life is a long-ass, boring, and sometimes exhausting journey. Sounds so much like a marathon.

Some of us give up in the middle, some of us work hard to get to the finish line. Some with good stamina will reach the goal faster, and some with weak stamina will be left behind. Everyone is at his/her own pace, heading towards a finish line, but what is a finish line at life?

Death? Maybe. I don’t know. If death is the finish line of life’s marathon, then why do we even try? Maybe I am just a very pessimistic person.

Life, to me, is more like a sprint. In fact, a sprint relay, where an athlete passes a relay baton to another in the run. In my game, it’s more like passing the baton to me, from me. Wait, does it confuse you? Let me elaborate.

Each week, I sprint and hand over a relay baton to the next-week-me. Then I start a new week, running with a new baton, then hand it over to the next-week-me. Basically, I’m the only person in the run but with a new baton each week. It’s like a dog chasing its tail, I know. It’s a never-ending circle.

Last week, the baton was an email from a scholarship coordinator. This week, my baton is a Friday night dinner with my boyfriend. Next week, payday will be my new baton of the week. I don’t know what my baton will be after the payday, but I do not have time to think about what it will be because I will be busy looking forward to the payday, planning how I will manage my expenses.

I do not have an ultimate life goal or anything. I used to have those and I didn’t like myself with those pretentious and ambitious life goals. I got extremely competitive and easily jealous at other people. When things did not go in the way I wanted, I got angry, disappointed, hated myself and other people, blaming them and myself. So much hatred and exhaustion. I was a walking disaster, emitting negative vibes.

Now, my outlook on life has changed. I just look forward to insignificant but decent things/events each week to get time passed. Sometimes I wonder what I would do without all the little things to look forward to, then I unconvincingly told myself that I’d have many more batons. I mean, I haven’t totally become a bubbly, cheerful person who spreads positive energy only. Maybe I will never become one, but that’s okay. As long as I have a new baton each week, I’ll be fine.

I think life can be an extremely suicidal odyssey for someone who doesn’t hope.

Life may be a marathon for some people. But for me, it’s a sprint relay. With a little hopeful baton each week, I’m sprinting and I am so much happier.

That Bathroom

SUBMISSION SIXTY-SEVEN CONTAINS THEMES OF: SELF-HARM, TRAUMA, MENTAL HEALTH, AND SUICIDE. SEE ICONS BELOW.

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“Are you okay?” my Grandma asked me.  Like it was a secret. Like it wasn’t something she should be saying out loud. Instinctively, I said, “yes,” for that was what I learned to say. I am conditioned to be fine; to smile even when the pain is unbearable.

It’s not like I could tell the truth. They wouldn’t understand.

I cannot say:

“No, I’m not okay. Every time I walk into the bathroom, I see that horrible night, happening all over again. I hear that stupid song singing, ‘I need you… I need you know.’”

It’s maddening and I feel completely unhinged.

A year ago, I witnessed the most terrible thing.

It feels like yesterday, when I look back to when we were young.

Playing hide and go seek.

I would hide in the hamper that our mother always had in the laundry room, and she would hide in the closet. Any closet.

It was our favorite thing to do. Hide from each other.

Looking back on it now, I feel like we hid too much.

As we got older, we took our pain, and stuffed it in our closets — our hampers, and covered it with our dirty clothes.   

I wish that we had the space to say what we felt, and I often wonder how different we would be.

I look at the scars on her leg and think of all the times I’ve hurt myself.

“Did we do this at the same time? Were these gashes from the same night?”

No matter how many times she said it wasn’t my fault, I wanted to punch myself in the face.

No matter how many times she kisses her little son’s face, I get put back in that bathroom, on that night.

I fucking hate that bathroom.

I changed the shower curtains, to try to make it look a little different from before, I even put in a new shelf… nothing.

I walk in, and I see…

I hear…

I smell popcorn.

I was going to watch a movie with a friend who was sitting downstairs.

She wanted a blanket, so I hurried upstairs.

But I never went to my room…

My sister’s music was loud, and I had a snack waiting for her…

“I need you… I need you now… I need you… I need you now…”

Was that message for me?

I went to the bathroom, I opened the door and found her with a knife.

The knife that was meant to protect her, if trouble ever found her.

She hurt herself… and I found her.

She slit her wrist… and I found her.

She was crying… and I found her.

I found her.

This is what I wake up to every morning.

This is the thought I have when I shower.

This is the lullaby I fall asleep to each night.

When my Grandma asks me, how I’m feeling or if I’m okay. I say I’m fine.

But I want to take her face between my hands, look her deep in the eye, and say, “Grandma, I’m tired and I’m scared!”

I hate what this burden is doing to my body.

It’s worse than the depression, it’s worse than the anxiety!

I’ve been holding my breath for so long, and no matter what I do, no matter how hard I try to forget, I just crawl back into that dark corner.

And I’m there in the tub, with her; she’s holding me underneath the water.

I try so hard to fight back, but I let her drown me…

I let her win. 

Jobs

SUBMISSION SIXTY-SIX CONTAINS THEMES OF: CAREER. SEE ICONS BELOW.

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I lost my job. That genuinely was one of the worst days I’ve ever experienced. I don’t know who out there has experienced being fired or let go but it’s genuinely one of the worst feelings. It’s embarrassing and it’s disheartening. I didn’t really love my job so I wasn't sad about not working there anymore, but I was more sad about having to start over and apply to new jobs.

Applying to jobs is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. You send out hundreds of applications and emails and you feel like they just go off into the void. You start to lose hope and then you get excited because you received an email. However, the email says “Thank you for applying, but we’ve decided to pursue other candidates” or however they want to word the rejection. Or you get a phone call about an interview, and you go in prepared to blow them away because you know you’re qualified. You might even walk away convinced you killed it. Then you receive word that they hired someone else with “more experience.” Job searching is tough and it can be mentally exhausting.

It’s six months later and I’m still exhausted. I’m tired of applying and I’m tired of getting my hopes up. I’m tired of saying no to things because I can’t afford it and I’m tired of worrying about how I will pay rent. I’m ready to have a purpose and I’m ready to exercise my skills. When will I get to that point? When will I receive good news? I’m hoping soon. To anyone else who is in this boat with me, we’ll reach the shore eventually.

Broken Down

SUBMISSION SIXTY-FIVE CONTAINS THEMES OF: MENTAL HEALTH, SPIRITUALITY, AND SELF-REFLECTION. SEE ICONS BELOW.

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When I first put pen to paper about my mental health nearly two years ago, I never imagined I'd be writing again as what I am now.

That things got worse. Not better. There are no quick fixes in the world of mental health; imagine that! — that's fucking realism, except once and idealist always… 

Still so many of my days are simply about survival. The next five minutes. I have so much in terms of food, family, friendship, people who've shown me love along the way, I'm grateful, and yet, I still mourn for what I've lost. Matt Haig writes that mental poverty can affect the most privileged of people. I feel lost.

I'm still me under the torrents of acid rain in my head, or the days where I feel stuck in a panic chamber, but I'm screaming for help. Simple things still have the power to undo me. I've tried so hard to fix this, but sometimes I feel I've made no headway at all.

Of course, I probably have, but it's just hard to see. I've gone to therapy, gone to the doctors, given myself space, tried to face my fears, been mindful, given up, sometimes shut down completely. I've worked hard at all the ways I know how, but I'm struggling. I'm struggling to see the light at the end of this tunnel.

I'm in pieces, in my heart and my head. This is not the life I had planned for me as a young, confident, capable, can-do-anything-I-set-my-mind-to woman. I'm still the person who loves people so much, loves languages, and art and above all — empathy. I just did not foresee the train coming that would knock my mind to its limits and leave me here like a last stop.

My only option is to keep going though. All I want is to be well, is for answers, for hope. But if I can't be well, then I need some extra courage to face that. God knows that desire is all I really have left.

“But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”
W.B. Yeats (1865–1939)

I'm amazed at the Bible teaching to 'weep with those who weep, rejoice with those who rejoice'. Ultimately, it's what every psychology session has ever taught me. You are allowed to have your feelings. We need people to feel what we're feeling with us in order to come to healing and freedom.

Instead, certain responses teach us, from an early age, to expect negativity when showing our feelings. Have you ever felt sad and someone told you to just look on the bright side? Or been happy about a new idea for someone to doubt you? So, we learn to clamp down on ourselves.

And when you shut out one emotion repeatedly, say sadness or grief, you actually shut out all emotions — the ability to experience joy or love too. The longer this goes on, the more we can experience anxiety when we get close to our emotions because we've become detached from ourselves. This is what has happened to me in an extreme way, and something I've been working hard to undo with help from my therapist.

A crunch point came recently when even therapy fell through for me. I stopped feeling okay to be myself. I felt under pressure to work hard, to try and fix myself. Up until this point, it had been my lifeline, but I crumbled. Asking for a break from therapy was one of the scariest things I've had to do.

I'm learning, slowly, and painfully that it's okay to say no. Boundaries are the most important things in life when it comes to looking after yourself, and in order to have healthy boundaries, you need to know you're safe to say no, to stop, to change your mind or turn around. To suppress yourself and carry on until you pop is, well, a disaster. Trust me.

Something else I've learnt is this: 'Why?' is a useless question. Why has this all happened to me leads to what's wrong with me. You can only be where you are. You can only feel what you feel. The why of it all is often down to a mix of biological and psychological processes which, until now, have been largely unconscious, automatic and therefore — remember — not your fault.

The more I try and think my way out of the things that make me anxious, the more tangled up in my head I get. I'm learning, very slowly, to try and ignore the thoughts. And I'm becoming a little more aware of the automatic negative thoughts that occur on repeat. Even though I hate feeling anxious, many people have said to not fear the feeling of fear. But fuck, it's hard.

 Somewhere, deep inside, there is still a part of me that knows this will all be okay one day. The whisper is so faint it often gets completely lost. I know one day, the powerful, young woman will rise again. And I'll be able to empathise with humanity in so much more of its brokenness and suffering. Because I'll know. And I'll love hard. Or maybe I already do.

"What if we already are what we've been dying to become."
- ‘Four’, Sleeping At Last

I still want this to be over already. To return to the life I had. I fundamentally hate having to accept this version of myself. But to give her credit, she's doing her absolute best, nearly all the time, to fight and stay positive. Maybe the black dog, once it arrives, never really leaves.

My only prayer is that the demons in the valley of the shadow of death, well, is that eventually I'll be able to control them and not they me. (Psalm 23). I hope that maybe one day I'll only be aware of their presence and comfortable enough to dine unafraid in their presence. Honestly though, I'm not there yet.

 Until then, I can hope that, like the snowdrops that push up their heads through the snow, life is dawning in-spite of the darkness.

“Come quickly, Lord, and answer me, for my depression deepens.
Don’t turn away from me, or I will die.
Let me hear of your unfailing love each morning, for I am trusting you.
Show me where to walk, for I give myself to you.
Rescue me from my enemies, Lord;
I run to you to hide me.”
Psalm 143 - NLT

Sunflower

SUBMISSION SIXTY-FOUR CONTAINS THEMES OF: ADDICTION, MENTAL HEALTH, AND SPIRITUALITY. SEE ICONS BELOW.

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Time is an interesting concept. In the moments that collide with one another giving birth to our reality, it all feels so absolute. The idea of ever getting past those intense emotions that make up our stories seems entirely impossible, however, six months always disappear so quickly, making those feelings obsolete. How smells, or songs, can wash us away in nostalgia and take us back to what we can make ourselves believe were a better time.

I have had to learn recently that time, although it heals wounds, it can be my only resource; it can be my friend. There are times when things combust and become giant clouds of confusion and disdain, and it can feel as if nothing can ever change. Yet, time is what makes us believe things will. It amazes me when I read through old posts of mine, how in those moments, I knew in my heart things I don't recognize today. Identities change, and no identity of who I used to be can ever actually be used to demonize the woman I am. Becoming who one is meant to be is a process none of us really understand. We pass judgement onto others as if those identities are concrete, but they aren't. It is incredibly unfair to hold the hundred different masks we accumulate against us; nothing but the person you are right now is the truth.

Memories fade, and details become foggy. Our own versions of every story, including the dozens of different perspectives that can be taken into those stories, can never be trusted. The concept known as 'Embracing the Now' is something that, in high school, I read books about and internalized, yet never really understood, but have taken an entirely new meaning for me as I have grown into adulthood. Eckhart Tolle's book, "The Power of Now," was my bible in my late adolescence and I swear, I believed then that I had it figured out. I thought I knew who I was and where I was going. However, when I began college and fell into the horrible world of drug abuse and the distortion of time that it brings, the concept of being one with the moment became a distant memory.

I never felt more unlike myself. The endless attempts at sobriety, the endless fails, clawed at my idea of who I was every time. the strong willed girl I was raised to be was being broken by things that I had let into my own life. No one was to blame for anything I was doing, but in those moments where the Now doesn't exist, it is incredibly easy to blame others. When my heart was broken over and over again because of what and who I let in, I never wanted to look in the mirror and say “This one is on you…” Nope, it never happened. Instead, I would just continue my drug use and careless habits as if they were not translating into the bleak emotions that encompassed my life.

Literally, two years were lost to me. It is as if those years are just a blur of drinking and smoking and stupid sex with stupid people who never deserved to ever be that close to me, that when I came out, my concept of time was actually warped. Where had 2018 gone? I had gained thirty pounds and some family ties completely destroyed. My path had taken me down into a forrest of mayhem that obscured everything outside of my line of vision, and I didn't look around that much. I never cared who I hurt, left behind, because I didn't feel like I needed to be held accountable for anything I did. I was an 'adult' when really, I was just immature and self-absorbed.

As I have begun the process of rebuilding my self-identity, it really feels like a rebirth. I am rediscovering all of the things that made me happy all along, and remembering how whole I was before I thought I wasn't. Drugs take you, and they don't let go until you either choose to let them go, or you have no choice. I am blessed that I made it out of addiction to where I am now, because it is really incredible to feel in my soul that I am stronger in my self-worth than I have ever been in my entire life. I see people all around me who are just stuck in the constant drone of monotony and it makes me wonder what makes me different. Why was it such an imperative for me to get better, but for them it just is?

I don't believe that I am better than anyone, in fact, I let go of that wave of thinking a long time ago. We all have different things that make us unique, and those attributes do not result in anyone being better or worse than one another. My special skill would be the insane amount of time I spend in my head; my incessant compulsion to overthink every little thing that happens in my life. So, anxiety would be the one thing that I could attribute to this snap back into reality; the constant state of worrying that I was in all the time, about getting caught and going to jail or my family actually seeing me for what a piece of work that I was — it was terrifying. Getting better was just a byproduct of continuously hating myself and dreading about the what if's in life. Maybe my sense of what life could be if I never changed compared to what I knew my life should be is what saved me.

Now, I crave that sense of normality. Nothing is more important to me than my routine, my health and my relationship with my personal idea of God. I had to go through the things that I experienced in order to make me see that what I had been chasing to fill the voids that I felt I had were all just made up reasons for me to say I was a 'fucked up' individual. Sure, I have had some horrible things happen to me in my past but I spent so much time turning those traumas into who I thought I was, it was impossible for me to ever move on. I made them apart of my self identity, and that was one of the biggest mistakes I have ever made. When bad things happen, they are not supposed to be locked away in your heart to rot because in the end, the damage they result in are incredibly more disastrous than what they had originally inflicted.

That is the beautiful thing about time. This journey of my life has taken me down paths I never dreamed of, and has forced me to constantly reevaluate the person I always assume I am. Crazy part is, I am still not done blossoming into the beautiful sunflower I know in my heart I am. Time, while it seems so definite in each moment, gives us chance after chance to continuously grow into the incredible beings that each of us are meant to be. We can create different versions of who were are, because one version simply won't ever last. Every year, we are different. We are not tied down to our past mistakes, and we are never expected to stay the same.

This Is My Life

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This is me trying to fight my depression in my free days, which are the most dangerous for me because when I have nothing to do, that's when my depression hits the most.

I wake up quite early in the morning, let's say around 8am. I don't want to wake up late because I would start feeling like shit for having wasted half of the morning. I want to wake up early with the hope of being productive. 

I wake up and I immediately think that I have to be kind and smiley with my sister and housemate so they will be kind back to me, hoping I won't be pissed off first thing in the morning. If I am kind, people will be kind alongside me. And if people are kind alongside me, there will be more chances it won't be a shitty day and my mood will be fine. 

After breakfast I take a shower so I can feel not only my body clean but also my soul. 

I organize my entire day, hour per hour, so I am calmer. It feels good being an organized person. An organized person should have everything under control and I wish I had everything under control. 

If it is sunny, I might go out for a walk, and if it is rainy, I drink lots of tea and read a book. 

In all of this, my target is just one: not thinking. Not thinking about anything else except being nice, being productive, being something.

This is me trying to fight my depression.

And this is me failing at fighting my depression. 

I wake up and I wish I had not. 

My sister pisses me off as soon as we sit to have breakfast. She doesn't know that just one little thing can bring me down and make me feel miserable for the rest of the day. So I have my coffee and then I go in my bedroom. I struggle studying and being focused. So I give up and start crying. I just lay in my bed, looking at nothing and feel like I am wasting my life, I have no purpose, I have no one. I cry harder. It is lunch time. I cook some pasta and eat in my bedroom. I'm not gonna leave my bedroom for the rest of the day. In the afternoon, I don't even try studying. I listen to music. Little by little, I start to feel a bit better. Music never disappoints me. I even smile and start to dance a little. Maybe it is time to go out of my bedroom. Big mistake. I am back in my bedroom crying even harder. How is it possible that I feel this shit? I feel this miserable? Will it get worse? I wish someone would understand how much pain I am in. If I had the courage, I would be more than willing to cut myself. If I did it, would people finally understand that I need help? I just wish I could disappear. I hate myself. I hate myself for being so miserable and, most of all, for not being able to do anything to fix me. Will I be like this forever because I don't even know where to start to get better? I am hopeless. I am a lost cause.

I am 22 and I have been depressed since I was 18. But no one knows because I might be rude and grumpy sometimes, but just that. I smile and if someone asks how I am, I say, "fine.” I lie and I fake it all the time. 

I smile during the day and I cry during the night. 

This is my life.

A Promise To Myself + Others

SUBMISSION SIXTY-TWO CONTAINS THEMES OF: SELF-REFLECTION. SEE ICONS BELOW.

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I am changing,

It is painful.

Hard.

Challenging.

Frustrating.

Transforming.

Enlightening.

It takes time,

I must learn patience;

I am learning love;

I am learning to love myself.

I am strong.

I can do this.

You can too.

I believe in you.

You must believe yourself.

You must find balance:

Push yourself, but

Give yourself a break too. 

You are strong. 

You can do this. 

Smallest Things

SUBMISSION SIXTY-ONE CONTAINS THEMES OF: RELATIONSHIPS AND MENTAL HEALTH. SEE ICONS BELOW.

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The smallest things remind me of him.

The way my friend turns pages in his history book; the thick, black-banded watches always worn on the left wrist; that calculating look that a classmate gives me. 

I am chilled to my bones. memories flood my brain and I can’t put them back in their cages. I desperately wish to forget him and everything he has done to me, yet he is stuck in my life forever. 

I can’t look at someone in the eyes. I despise being touched on my shoulder or back. The idea of being intimate with someone scares me. Relationships scare me.

The smallest things remind me of him, and they are the ones that hurt the most. 

In 2020

SUBMISSION SIXTY CONTAINS THEMES OF: SELF-REFLECTION. SEE ICONS BELOW.

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In 2020, I want to move away from:

comparison, skipping meals, excessive use of social media, avoidance, playing the victim, name-dropping, and worthless conversation.

In 2020, I want to move closer to:

integrity, genuine passion, new knowledge, more meditation, ethical possessions, calling family more, fresh flowers, routine, and worthy investments.

Take The Long Way

SUBMISSION FIFTY-NINE CONTAINS THEMES OF: SPIRITUALITY. SEE ICONS BELOW.

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Why don’t you let me rest?

Lay me down to sleep

Pray rosaries for my purgatory

Burn my flesh until I’m nothing,  but dust

Wear black to the land of the dead

Bury me six feet under and kiss the dirt

Shake my mother’s hand and give her your most sincere condolences

Afterwards, attend an eerie service,  filled with meals made at the grocery store

Leave early and don’t look my sister in the eye when you say goodbye

Drive home and take the long way

See the greens I once loved and the sunsets I adored

Let this be the last time you think of me

Pray for my soul one last time

And, dear god, just let me sleep

Hotel Pools

SUBMISSION FIFTY-EIGHT CONTAINS THEMES OF: RELATIONSHIPS. SEE ICONS BELOW.

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I thought I was ready to spend my life

next to someone else. You couldn't wait to leave

you should have seen the look on your face.

Was it me you couldn’t stand

or just this dreaded place?

Your arms felt like hotel pools

so cozy, yet so unfamiliar.

We were just a young couple of fools

so rosy, yet so unpredictable.

I’ve fallen in love since then

it seems like such a long time ago

but sometimes every now and again

I imagine you and know

that I could never forget

my memories are racked with you

I know, and I would bet

that yours are racked with me too

I thought I was ready to spend my life

being misunderstood

by the man who takes up half my bed

because I thought that one day you would

I couldn’t wait for you to leave

you should have seen the look on my face

although tears were streaming down my cheeks

I knew that you would be easily replaced.

your arms felt like hotel pools

I can still remember the way they smelled.

We were just a young couple of fools

waiting for it all to go to Hell.

I’ve fallen in love since then 

he doesn’t like when I say your name 

but sometimes every now and again 

I imagine you and still feel the same.

I’m ready now to let you go 

you were just a dream that I had

but would never really know.

I Deserve So Much Love

SUBMISSION FIFTY-SEVEN CONTAINS THEMES OF: ASSAULT AND MENTAL HEALTH. SEE ICONS BELOW.

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A letter to the man that forced himself on me: 

 Recently, it has started hitting me what you did that night. 

The night I really thought you liked me. The night you pushed me onto your bed and got on top of me even though I kept saying “no” and “please stop.” You continued to kiss me and hold me down and touch my chest even when I was begging you to please stop.

You took away all my power in that moment and made me feel like I was nothing and nobody. Like I wasn’t worth respecting. 

I had experienced different forms of sexual abuse before this incident and your actions brought that flooding back to me. 

I am still appalled that my friends did nothing to you, not even a cross word, but that is besides the point. 

I feel outrageously ashamed and stupid for going back to you.

You see, I had to pretend that everything was fine. My brain couldn’t handle the pain of what you did. When women make a big deal out of things, we are labeled crazy. 

I went back to you because I wanted to pretend it didn’t happen. I wanted everything to be okay and so I repressed it. Understand this — the only reason I spent another second with you was nothing short of a defense mechanism. 

I felt upset for a few days afterward but quickly minimized what happened. My brain could not allow my body to fully feel the impact of what you did. I am feeling it now and I want to crawl out of my skin every second of every day. Feelings of shame, embarrassment, fear, anger, intense hurt, confusion. I wish more than anything that I had called 911 that night instead of internalizing this, which has led to a serious bout of depression. 

Those 10 minutes in your room play over and over in my head and I don’t know how to stop it. 

Nobody around me made a big deal of the event, and so I thought I shouldn’t either. 

I thought I wanted your affection so badly, and now I know I was just trying to win my power back. In some messed up way, if I could get you to like me, I would be in control again. 

I now know you are not and NEVER were worthy of my attention or affection. You are an extremely arrogant and cruel shell of a human being, and even your “friends” agree with me on that. You used me and acted like my feelings didn’t matter. When you were done with me, you threw me out like last week’s garbage without so much as a kind word or a second thought. 

It kills me to know that you hang out with so many women who probably have zero idea what you are capable of. I also know, statistically, that you will most likely try to force yourself on another woman, if you haven’t already, and this makes me furious beyond belief. 

I am almost always a loving person, but I am filled with hate towards you. 

I know that you do not feel remorse for what you did; it is evident in how you treated me in the weeks following the event. You blamed your actions on the fact that you were drunk. I’ve seen you go out and get plastered many times since it happened, so clearly it’s not something you take seriously.

I refuse to stay silent about this any longer. 

What would you do if someone did this to your mom? Friend? daughter? If some man treated her the way you treated me? I matter just as much as any other woman. I deserve so much love. 

It is not okay to treat people the way you treated me. And there will be consequences for it. 

A Gorgeous Feeling

SUBMISSION FIFTY-SIX CONTAINS THEMES OF: SUGGESTED ASSAULT AND TRAUMA. SEE ICONS BELOW.

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Six years. Countless conversations that almost happened, and more recently, tearing up in my car listening to Praying by Kesha. So many times I've wanted to tell my parents, even my brothers, that my first time being intimate was not by choice. I've told coworkers — funny how comfortable you are with those people — I've told boyfriends, more out explanation for my hysteria over getting physical than anything, and two close girlfriends. Hell, they have their own stories that haunt them and their own ways of coping.

Aren't we just so healthy, keeping this knot tied as tight as we can pull, deep in our stomach and lost in our soul? I say lost because for me, I feel that loss, even still. I feel the pressure to tell my family, to let them know me completely. I feel the loss of giving myself to someone who I chose for myself, not who came along first and was stronger than me. I feel the desire to let myself weep again, because six years doesn't erase the memory. The trauma sort of does though, to be honest, the details remain fuzzy. But I remember the pain, I remember the utter humiliation, the hopelessness, the confusion, and the loss. There's that word again. I don’t know if I can type a long enough letter for you to paint the picture better. It’s ugly anyway, all smeared and gray, dark and harsh. I still don’t have answers, why it happened, why I couldn't tell anyone, why I still take even a portion of blame. "I could've fought harder, I could've screamed."

Sex, love, intimacy, these shouldn't be a fucking fight. Screaming should not have been my reaction. I was shocked, and had a deer in the headlights reaction that I still hate. But I grew from seventeen, carrying a weapon with me at all times, hating men, hating myself even more, and feeling an anger that pushes through its boundaries every day. I believe it's that suppressed feeling. Putting on different masks and finding different voices to try and keep me angry and unforgiving. Broken. But still I know the truth. I know that what is done can’t be undone. I know that the smell of rain scientifically improves your mood. I know that laughing until you’re gasping for air, with tears rolling, happens often if you let the right people in. I know that anybody is a poet, when they fall head over heels in love. I know that family, blood or chosen, is a gift that warms my soul completely. I know that finding your passion and new interests, improves your day-to-day outlook on life. I know that you can grieve, even six years after someone killing a part of you, and feel release from it. That is a gorgeous feeling. 

I Remember...

SUBMISSION FIFTY-FIVE CONTAINS THEMES OF: SUICIDAL THOUGHTS, DEPRESSION, AND GENERAL MENTAL HEALTH. SEE ICONS BELOW.

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I’m always thinking about that scene in Melancholia, where Kirsten Dunst’s character is completely unbothered by the fact that a foreign planet was going to collide with Earth at any moment. I always think of how peaceful she seemed, as the ground behind her is decimated, and how her sister is losing her mind and covering her ears, trying to escape the inevitable. Her nephew is…I don’t remember. I just remember the stoniness in Kirsten’s eyes.  

I remember feeling that way.

I remember waiting for the world to end.

I prayed for it, every morning and every night.

I waited, because I didn’t want to end it myself…

I tried, and it terrified me…I hoped that we’d all get put out of our own misery.

I waited for that planet to enter our atmosphere, like a child wished for a shooting star to cross the night sky.

I hoped every moment I looked up that my prayer would be answered, like everyone would feel blessed to have such a happy ending.

I remember…

I remember the horrible ache in my chest. The question of why I couldn’t escape my sheets; why I couldn’t rise from the depths of my pillows and comforters, not even for something to eat.

I remember feeling pity for my family, feeling as if I was dead weight. I swear I could hear them saying that wanted to get rid of me.

It wasn’t okay like mamma said.

It wasn’t just weakness like daddy said.

It wasn’t just bullshit feelings like my friends said and it wasn’t just drama like my sisters said.

It was sadness I couldn’t explain. A deep sorrow that kept me wide awake at night. I was a sleep walker during the day. A true nightmare on elm street victim, only Freddie wasn’t out to get me; just my own thoughts telling me to drink the bleach in the laundry room, as I was getting ready to finally clean my sheets.

Where was that foreign planet when I needed it?

Where was it the week before my 18th birthday?

Where was it when I decided enough was enough.

Did I miss the emergency news cast, while I was out cold in my bed for the fifth time that week? Did I miss the miracle, where it’s course was changed, and we all celebrated our lives…? 

I don’t remember all the redeeming qualities of life…

I just remember hearing the sobs of mother if she found me lifeless.

I remember…holding onto to dear life, while trying to extinguish the breath in my lungs.

I remember saving myself.

I remember finding myself.

I remember mourning myself.

I remember…every second of pain I felt yesterday and today. 

For Someone, Or A Few Someones

SUBMISSION FIFTY-FOUR CONTAINS THEMES OF: RAPE AND MENTAL HEALTH. SEE ICONS BELOW.

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It was my 18th birthday, and the thing to know about me is that the majority of my close friends are male, so sharing beds with my male counterparts was never out of the question or inherently sexual. A new male friend I had made earlier in the year was coming on my first night out (in my country, 18 is the legal drinking age). We went out as a group, my two friends slept over and took up the spare bedroom. Previously, I had said he could share my bed with me, which he did, but I was very drunk and before I knew it he was sleeping with my barely conscious body. I don't remember most of it, but I do remember one aspect. He stopped as it got too hard to go on as it was not consensual verbally and certainly my body was not consenting either.

I, almost a year later, am seeking help from a psychologist to process what happened to me. I hope my story resonates with someone, or a few someones, and you know you're not alone anymore. If this is how you feel, please seek help.

Someone Not Trapped In A Box

SUBMISSION FIFTY-THREE CONTAINS THEMES OF: CHILD ABUSE AND MENTAL HEALTH. SEE ICONS BELOW.

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i was trapped in a box; i could only get so far away from him, since he was family.

he told me it was natural, that i should be thankful he was teaching me “the ways of adults.” 

he threatened to hurt my family if i said a word. 

i was drowning in shame and self-doubt.

i was still a child.

because of that, i had to grow up quite quickly. i became closed off; adults around me called my emotional isolation “maturity.” 

years later and the abuse continued. i had never felt so low. 

i ran away from myself and what i was experiencing in order to avoid the pain i was enduring.

i wanted to be thousands of miles away, my existence felt so pointless and pitiful. 

yet i was “mature,” but i felt so childish. i didn’t experience a true childhood, i experienced shut doors, hushed words, and camera flashes. 

eventually, he stopped after seeing the damage he caused. at that point, i was going to therapy after my parents discovered my mental instabilities. they didn’t know what was actually happening; instead they blamed themselves, which hurt almost as much as the trauma i experienced. 

i only went to therapy two or three times. my parents and i then became “too busy,” and my mental health was pushed aside. 

now, after many years, i’m trying to put my mental health first. i am still the closed-off, “mature” child i was, yet, i’m trying to become someone better, someone not trapped in a box.

Little Things

SUBMISSION FIFTY-TWO CONTAINS THEMES OF: MENTAL HEALTH, SELF-HARM, AND SELF-REFLECTION. SEE ICONS BELOW.

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Nobody really talks about what it's like to have an out of body experience. It's a very surreal and unnerving feeling. Only in therapy did I learn it's a way to cope with an immense amount of trauma. But because no one discussed mental illness around me, I was lost in a world with no doors. 

I just figured not wanting to get out of bed was my new normal. That even though I smiled when I didn't want to was something people just expected of me. It never alarmed me that if a car were to run me over, I would be indifferent about moving. I stopped feeling pain and never realized I had moved into nothingness. 

My body wasn't mine anymore and neither were my thoughts. Everything felt so foreign to me and if someone asked me how I was or how I'd been…it would have sent me into mental hell. A million mini-me's running around to find the answer to that loaded question. 

People spoke of self-harm but there was always an image attached to it displayed by the media to warn parents if their kid was wearing too much eyeliner and listening to weird music. No one ever talked about every day looking people who walked around the streets unconsciously looking for a purpose to come up and shout at them. 

I figured if my blood was still running through my veins, then it was worth it? But I had my doubts and I also had my tremendous guilt. A trait of mine that ran every thinking process I had ever had up until that point. I was a victim to it, but during that time of my life, oddly enough, it kept me alive. 

Shame plagued my mind, pain became a friend, loneliness was my excuse for independence and misery was what I deserved. 

"You're not a good daughter." "why does your sister even admire you?" "Your nephew adores you but how? You don't deserve it."

I would look in the mirror and stopped recognizing who I was. So, I covered them. No one asked me why. 

2013 is the year I still don't want to talk about. I bring it up in some conversations but have perfected the speech to make people feel like they got to know me. As if they now know something about me no one else does. I'm working on this. 

Through life and lots of therapy, I figured out how to breathe again. I hadn't realized I wasn't this entire time. The numbness was just my brain suffocating in toxic thoughts. I slowly started to return to my body but I was terrified. She was so damaged and I was scared of what I would find. 

I found a lot of pain I repressed and needed to deal with again. It almost broke me. But I was content, in a way, I could feel something again. 

People don't really talk about what it feels like to go through years without remembering details because it was all a haze. For no other reason than my mind blocking me from self-destruction. 

The mind is an incredible and terrifying thing. It would build me up only to break me in half all over again. I played a game of Jekyll and Hyde for the longest time until I learned to stop pointing fingers at things to blame. There was no one to blame. I just needed to heal. 

But it was easier to find a reason as opposed to just face that my mind did things it wasn't supposed to. 

I had just gotten so tired. I wanted to remember what happy felt like again. But whenever I felt it, I would obsess over my fear of it slipping away again. I didn't know what it meant to take things one day at a time. How did people go through life without planning out every terrible thing that could happen to them to prepare? 

How did people get out of bed without feeling a hundred pounds of weight on their chest? How did people feel these things and yet still find a way to deal with life one day at a time? I felt so far away from my goal and it made me miserable. 

Through a lot of pain, tears, and sadness, I started to realize how beautiful these emotions truly were. They were the seeds that would help me blossom into the sun. The roots under the dirt would always remind me of where I came from and how high I've risen. 

Flowers wilt and pass, but new ones grow. I'm starting to view my life like this. Slowly, the saturation levels of my surroundings are increasing. Little things are bringing me joy once again. 

The laugh of the love of my life, my dog snoring, my cat chirping, my dimple… so many things my darkness hid from my sight. 

It's true that people can get out of what feels like the darkest of holes. Where perpetual incompletion seems to slowly fade away. I've learned that my mental illness will never truly leave me, but it doesn't run my life. Not like it used to. 

I've learned how people manage to deal with life one day at a time. I've learned that it's alright to fall apart. The world we live in is hard, confusing, unpredictable, and terrifying…it's unnatural for any person to not fall apart from time to time. Why on earth should I put myself on a level I wouldn't put anyone else on? 

I think what I'm trying to say is, the phrase "love yourself before all else…” is one of the truest, most important things we can do as individuals. To rip the covers off our mirrors and be able to look into our own eyes and call ourselves our best friend. Even in the face of trauma, pain, confusion, and mental illness. 

It's inside us, somewhere. Some have it locked away more than others, some just don't know how to get there, and some have lost the meaning of it. And that's okay. Fighting is tiring. I almost quit so many times until I finally, after over a decade, I started to win. 

It's There, Separating Us

SUBMISSION FIFTY-ONE CONTAINS THEMES OF: FRIENDSHIP AND ACADEMIA. SEE ICONS BELOW.

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I realized recently that my friends aren't quite what I thought they were. 

One argument showed some true colours that continue to bleed through, no matter how much the wounds are treated. There's a rift now that looks to be here to stay and I can't help but feel more comfortable knowing that it's there, separating us. 

I cancelled all my summer plans with them and took a two-month job abroad. I bailed on a weekend trip to focus on my university work. Not because I'm actively trying to distance myself, but because I'm allowing myself to do what I want to do. With no fear of missing out or feelings of obligation to always be part of a solid regiment of attractive young women. I want the job abroad for me; to experience everything that I can while I'm able to. I'm throwing myself into my work because I love what I'm doing and personally, I think grades and attendance are important.

It was difficult to remind myself that I am allowed to have my own plans and other friends separate from them at first because it feels like I'm now an exile in the group, the least favourite friend. But I'm settled into this new position as the clique's pariah, and I feel like I belong more now than I ever did. Because I am doing things on my terms and living my life to the fullest with no restrictions.

Letting go isn't easy, nor is it painless, but it could do you a world of good.

I Hope One Day

SUBMISSION FIFTY CONTAINS THEMES OF: EMOTIONAL ABUSE AND MENTAL HEALTH. SEE ICONS BELOW.

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Because I've never spoken out about this before, but I feel like this is a proper time. Because it's necessary to share our stories to help those around us who may feel alone and lost, as I once did.

To the boy who made me feel lesser and unimportant. To the boy I thought I loved, who I thought loved me. I will never forget how you treated me. Like your emotional punching bag, like everything that happened to you was my fault. For continually putting me down for your own good, because you felt you could. To the boy that still slips into my nightmares, six years later.

 I hope that one day the way you treated me will be a thing of the past, not a societal norm. I hope that one day girls will never have to experience the emotional trauma that girls experience on a regular basis today. I hope for a brighter and safer future for my future students and kids and all the women to follow.

Belief

SUBMISSION FORTY-NINE CONTAINS THEMES OF: ABUSE (EMOTIONAL), BULLYING BEHAVIOR, MENTION OF SUICIDE, AND MENTAL HEALTH. SEE ICONS BELOW.

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My freshman year of high school, I met a boy that I'll call Michael. I felt a special connection with him the moment we started talking, however, I was already in a relationship at the time. My sophomore year — a few months after my previous relationship ended — Michael and I started dating. The first three months were heaven; my mom loved him, my friends loved him, even my teachers loved him. He put in such an effort to see me, taking the bus to see me whenever he could since he didn't have a car. He was thoughtful and loving. 

And then he was jealous. Growing up, I always had a lot of guy friends and around three months in, this finally started to bother him. It started small, talking about jealousy and him getting slightly annoyed with me occasionally, which I knew was normal for any relationship. I did my best to assure him that there was nothing to worry about. Then it turned into him ignoring me when he saw me laugh at my guy friends jokes and telling me I couldn't hang out with my guy friends alone. I was surprised, but since the first few months were so fantastic, I thought he was just going through something and that it would be temporary.  

A couple months later he started telling me I couldn't hang out with certain people. On several occasions, I accidentally came into contact with these people. For instance, one guy, a friend of mine, who Michael told me was especially "creepy" tapped me on the shoulder to say hi to me before walking away. I didn't say hi back, I just smiled and returned to what I was doing, but that was enough for Michael to be furious with me. "You've regressed on all the progress you've made. Don't you respect me at all? I can't believe I ever fell in love with a girl as pathetic as you. Why should I even be with you anymore?" And on and on he went. "Pathetic" almost became synonymous with my name, he used it so much. 

As the year went on, more and more of these types of events started happening, and it felt like they got worse each time. When I "did something wrong" he would ignore me for days, sometimes weeks. He called me "boring" and "stupid" more times than I can count. I'd have to beg for forgiveness only for him to tell me to "fuck off" and "not go cut [myself] like a psycho." He would compare me to other girls and say they were "more interesting" than me or that he thought his "type" was just changing (i.e thicker girls). At one point, when I was at my lowest weight, he told me I looked like a malnourished child and I was too disgusting to be around. It didn't occur to me till after we broke up that my weight loss was due to my worsening depression. During the 2.5 years I was in this relationship, I had more panic attacks than I had ever had in my life, yet I still stayed with him.

I still battle with myself today, wondering if I stayed because I was weak or if I stayed because he had convinced me I had no other option. He made me believe I was a dumb fuck-up most of the time. Yet, he would always make me affirm that he was the best guy I would ever get and he would always tell me that if we broke up, if I lost him, that I would just end up with some ugly douche-bag who treats me like shit. Ironic, right? 

At almost two years into the relationship, we got into the biggest fight we ever had. He blamed me for what had happened, though, what had happened was entirely out of my control. He screamed at me as I drove, tore apart my key chain decorations and threw them at me as I drove, tears streaming down my face. He talked about how he hoped I would crash the car and kill myself, or kill us both, or kill only him to leave me with the guilt of his death. He crawled into the back of my car because he couldn't stand sitting next to me and continued throwing things at me from there. 

He started talking about how badly he wished he could beat me. "I would break every bone in your body if it weren't for the legal consequences," he said at one point. When he said this, I wished he would do it. I wanted him to hit me and bruise me or break my bones because if I was physically injured than nobody could deny the pain and suffering he was putting me through, nobody could deny the abuse. But he never hit me. About an hour later, he calmed down and started apologizing profusely. I wanted to leave, but despite how badly I wanted to leave, part of me still believed I belonged with him. So I stayed and I forgave him.

He broke up with me about two weeks later. A week after the breakup, he bragged to me about sleeping with another woman. Three months later, I started dating a new guy and Michael suddenly decided he missed me and wanted me back. Three weeks after that I was back with Michael, making him promise that he would be nicer to me and apologize to my mother first. There was some drama between them, but if I wrote about everything that went on in this relationship, I would have a full novel. He promised he would be kinder and apologize to my mother, and as soon as we were back together he said he wasn't going to apologize because he felt he didn't need to. 

This time around the emotional abuse and manipulation never got as bad as it had before, but it was still present. Him telling me which majors I could and couldn't pursue in college, calling me dumb and pathetic, etc., etc. Then, when he was back home from college, he wouldn't see me at all. He said he just wanted to see his friends first and when I told him I wanted to see him too, he got mad. "Why couldn't I understand he just wanted time with his friends?" he said. Two weeks go by, he misses an important event of mine and that night tells me he doesn't want to say he loves me anymore. In an act of desperation or kindness, I bring him food and leave it on his doorstep after this event. I tell him it’s there and he becomes furious. "You're so pathetic, it’s laughable," he says

A week later he breaks up with me. He says that it could just be for the summer though, and that he still loves me. He just needed to work on his mental state. However, if I went on a date with anyone or did anything with any guy after we broke up, he wouldn't get back together with me. I would be "spoiled" or "used goods." So after a few weeks, when I realized I never, ever, ever, wanted to get back together with him, I had my first hook-up. And then my second.

It’s been almost two years since then and that relationship still plagues my mind. Nobody knows about what happened, aside from close family members and friends. I'm afraid of telling people. Not because I'm afraid of him (anymore, at least), but because I'm afraid no one will believe me. 

Haunted By, But Not Defined By

SUBMISSION FORTY-EIGHT CONTAINS THEMES OF: CHILD ABUSE, ASSAULT, AND DEATH. SEE ICONS BELOW.

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Unfortunately, a lot of my experience with sexual assault was with one specific person. A person who I thought couldn’t make mistakes. Someone who I thought truly loved me. Throughout my childhood, I hadn’t realized how harmful this person was being to me or my sister. I never realized the impact they’d have on me transitioning into adult life. My mother had passed a couple years ago. I thought, “Well shit. This is the only person I have left connected to her.”

This person is my grandmother. For years, I thought being molested wasn’t what it was, I thought grandmothers just do this with their grandkids. I thought nothing of it. When I was 18, I understood how much I did not want it. I finally came to the realization that it was unwarranted. It was uncomfortable. It was disgusting. It took me 18 years to figure out that I’m not supposed to have that type of relationship with my grandmother.

The guilt is what I now have to work through, accepting it for what it was, telling myself my mother would be by my side. It’s a major pain to deal with. Amongst everything else that goes on, this weighs on me more than anything. It’s been almost two years since our last encounter and I can’t wait for the time to keep adding on. It can be anyone. At any point. It does not matter who they are or what they mean to other people. Evil is evil no matter what it’s disguised as. It just takes a clever mind to reveal it. Unfortunately, for me, it took too long.

It haunts me, but it doesn’t define me. 

Thanks For Listening

SUBMISSION FORTY-SEVEN CONTAINS THEMES OF: MENTAL HEALTH. SEE ICONS BELOW.

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I’m a teen going through some tough shit in my head. I recently just figured out that I have OCD.

I always knew there was something different about me. I always wondered, why do I have to touch this a certain amount of times?  Or why do I have to touch my bed four times before I can actually sleep? But I think I mostly wondered why this happened to me. Why did I have to have this? 

I let it go, convinced myself that this was normal and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with me. But, I think I always knew, in the back of my head, that there was something different about me. 

I had terrible anxiety attacks in the 7th grade, and it wasn’t till the second semester of 7th grade that my mom took me to the doctors. 

I wasn’t honest with them, I regret that. I thought if I told them the truth they’d lock me up in some asylum. 

They put me on anxiety medication to stop the panic attacks. To be honest, it helped a lot! I had convinced myself that I only have generalized anxiety, but again, in the back of my head, something told I still wasn’t okay. 

It wasn’t until a month ago, when I watched this video, that I realized what I had. I was like wow! That person thinks exactly like me!  I told my older sister about it, she supported me fully and let me rant to her. I wanted to tell my parents, but from past experience with going to the doctors in 7th grade, I knew my mom wasn’t on the same page as I was. My mom thinks that mental illnesses don’t really exist and it’s all in your head. To me it sounds absolutely insane. 

I told my parents and they both were upset, they thought that I was acting like this to get attention! Can you believe that? Why would I do that? 

We left it alone like that — I still continue to take my medication for anxiety and it helps a little bit, but not fully. 

Anyways, thanks for listening to my Ted Talk. 

In A Time Of Growth

SUBMISSION FORTY-SIX CONTAINS THEMES OF: MENTAL HEALTH.

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In a time of growth and blooming, I feel worried and bruised.

I am fearful of my future. I am chained to my past and am terrified that these bonds will never break. I feel like I will go nowhere in life, and will remain lost and hopeless.

I await some sense of clarity, some feeling to let me know that I am on the right path, but nothing has come to me. Am I waiting for a ghost? Am I waiting to morph into the woman I want — no — the woman I need to be? 

I don’t feel strong enough to kill the old me and blossom into someone new. I am cracking at the edges. my roots are unstable and clogged with repressed memories and feelings. I carry a suitcase of doubt, and I wonder if I could maybe lose it along the way to my destination.

I feel genuinely terrified to become what I need.

It Will Never Leave Me

SUBMISSION FORTY-FIVE CONTAINS THEMES OF: RAPE, RELATIONSHIPS, AND MENTAL HEALTH (PTSD).

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Last night I was having sex with my husband and I almost lost it. 

He wasn’t doing anything wrong or hurtful. But in the schematics of bed, pillows, & another person I got a little stuck and couldn’t move properly. I panicked and started to tell him because I knew it wasn’t really a big deal. 

But then he started finishing. And it took me back. Back to that moment when I had no control and was helpless. 

It will never leave me.

Grieving Takes Time

SUBMISSION FORTY-FOUR CONTAINS THEMES OF: DEATH AND MENTAL HEALTH.

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From a young age, death was a hard concept for me to fully grasp. I used to think that only certain people died and only the bad ones. I grew up a little bit and realized that death is inevitable. I hate typing that.

I lost someone very close to me and that would cheer me on from afar and always be there when I needed them. And I feel like everyone has that person in their life and, if not, they need one. The day it happened I couldn’t tell myself that it was actually her, laying there, so lifeless. I couldn’t make myself believe it. My faith came trembling into this journey a bit. 

Grieving takes time, and for everyone that is different. I think that the one thing that helps the past recover is time. I have learned that pain doesn’t ever completely go away. You kind of make room for it and invite it out for dinner when mother nature hits every once in awhile; because I, for one, think it is good to be aware of your emotions. 

I didn’t know how to feel when she left. I felt sad, empty, angry, and helpless. I didn’t think I could ever really get over those feelings until I came into contact with them. I showered and cried and locked myself away until I figured out what I needed. I needed grievance. I needed to figure out how I felt about death, my faith, and how my emotions can sometimes take a toll. 

When those emotions came out, I learned that it’s not always best to push them aside. Recognize them, realize them, acknowledge them, comfort them. You have to remember all the things you have to live for and how much those matter. It is so hard to find light and search for happiness when it’s always dark and you want to wallow in your own sadness. 

Your head can get so loud and you can’t even hear yourself think; you can’t hear yourself trying to calm down. And that bad day you thought you had the other day, there will be an even worse one next week. You have to hope for the best and prepare for the worst sometimes with mental health. Keep striving for positivity and happiness. Do not lose hope, and keep your faith within hands reach because sometimes that can affect so much. 

Thanks for coming to my online therapy session. 

Have a good day, and be kind to one another. 

Not The Mind; Feelings

SUBMISSION FORTY-THREE CONTAINS THEMES OF: PREGNANCY AND PERIODS, FEMININITY, AND ABORTION.

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If not most of my life, the recent months have been full of difficulty in finding the right words that feel or felt weighty enough to produce the exact emotion I have been enduring during the course of situations that came toppling over me since early February. And it still is but, I’m trying to whack away the weeded moss and limbs that have crowded my thoughts and ability to process, in hopes that through this rambling, something becomes clear and clean enough for me to openly ruminate on within the course of actions that have happened.

We’re all trying to feel our bodies; what it means, to feel, to be alive in this organism that provides such rich lives.

I rang in the New Year with the “everything must go” sale from my uterus, shedding out the could-be to make space for the new cycle of other possibilities.  As much of an inconvenience (but always a blessing) it was to be bleeding during the rambunctious occasion and simultaneously be seeing my long-distance boyfriend at the time, I managed as all women do, and cleaned out the space for the new year ahead of me. I felt secure, happy, vibrant in my womanhood; to be a woman, however I have decided to fulfill that title, and to be comfortable in my body’s natural progress with someone tender.

It took me a fair amount of years to recognize and be appreciative of myself and the sexuality I identify with. I began my sprout into puberty at what I considered a pretty early age compared to others girlfriends throughout school. And from the beginning, mine was murderous; then with one blimp of a dropped stomach and a vacant uterus to be rented for the next 9 months, the space was cleaned and ready for a new season for a visitor.

As a person who identifies as a woman and carries the biological essences to being a mammalian specie, I always held the knowing (as we all do) that any moment of being sexually active was my RSVP to a potential being occupying my body. But my body felt to be my own. That is before I really began to feel what it means to own and inhabit this mysterious, beautiful body of conscious, emotions and ability of myself, of all women.

There are so many ways and words you can conjure when resolving a situation through a prediction; telling to your girlfriends before every period that if you came up pregnant, you’d do what was best and get an abortion. It’s easier to conceive thoughts of ‘what if’  but you never really fathom it will happen to you...that’s why things, before they embark a mark of eternal significance, are done unto us; we can walk this life with easier steps.

You think it’ll be easier the third time round your heart is knocked with a hammer, but you never fathomed this would be the one to leave like the others.

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I have more love than ever.

I’m constantly hungry for those around me, friends and foes and newly arrived strangers

To feed me, hold me, shove me to the wall and embrace with such filling desires.

My family needs to be greedy; a room full of loud noises, spills, sleeping over the surfaces of my life.

I’ve had burns and bruises and bumps over my knees to my knuckles that eventually (always) scab to scars to forgotten marks of lifes past fuck ups; the broken heart mends back in time, too.

Body, body, somebody tell me have you really taken the time to feel your body? And no, I’m not talking about the smoothness of a hand making spirals over the moon's shadow through broken blinds or that creaking ache that pops in your toe when you stand up too fast.

Like that of the tap tip Tippett’s words towards becoming wise, that “bone-deep love, heartbreak, the ‘hardened heart’ of Pharaoh — I taste, touch, smell, see, and hear, and my mind intertwines with my senses and experiences — therein, I become. We’ve become divisions of compartmentalized words that describe the very physical reality to our beings; tethering ourselves now to the very mystery we’ve made to a more fluid understanding.

Baby, baby, oh  my baby to be — I felt my body dissolve under the hue of blue surgical lights as they released that heavy aroma through my veins; felt it crumble as he walked across the green hued to blue carpet of Portland’s airport. I saw a light through the tightening of my carcass that caresses the muscles that stretch like silly putty over my dense bones; my body no longer a frame but the miracle of once-was and once-could-be.

Some words we acknowledge will one day hold no use, but never forgotten.

Scrap of the vein; elasticity of the body pulling to a new form.

Invisible to the eye; a flem of lost love coats the lining within.

I wrap myself with a blanket tonight, immensely grateful for the love I’ve felt and what I’ve lost. The great thing in life is not the mind; feelings,

 Oh, those I have; hauntingly becoming stitches upon my body.

Why Should He Get To Believe

SUBMISSION FORTY-TWO CONTAINS THEMES OF: RAPE, INTIMACY, AND RELATIONSHIPS.

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Was it rape if he doesn't know that it was?

If we shared a bed, split rent, had a dog, was it rape? If I said no and he told me I didn't love him, so I stopped saying no, does he know it was rape? Do I know it was rape? If I didn't bleed or tear or scream or fight, does he know that I didn't want it? Does he know that he has ruined small parts of my life? Does he know that as we decided to separate, I only said we could remain friends because I was afraid of saying no? Does he know that because he showed up at my apartment for months, I still look over my shoulder to make sure he isn't there? Even when I'm a country away. And if he doesn't know, why does he get to not know? Why do I have to know, but he gets to live a life where he didn't rape his wife? Why do I feel wrong in saying I was raped? Because I wasn't drunk? Because it wasn't a low-lit street? Because it wasn't the middle of the night? Because I didn't fall into the stereotype of what a rape victim looks like? Or was it because he didn't hold me down? He didn't tell me to shut up. He didn't shove me onto the bed. 

I go over this constantly. It wasn't rough enough so I wasn't raped. I had bruises and I had pain, but we were in a relationship. Because my nonresistant sex was 'good' sex. He thinks it was just good sex. He thinks me laying down without protest was good sex. That allowing him the time to get off was good sex. That when he maneuvered me on top of him and held my hips in place, it was good sex. I didn't say no, so it was good sex.

But it wasn't good sex. So why does he get to believe that it was?

In The Kitchen

SUBMISSION FORTY-ONE CONTAINS THEMES OF: ASSAULT IN THE WORKPLACE.

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I work at a restaurant with a variety of men. 

One of them is one of my best friends. He's very respectful of me. We talk openly about how sex can be good and how it can be bad, and we share our lives in a way that friends do. But we've had a couple conversations where he expressed that he doesn't understand why a girl wouldn't report a sexual assault. 

Another one is the head chef. He's kind and we joke, and he's a good boss. But he's said some things to female employees that make them uncomfortable. He's never said any of them to me. I think it’s because he knows I wouldn't put up with it. One of my coworkers told me a few things he's said to her, but wouldn't tell me everything because she didn't want to "get him in trouble." She doesn't work there anymore. 

Another is an odd guy that's a line cook with me. He's somewhat aware of the struggles that women face. Maybe not aware, but he at least won't push them aside like most men do. 

Another is a new hire. He's a good worker — still figuring out how to do his job and work with our team. But the problem is that he looks almost exactly like a line cook at a different restaurant I worked at in a different state. 

That line cook from the other restaurant sexually assaulted me in the parking lot one night after our shift. I had been polite to him, because I am a polite person, but had never really spoken to him beyond asking him to give me a side of dressing or to correct a small issue on a dish. 

He was walking out of the restaurant at the same time as me and pushed me against a car and kissed me and moved his hands around my body. Thankfully, someone yelled in the parking lot and he got distracted so I could run to my car. I worked there for another month or so. I was never very close with anyone there, but after that night the tone changed around the way people treated me. I'm sure he told the other cooks things that weren't true about me. 

Now, at this job, the cook that looks like him touches me more than I would like. Never inappropriately, but just too often and when it's not needed. And it makes me jump every time. It's not his fault that he looks like my assaulter, but he shouldn't touch people. It makes shifts with him very difficult.

The odd, semi-aware cook tells me to ask the toucher to stop or to talk to the head chef about it. But I don't see either option panning out. I told the odd cook that I was talking to him because he doesn't seem like a creepy guy. He responded with a laugh and, "I like to think that I'm not." But that's the thing, most boys are creepy without knowing and I told him that. 

Even my best friend at the restaurant didn't respond well when I told him. He didn't respond poorly, he kind of just didn't respond at all.

What You Are

SUBMISSION FORTY CONTAINS THEMES OF: ASSAULT AND SELF-REFLECTION.

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Do you know what you are? There is a difference between asking "who" and "what" you are, I think. Saying "who" instead of "what" already gives you a platform. "Who" makes you a person, makes you human. "Who" gives you a mind; it gives you wavy pathways that cross each other and work in the blink of an eye to form thoughts and ideas. "Who" gives you that muscle that constricts and expands in your chest to keep you alive. "Who" gives you a purpose, a reason, an explanation.

"What," on the other hand, is vague. It allows you to question your existence on this ticking clock we call home. "What" gives you the freedom to answer in a plethora of ways. "What" asks questions like "what do you do," "what do you like," "what do you think?" "What" is anything and everything — the word we throw into the world in hopes of getting reasonable answers in response. Do you know what you are?

If you’re unsure, let me enlighten you.

You are the smell of gasoline that sometimes wafts unexpectedly into the air and raises heads in alarm of where you’re coming from.

You are the taste of pure ginger that unwelcomely washed over my taste buds and subdued my mouth into a coma of disgust.

You are the hair-raising sound that skids into a hot classroom when the dull end of a dusty stick of chalk meets the cold face of a black chalkboard.

You are the annoying view of dropping your phone down the sliver of blackness between the driver’s seat and the console.

You are the heart-wrenching feeling that overwhelms all of your given senses when you watch someone you love cry.

Well, you were all those things in that unspoken moment, so now you forever will be.

You were unexpected.

You were unwelcome.

You were hair-raising.

You were annoying.

You were overwhelming.

You are the man — the boy that looked at me and saw me for what I was, not who I was. You saw me as a good time, a moment of pleasure, a something to take even when I made it clear I was a someone who was too scared to say no. To say stop.

So, that is how I see you. Not a "who" but a "what." For now. Forever.

You are every bad thing my senses can experience.

That is what you are.  

I've Finally Moved On

SUBMISSION THIRTY-NINE CONTAINS THEMES OF: ABUSE, DEPRESSION, AND RAPE. PLEASE USE THE NATIONAL DOMESTIC VIOLENCE HOTLINE IF YOU ARE EXPERIENCING DOMESTIC VIOLENCE.

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One of the first times we spoke, he asked me why I always looked away when he tried to look at me. I told him that it was because I wasn’t fond of the freckle on my nose and that I didn’t want him to see it. I always tried to show him my good side, so I chipped away at bits of myself I didn’t want him to see. He told me that covering up my freckles was like the night sky covering up its stars, and that he loved it more than anything else about me. 

I liked the freckle on his cheek too and the way it tucked into his dimple when he smiled. I liked that when he smiled, you could see all of his teeth at once and even his gums. I wrote about it a lot. I wrote about him a lot. Most of my free time was spent idolizing the person I thought he was and wanted him to be,writing about him and his intricacies. He never shared much of himself with me, and I thought it made him deep and emotional. I tried to share my writing with him but he never seemed moved by it. He never told me he liked it or that he was proud. I even found pieces I’d written him tucked in the back of drawers, still folded in the exact way I’d given it to him. 

The first time he told me he loved me, I have to admit that I felt nothing. I felt no obligation to him, but felt obligated to say it back. I felt trapped. I felt like I had led him on and it was my job to make him feel loved, but often I wondered what it would be like to be on my own. I often fantasized about being with other people and I wished he was different. I didn’t know what was right and what was wrong — all I knew was that we were together and it was going to stay that way. 

One day we were walking down the street and I saw one of my friends that I had not seen in a long time walking by. Excitedly, I wanted to run towards him to say hello. I noticed his grip on my wrist was a bit too tight and I couldn’t get out of it to speak to my friend. My friend noticed me first and came to say hi, but he pushed me behind him and became sort of a wall between me and my friend. I had to speak over his shoulder and even though I could tell my friend was alarmed, I didn’t think much else of it. I didn’t see much of that friend anymore after that. 

The more and more my other friends tried to hang out with me, the more he insisted that if I were going anywhere that he was to come with. I felt it was endearing at the time. Once again, I didn’t think anything of it. 

The jealousy started to get more and more intense. I took my laptop into the bathroom with me to shower (a strange routine I know, but I liked to play music from it), I closed the door and let the water run and began searching for songs I wanted to hear. Suddenly, I heard his footsteps by the door, followed by vicious knocking. He insisted that I open the door right now. He demanded I tell him what I was doing on my computer. The knocking became more and more intense and I began to feel frightened. I opened the door and tried to show him it was just my music, but tears were already streaming down his face. He insisted I was talking to another man, that he was going to pack his things and leave because of what I was doing to him. Again, I didn’t think this was wrong. I thought that because he was crying it must have been my fault. I must have done something to make him feel this way. I held him tight and promised him I would start showering with the door unlocked and without any music. 

Soon there came a time where I wondered why we knew so little about each other. He had caught me staring at this woman one day and he questioned me about it. He asked me if that was something I was interested in. He didn’t seem angry, he seemed curious. I decided to share a huge secret about myself with him, because I trusted him more than anyone and I truly thought that he would accept it. He instead responded with anger. He told me that if I had those thoughts about women, then he was allowed to have thoughts about other women too. He insisted I bring another woman into our relationship. It upset me very much to think of him with anyone else so I strongly declined. I apologized for sharing and promised I would no longer speak of it. 

The distance between us was growing from the beginning. The more time we spent together, the further apart we felt. We slept in the same bed but we never said goodnight. We slowly began to sleep with our backs to each other. I told myself that all love came at a price and that there’s no such thing as a perfect match, that this was the best that I could do. One night before bed, he began slipping his hand up my shirt and trying to kiss me. I pushed him away. I was tired. I didn’t feel like it. 

“You belong to me,” he told me. He tried again. I told him I really didn’t feel like it. He continued to insist. He climbed on top of me and started kissing me. I felt trapped under his chest. I felt like the box I’d been in this whole relationship was finally closing around me. I felt like I couldn’t breathe or speak. 

“Fine,” I said. I didn’t mean it. It wasn’t fine. Tears were streaming down my face and he saw them. He knew it wasn’t fine. But he continued anyway. I cried myself to sleep that night. I told myself that he was right, I did belong to him, and belonging to him meant I had to give him what he wanted even when I didn’t feel like it. I didn’t know how to process what had happened to me, all I felt was that it was my fault. 

The small arguments we used to have turned into screaming battles. He said something horrible so I slapped him. He picked me up by my arm and slammed me against the wall. He slapped me back. I felt his fingers dig into my arm and the sting on my face. The bruises were on my arms for days. I didn’t say anything, but he would sit me down and tell me it was my fault because I slapped him first. It seemed like he was just trying to justify it for himself. I had to keep wearing long sleeves and sweatshirts. I didn’t want people to get the wrong idea. Because it was my fault this was happening after all. 

When we broke up, it devastated me. How do you live on when you spent years with someone which convinced you they were the best you could do? Who convinced you that your friends weren’t really your friends? Who broke you down into a shell of a person and left you completely hollow?

I spent months in bed. I couldn’t eat. I barely spoke to anyone. It took me so long to rebuild my relationships with my friends, and just when I thought I was over it he would text me in the middle of the night, and it would put me right back where I started. I gave him so many parts of me that he didn’t deserve. I gave him things I didn’t even know I had. I let everyone around me see us together. I let him into my home and into my heart. It took so long to dig the pieces of him out of my life. 

I’m finally at a spot where I’ve moved on, I’m even with someone else now, but I still feel his shadow sometimes. I still feel the hollowness he distilled in me. I still hear his laugh and see his big teeth smiling at me. I don’t know how to forget him. I don’t know how to eradicate him from my life. How do I stop dreaming about the night I told him “fine”? How do I tell the person I’m with now that I still have nightmares about him? 

I know now that I’m a strong person. I know now that the weakness I had in that relationship does not define me or my femininity. But he still lingers. And I’m afraid he always will.

Hoping, Wishing, And Praying

SUBMISSION THIRTY-EIGHT CONTAINS THEMES OF: RAPE, DEPRESSION, AND MENTAL HEALTH (TRAUMA). PLEASE USE THE RESOURCE RAINN IF YOU NEED HELP.

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I know now that what happened to me all those years ago was not my fault; I didn't deserve the trauma that came with the horror I had endured. A stupid, overly drunken teenage girl I was back then, indeed. Who would have thought drinking with two guys I'd considered my friends at the time and trusted even, would've gotten me into such a predicament? I was only 15, they were barely adults. That feeling of fading in and out — blacked out for the most part, while not being able to do a damn thing still just tears me apart to this day. I'm not trying to provoke anyone by saying this, but all I seem to remember is being conscious long enough to feel the weight of them both taking turns with my body, as if it was all that existed to them — like I didn't. It's not fair that they get to live with the satisfaction of knowing what they did will forever scar me. I hope that eventually they realize how truly shitty they are for what they did to me (and probably others too). They'll never be deserving of my forgiveness, and that's that.

Recently, for the first time since then, I was able to take a shower without heating the water to the point that I was red-hot upon getting out.

For so long I was in this hole, which felt more like a grave, that I had dug for myself; I have been so deeply depressed for years now. I'm beginning to feel proud of myself again and no one can take that away from me. I refuse to treat myself like a damsel in distress because the only saving I need is from myself and the Lord.

I hope that at some point I'm able to be as optimistic as I once had been about life, but until then —here's to hoping, wishing, and praying that this slow recovery stays on the right track.

It's Not Your Fault.

SUBMISSION THIRTY-SEVEN CONTAINS THEMES OF: ASSAULT, MENTAL HEALTH, AND SHAMING.

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In my head, there are vague, mostly repressed memories that I have never let escape. I have called the event it recalls many things: experimentation between kids, love being shown in a different way, another thing to be dramatic and sensitive about.

But I have never called it trauma.

It has traumatized me, those moments. Those hands on parts of my body — parts that will not distinctly identify themselves in my memory but are not afraid to scream and cry if any other hands go near them. Those lips that would repeatedly force their way onto mine, rough and unwelcome. The memory of them does not allow me to kiss anyone now, not even on the cheek, even though my mind barely remembers the moments. My body will never forget, however, and I am reminded of that every time something touches certain parts of me, causing my heart to race and my arms to tense up at my sides as my mouth begs, “No.”

But it doesn’t matter. It’s not trauma. 

I repressed the memories for years. In a way, I think I started repressing them as they were still happening. I was eight when it started, probably around nine when it ended. I was young and confused, and I didn’t like it. But I didn’t know it was wrong, so I just forgot about it and said nothing of it when I got home afterwards. Besides, what was I supposed to say: “Hey parents, you know that cousin you all admire, your son’s best friend? He shoves his tongue roughly down my throat and feels me up everytime I go to grandma’s house.” 

I showed many signs, I know now, but my parents, always more concerned with perfection than emotions, never looked. And my dad is not a much better man, anyway. All I knew was that I hated it, my intimidating, older cousin’s lips and tongue violating mine as his hands roamed my stiff body. But I didn’t know what to do, and I never stopped him or fought back. I just let it happen. 

But it’s not trauma, no. It’s not assault, and I have no right to talk about it, no right to bring it up when he’s stopped since and he’s a good guy and it was so long ago and I never stopped it and I get it. It’s not trauma.

Sure, maybe privately pulling an eight-year old girl into your bathroom as she simply stares at you, confused and scared, isn’t the best thing to do. And maybe forcing your mouth onto hers as she stands stiff with her hands glued to her sides isn’t alright either. Maybe touching her in unholy places as she tenses up even more isn’t what good guys do. Maybe he knew that. Do they know, at that age?

But it’s not trauma — and for these simple reasons: He was only a few years older than me... eleven, twelve at most. And, I don’t remember most of it anyway, so how it could be trauma? And of course, the most important reason, the one thing stopping me from telling anyone, from saying these exact words but with my name signed at the end: I never said no. I never fought back, never stopped him, never cried or spoke up. 

So how could this be anyone’s fault but mine?

I Didn't Understand

SUBMISSION THIRTY-SIX CONTAINS THEMES OF: INTIMACY AND BULLYING.

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I grew up an only child with a single mother who worked multiple jobs to provide a comfortable life for us.

With the various shifts mum worked, I often stayed at my grandparents with approximately eleven other children. Most of the other kids were my cousins and the rest were neighbourhood kids. My Nanna had created a refuge of sorts, taking in any child from dysfunctional families for however short or long they required care. 

When I was eleven, I met the most amazing girl at a youth centre. She was approximately five years older and oozed coolness in all forms. Everyone was her friend and for some reason, she chose me to be her best friend.

We did everything together outside of school hours. Went to gigs, went skating, hung at each other houses. My mum and her dad started hanging at each other’s houses too.

We were in her room when they asked us how we would feel if they got married. We were so excited!! I couldn’t believe I was about to have siblings!! Step siblings who were both older, but siblings nonetheless. 

We wore matching pinstriped suits to the wedding — we were punks and wouldn’t be caught dead in dresses. 

Mum and I moved in with her dad, and she pretty much moved to her dad’s permanently as well, so we shared a room and I thought it was magical.

Sharing a room soon turned into sharing a bed because whichever bunk bed I chose to sleep on, she wanted to sleep on that one too. She got a new best friend and she slept over a lot. In these situations, I would sleep in my stepbrother’s room if he wasn’t there. 

One night, I slept in the same room as them, and I woke up with pressure on my chest. They were on top of me, her best friend with a pair of scissors, attempting to trim my eyelashes. I was upset and confused.

A few nights later, my stepsister stayed up and filled my school bag, pencil case, shoes, you name it, she filled it, with small strips of paper that had handwritten ‘I love you silly sausage’ on them. I felt so loved and showed everyone at school what my big sister did for me.

A couple months later I got home from school, walked into our room and was talking to her. I looked up when I finished and she hadn’t blinked an eye, was just staring at the computer like I hadn’t even walked in. I asked her multiple questions, in which I received no reply. I walked over to her to make sure she didn’t have headphones in. She didn’t. I asked her what was wrong and she simply looked out the door and said (to no one), “Can you hear something?” I was confused and late for soccer practise, so I left with a lump in my heart and stomach.

She didn’t talk to me for a year. We slept in the same room, in the same bed and she didn’t talk to me for a year. I was in year ten, my grades started dropping, and I wanted to sleep over other people’s houses more than at home. I even attempted to track down my biological father to see if I could live with him. Both our parents worked a lot, so nothing was really picked up on until mum got a call from my school. 

Mum asked me what was going on in my life. So much was going on, but all I could tell her was the person I held highest in the whole world had stopped talking to me and I didn’t know why. She asked my stepsister’s dad to talk to her; nothing changed. Mum tried to talk to her but she just put on headphones and walked out the door. It took my mum locking them in a room together to get any information out of her. Apparently, her then best friend said I said something and she was angry at me for it, however, she couldn’t remember what it was that I had apparently said.

Years later, I ended up dating one of her ex-boyfriends. I understand this is a no-no amongst sisters, but she wasn’t my sister. What’s more, she had dated a lot of her multiple best friends' boyfriends and everything was completely fine.

The world was turned on its head when this happened and everyone I had ever known mutually with her didn’t talk to me anymore. Whenever there was a family event, she didn’t talk to me. Her long term boyfriend still talked to me though, and seemed like he didn’t know what she was angry about, which also made me wonder what she had told all our mutual friends.

I moved states and created a new life with my boyfriend, eventual husband. On the announcement of our engagement, after five years of no contact she messaged me: “I wouldn’t have reacted like that if I knew you’d get married.”

Putting Yourself First

SUBMISSION THIRTY-FIVE CONTAINS THEMES OF: INTIMACY AND MENTAL HEALTH.

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I wanted to leave the town I was in. High school had been overtly angsty and inclusion/acceptance was something I had been seeking from an early age. Even though my mother was nothing but supportive, male figures had been lacking my entire life and for some reason, that was who I was seeking validation from.

We first met when I was twelve and he was dating my seventeen-year-old stepsister. She dated a lot, so this was no different to meeting any of her previous or future boyfriends. 

Four years later, he contacted me via the internet. I was sixteen and was nearing the end of year eleven, halfway through finishing my art major. His mum had an exhibition coming up in the city that they lived and he had asked if I wanted to help set it up. It was out of the blue, but what a great weekend escape and opportunity to visit somewhere I hadn’t been.

Fast forward a year of a heart-breaking secret relationship in which:

I had lost my stepsister’s ‘love’ and talking rights to anyone we mutually knew (which was 90% of the people I knew). I had attempted to contact my father, only to be openly disowned in front of his colleagues and become apparently nonexistent, as he ‘didn’t have a daughter.’ I lost my virginity and assumed that would bring a loving and unbreakable bond in the relationship, only to find out he was with different girls on the weekends I wasn’t visiting.

The one girl I found out about was younger than me I met her sitting opposite me in a group of people I had considered friends. She was sitting on the lounge and I was on the floor, he was acting completely normal in that I didn’t seem like his ‘girlfriend’ to anyone who didn’t know, just as she didn’t either. It’s wasn’t until he offered her a drink and their knees were in close proximity that I saw the similarity in their bruises. He had taken her virginity on the floor I was sitting on last night, I had arrived on the bus that morning. 

Not being able to make sense of it, I waited until we left. On the way back to his place, holding hands now that we were out of sight from people he knew, I asked who the new girl was. He simply told me her name and mentioned that he thought we would be great friends. After some silence he told me he had something to confess, he’d kissed the new girl. I felt sick and wanted to go home, book a bus that instant and leave. But he assured me that that was it and there was nothing to worry about. So I stayed through the weekend and whatever we did, she was invited. It was so uncomfortable and when it was finally time to leave, I cried the entire bus trip home. It took a week, but I’d decided that was it,I didn’t want anything to do with him.

Three months later, I moved in with him. He’d contacted and explained he didn’t realise what he’d lost until I cut him out. 

Five years later and we were married. I still don’t know how I did it. I remember downing a bottle of spirits to gain the courage to walk down the aisle. Obviously there were happy times, but I never trusted him and everyone would always state how lucky he was to have such a lovely partner. 

The entire year after the wedding I felt trapped and suffocated, without realising I felt trapped and suffocated. I was physically healthy, eating and exercising like people wish they could. Yet, my skin was covered in rashes and breakouts like you wouldn’t believe. I even gave myself shingles with all the internal stress I couldn’t voice. My body was trying to tell me how depressed I was, but I wasn’t listening.

Seven years into the relationship I called it quits. We had an open conversation and I explained how unhappy I was and no matter how much I tried, I couldn’t trust him. His own friends told me how he spoke to girls when they were away on trips. We both cried, but I felt relief. 

We lived in the same house until the lease ran out. He would see other people, our agreement was as long as they weren’t in our friend circle and he didn’t bring them to this house, it was fine. 

Of course the agreement was broken and we had to start telling people. Everyone was so confused and so disgustingly sorry for me. As if I was obviously the one getting screwed over and this must have been his decision. I couldn’t care less about explaining the truth to people, only the few I considered actual friends. 

It’s difficult when everyone pities you, yet you’re at the strongest you’ve ever been. It’s also difficult when he can do whatever he wants, but when you find the love of your life, he tries to derail it.

It’s difficult to put yourself first, but when you do, there is nothing else like it.

It's 9:18pm

SUBMISSION THIRTY-FOUR CONTAINS THEMES OF: MENTAL HEALTH.

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It’s 9:18 p.m. on a Thursday night. This week flew right by me. My thumb hovers over my older sister’s phone number, but I don’t press it to call her. I think to myself, This is it. This is the feeling that’s making me sick.

It’s connection I need. But calling a family member of any kind only ever makes me feel worse, and there’s always more than a heaping dose of self-doubt and reversal of self-validation. Imagine a volcano being told by nature that it’s time to erupt, but when it comes time to let all hell break loose, it suddenly shuts itself off, because erupting would mean nothing but damage for itself and the villages that surround it. It’s the tornado’s nature to express and it’s also it’s fault for needing to. I’m jealous of tornadoes for being tourist attractions, because at least when one decides to completely lose its shit and show its truth, it’s covered with what I can only imagine is a new skin of hardened lava that people then use to make face masks. 

Nobody’s dying to make a nice, gorgeous detoxifying, face mask out of my pain. But every time I have to self-soothe and go another full 24 hours without talking to someone I start to believe that I’m never going to have anyone to connect with.

I don’t just want to be seen, validated, and understood. I want to be marveled at too. I want to be appreciated for my outrageousness and loved for my honesty because at the end of the day I’m a balanced creature. There is something so confident about a volcano and I never saw it before. Volcanos and explosions..they’re all metaphors quote-junkies, and I’m sure psychotherapists, have been using for ages, but I finally get it. Maybe it’s too late for me. It sure feels like I’m easily 10 years past my due date and I’ve been living with my insides already overwhelmed and hardened. Am I choosing this? Why would anybody choose to be this way? Why then, when I am not silent and stand my ground, do things feel shaky, and my mind and body suffer massive consequences? What did I do to deserve such harsh treatment and lessons in this form? Am I some kind of future TED talk curator? Do I think I’ll even survive this era of my life? It sure as shit doesn’t feel like it. I’m too chicken shit to do anything stupid to myself, but if there was such a thing as death by never leaving bed and painlessly falling asleep, I’d be doing that.

But even after all of that, I still won’t call my sister. She listens to me at her own discretion and screens my calls most days. She text messages me all of her feelings and tells me about all the Psychology Today articles she’s reading about topics that I’ve been dealing with for decades, but she’s only at the beginning of it. I’m angry at her. I was going to say “with her” but that phrasing sounds far too compassionate. I’m specifically angry AT her, but I can’t stand the sight of her name on my phone or the sound of her dissociated, non-genuine voice. The same voice my barely alive father gives me when he’s just trying to check off all the boxes of his relationships. Work? Check. Utterly exhausted and miserable? Check. Depressed? Check. Obligatory “how are you” text message to my daughter after two months of complete silence? Check, check. See, I’m a good dad and I deserve lavish get togethers for Father’s Day. 

I barely breathed while writing that. I am so angry, disgusted, abandoned, nauseated, and petrified by my family.

Is this the way of our new generation? Why do I feel like I’m piss poor while my parents take trips and write checks for their church?

I feel so physically ill and it’s got to be all trauma-based because none of it makes sense otherwise. What I’m urgently concerned with is what the possible solution is for me. Do I go on pretending to be alive? Fake it to make it? Try to wean help from my toxic family members that I want nothing to do with anymore, but can’t let go of because of the mental, financial, and emotional ties I have with them? How do I let go of those ties? Will I ever? Or will this all kill me?

I like to think I’m in control of myself, but there are some of us who have such little self-belief, awareness, and strength left to go on. I used to believe that deep down I was capable, but every time I try my body pulls me back. So now I hate the body I have worked so hard to understand, and I regret every choice I’ve ever made that has led me here because it feels like one of the shittiest situations I have ever been in, and I’ve been in a lot. Nothing feels worse than living e without connection, and beyond that, rejection, disapproval and meanness from people you have no desire to be connected with. I feel insane. Everything is smoke and mirrors, and I don’t trust anything anymore, but nobody hears me, nobody will help me, and I can’t help myself. Right now I can’t help myself, and I’m barely alive.

My Relationship Of Four Years

SUBMISSION THIRTY-THREE CONTAINS THEMES OF: RELATIONSHIPS AND DEPRESSION.

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My relationship of four years finally came to an end.

The relief I felt after the mutual split has now worn off, and I find myself in a daydream, remembering the beginning, experiencing a same-sex relationship for the first time with someone who did truly love me at one point, and I her. Somewhere along the line though, I morphed into a shadow of the woman I was. It was like I kept the real me locked away because I knew I had to protect her from my other-half's constant negativity and ridicule. Now that we're finished, I'm slowly remembering the things I loved to do, without the anxiety of waiting to be told they're silly. I am a bit of a dreamer, but I always believe if I put the work in then I will be successful, no matter the unlikely endeavour. I know I'm feeling lost at the minute, as the familiar mist of depression settles over me in a post-break-up haze. But I will rediscover who I am. I will relearn how to trust. How to smile again. How to be around people again. And the next person lucky enough for me to let them in, will be more worthy than the one who tore me down before.

"Protect The Undiagnosed"

SUBMISSION THIRTY-TWO CONTAINS THEMES OF: SUICIDE, SELF-HARM, AND OTHER MENTAL HEALTH TOPICS. IF YOU OR A LOVED ONE IS STRUGGLING WITH SELF-HARM, TEXT THIS HOTLINE.

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“Protect the undiagnosed.”

I saw this post on Instagram, and I stared at it for a minute. I felt so clueless about who I am and the struggles I’ve been recently experiencing.

The first time I went to therapy was shortly after my parents had divorced. I had just graduated from high school the previous summer and I was nineteen – struggling to find where I fit in this world. My mom wanted my sisters and I to have a controlled moment, where we could each express our opinion and feelings on the separation. I thought it was the stupidest idea. I remembered repeatedly telling her that it wasn’t the divorce, it wasn’t the fact that my dad didn’t live in the house anymore, it was something more. I don’t think she listened… maybe it was because I yelled so loud that I might’ve ruptured her ear drums and maybe that’s why she can’t quite distinguish my pain, whether I am silent or vocal — it goes unnoticed.

The first time I hurt myself frightened me to my core and I ran to my mom, terrified and confused. She called me dramatic. I kept hurting myself throughout high school; cutting and slapping myself in the face anytime I had an anxiety attack late at night in my room. I prayed and I yelled, I hurt and isolated myself until I couldn’t recognize myself, and my mother thought it was because my father left.

It wasn’t.

The first thought of suicide I had was when I was walking down the math hall, freshman year. I had this unwanted feeling of jumping in front of a car. This is roughly a whole year before my parents split so, her timeline wasn’t well-thought out. The last day of our therapy session, our therapist asked us if we received any positivity and change from our experience with her. My mom and sisters each said yes, I knew my younger sister was lying. I truly believe that my mother thought she felt better, and I observed that my older sister just said yes so she could leave. When it was my turn, I rolled my eyes and said “no.” My sisters turned with discomfort, mostly because they wanted to get out of there, and my mom was shocked…why wouldn’t she be? She’s deaf to my pain until a therapist gives her a hearing aid. The therapist asked me a bunch of questions and then I became defensive because they were questions that I had been asking myself, but hadn’t said out loud. Questions like: “Have you been hurting yourself?” and “Are you a danger to yourself and others?” When I finally said, “Yes… I think so...” they pulled out a piece of paper. It was a contract, stating that I wouldn’t hurt myself or take my own life. I tried killing myself twice before and once after signing that contract. I hurt myself quite often as well… so I’ve breached that contract several times, regrettably.

In all those times where I have hurt myself, in those moments when I tried to commit suicide, I found that I was alone. I was alone because that’s how I always felt.

Growing up, I was the dramatic daughter. I was the one with the big feelings, the one with the most outrageous temper tantrums, the one that cried too much, talked too loudly, the one who stomped too often. I was stuck in this idea of myself to the point that now, as an adult, I cannot properly distinguish what is a small feeling that will stay only for a minute, between something bigger than sadness. For a while, everything was going well. I had a job that I loved, I was making friends that encouraged me, loved me, and made me feel human. I was still depressed, I still had anxiety, but I was happy. I had overcome the hardest of days. The only struggles I was experiencing was an episode here and there, mostly around the holidays. But I was fine. I wish I could write that I have a happy ending, that I am living it right now, and that I’m solid, but I’m not. I have officially entered a completely different realm of sickness.

In the past two weeks, I have had four panic attacks. My body has been sore, stiff, and tense for months and I have been in and out of this consistent state of fear and worry. I have a hunch as to why I have been feeling this way. I am not an in-denial person; let’s remember that I am the one who has been holding onto myself for years. I notice when things change, I can sense when something has turned for the worst. It’s become the worst sixth sense anyone could gain. I honestly wish I had received a better gift than discernment, but here we are. My younger sister, in our teens, decided to date this guy who just so happened to be an alcoholic/drug addict. She really knows how to pick them. From the first moment I met this person, I knew deep down that my sister could do better. I also remember defending her choices when everyone called her “fucking stupid” for even thinking of jumping into a relationship like that at such an impressionable age. I defended her because I wanted to believe that she could take care of herself. What I didn’t realize was that she revealed herself to be one the most codependent people that I knew. Before I knew it, my sister was on her way to becoming a drug addict, who was leaving the house late at night and coming home fucked up with the front door unlocked and open. So, I started to get angry and annoyed, and vented to whomever would fucking listen to me, and now everyone hates this kid that she’s dating.

Long story short, we had to kick him out of the house a couple times. I got pierced with all the carnage and shrapnel from their explosive arguments, and again, I was alone. No one would listen to me when I said that their relationship was toxic, no one took me seriously when I said that I wasn’t comfortable with being home alone with the two of them in the house. At the time, I didn’t have a car or a license, I was afraid of the bus and walking around on my own, so I felt like I couldn’t do anything or go anywhere.

I was constantly calling my mom, asking her to come home, begging her to not stay the night with her boyfriend because I didn’t want to be the first responder to their bullshit. It felt horrible and I was suffocating. I was in my room all day, too nervous to get something to eat or drink. I felt like I was being shoved into this dark corner and anytime I would protest or state a fact, I would get beaten back and told to shut the fuck up because it wasn’t my business.

They finally break up. Thank God. She promises that she will never see him again or go back to him, she even vows to never talk to him again. I believed her, we all believed her. Weeks go by. Then months. Then a year. They’ve broken up before and we always found him back the next day, high off his ass, in her room and eating our frozen pizza. This time it seems like it was sticking and I felt like I could breathe. Then my sister tried to kill herself.

I found her. The cut wasn’t deep but the intention was. I could see it in her eyes. I had a friend over and we were going to watch a movie. I had the popcorn made, she brought the snacks. She asked for a blanket — I’m glad she did — so I hurried up the stairs. I didn’t see my bedroom door. I went straight to the bathroom where this song was playing: “I need you, I need you, I need you now.” I can’t tell you what flashed through my mind when I saw my sister this way. Not her life. I didn’t get this random flashback of when we were little, playing in our backyard. I became immediately focused on getting her to safety. I wanted to help her.

We called 911 and I took the knife and wine glass away. She stayed in the tub, yelling for me not to call anyone. I didn’t listen. She finally got out, dressed herself then waited on her bed, crying. First responders always look so huge in your own home. I swear the tops of their heads and helmets brushed against the ceiling. Their footsteps are heavy and burdened. They have to be there to protect and serve, but I am sure their favorite part of the job isn’t asking a young woman why she tried to kill herself. The next day, I just cleaned her room. The day after that, we celebrated Easter Sunday. The following Monday, I left work before I even clocked in because I couldn’t stand looking people in the eye and seeing my sister in the tub with her wrist cut halfway open in their irises. 

No one wanted to talk about it, but the moment happened. Every time I opened my mouth, their weapon against my witness was, “You did everything right?” I would cry and shut my mouth because I know I did everything right, she’s my sister, why would I do anything of the opposite nature? I love her. I learned that night that I had saved not one, but two lives. She was pregnant. I want to say that this is the ending, how I wish it

could all end there. She has her beautiful boy and we have all decided to move on, but this incident was the first thing that would cross my mind when I woke up and it was the first thing I would think of before closing my eyes to sleep. I started to isolate myself again because I would’ve rather been locked up in my room than answer ridiculous questions like:

“Why are you so angry?”

“What’s wrong?”

“Are you going to eat?”

My sister never moved on. She went back to this ex-boyfriend of hers, whom she told me just months ago that he was bad, and he was doing heroin… Before you get confused, I have to say that he is not my nephew’s father. My nephew’s father is some random person I knew in high school. I was confused and shocked that she would ever continue to talk to someone who had affected not only herself, but her own family in such a negative way. Before I know it, this person is back in my house, wreaking of alcohol, and saying hi to me from the bottom of the stairs. The flood gates opened. Every single worry that I had when she was with this person breached the surface in an explosive way. So, through these most recent incidents, several things happened.

When I first experienced this traumatic incident as an adult, my mind began to unearth all of these unexpected memories that I had as a kid throughout various stages of my life; it did not hold back. It was like having your memory bank just blowing up and all of a sudden, all of these fragments kept weaving in and out of one another, always making a full circle to my sister. It was much like I was having the most painful brain surgery ever, but without anesthesia, and the surgeon is not a surgeon, but a pirate with a fucking hook, poking around looking for something valuable. But there’s nothing valuable in there, it’s just memories of people dying, an accident I had when I was eight, passing out in class way too many times, and me trying to kill myself, and then my sister… You can’t really trade any of these wonderful thoughts, for any amount of money. Unless you know something I don’t. Now, this person is back and they are on the road to recovery, which is great. Power to him. But I am the Wicked Witch of the West because I can’t be in the same room without wondering when he or she will explode. I can’t accept this relationship because no one ever seems to remember that there is another person involved in their fucked up history. Me. My own well-being is being challenged and threatened every day, and I can’t say a single word about it without being portrayed as the asshole sister who just doesn’t like someone.

I honestly wish it was that simple.

Then it brings me back to that post.

“Protect the undiagnosed.”

I am an undiagnosed individual, who is suffocating, and wanting to rip off my own skin. I have relapsed, I am hurting myself again, and no one seems concerned.

All they need from me is to drive my niece to school and to take out the trash.

Who is protecting me?

Are they invisible like me? Ghosts wandering around hoping to be seen?

This Will Fix Me

SUBMISSION THIRTY-ONE CONTAINS THEMES OF: MENTAL HEALTH AND SELF-INJUROUS BEHAVIOR.

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If you had a missing limb they would’ve listened 

If you had cried in pain every night and robbed them a good night’s sleep they would’ve believed you

If you were deformed and freakish-looking they would’ve pitied you and prayed for you; from afar, but still empathetic enough

If you were blind a hundred strangers would be fighting over helping you cross the street

If you were deaf they would’ve learned sign language just to show you they care

If you were handicapped they would carry your weight every day — both metaphorically and literally

If your organs were busted they would sell their souls to get you brand new ones

If you had a tumor they would render you a hero, wear ribbons for you, pray for you, donate for you, and cry for you

If you are autistic they leave you alone

If you are schizophrenic they run away from both of you

If you are catatonic they put you in a straight jacket and trap you among some padded walls

If you are anxious they offer you green tea and some motivational quotes and blame you for not feeling relaxed

If you are depressed they offer you internet jokes and eventually get bored of the sound of you not laughing and walk away

If you are anorexic they offer you judgement, hateful looks of disgust, and food

If you are bipolar they are only around you exactly half the time, exactly half your life

If you are obsessive compulsive they ask you to stop acting like the cool geniuses in the movies

If you are not okay inside but full-on glamorous on the outside just swallow up these emotions like a man and get over yourself! Take a pill and get over your PMS, lady! Resolve your work troubles; this shall fix your mood and you will stop complaining! Go dancing, have a few drinks, hook up with a stranger - you just need a change!

Yes. This will fix me. I’ll keep telling myself that.

This Time Feels Different

SUBMISSION THIRTY CONTAINS THEMES OF: RELATIONSHIPS AND DEPRESSION.

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This time feels different than the first time we broke up.

The first time I was completely liberated; it was difficult to adjust, but still very freeing. 

This time it feels like standing in the eye of a hurricane. It feels like time is standing still and then you realize it’s June. 

Mick Jagger describes it perfectly: “as I watch you leaving me, you pack my peace of mind.” When someone has your heart — and this person still has mine — and they go, what are you left with? Your daily routine goes to shit. The person you want to tell things to, even though you know what they’ll say, but you like that because it’s comforting — that’s just gone. Your expectations of what love is are shattered. So you literally have to mourn this person, mourn the life you thought you could have, mourn your daily routine. You go through the 5 stages of grief; I’m currently somewhere between depression and acceptance. 

Everyone wants the secret to avoiding heartbreak and getting over it as quickly as possible. But there’s no advice anyone can give you. Everyone has suffered through some sort of heartbreak and we think we have answers, but even being able to relate to the feeling because you’ve experienced it in the past isn’t the same as going through it right then and there. I’ve experienced plenty of heartbreak, massive amounts of pain, so I think I can handle it when it happens again. You’re never ready for it; nothing makes you immune. So my secret is that you have to feel it. And it feels unbearable. But I’ve gone from crying on the floor almost every day to crying on my couch maybe once a week…and that’s progress. 

And I’ve got a bunch of things to thank for that: lots of “The Office”, lots of “Queer Eye”. Old Rolling Stones performance videos. “Used to Be” by the Jonas Brothers: please stand up and take several bows — you got me dancing in the shower, the car, while I’m cooking dinner. Watching the Bachelorette with friends every week. And dogs, lots and lots of dogs. And even writing to Midnight Woman. 

It's Never Enough

SUBMISSION TWENTY-NINE CONTAINS THEMES OF: MENTAL HEALTH AND CAREER.

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It's never enough. That sentence is stuck in my mind every single day.

There are only two of us, my mom and I. She's retired right now, and I have become the one who is responsible for this family. I work in a digital agency, not because I like it, but because I need more money. You have no idea how sad I was when I had to leave my previous company for a better offer. I used to have my dream job, but I was getting paid less than I am right now. I'm so grateful for my job, to be honest with you. After a year I have been given a good raise by my boss and now I can get my own place for me and my mom. But at the end of the day, it's never enough.

The moment I have a good salary, I have to pay for rent and all the other bills. I work longer than 9 to 5. I work so hard, but I can rarely enjoy my own money. Jealousy is a big word, but I have a bunch of friends at work, and I know I have the biggest salary if I compared it to them. But they can go to a fancy restaurant and buy some luxury brands. I can't do that. It feels tragic when you're the successful one but you feel like the poor one, even though that’s not true. I have a lot of responsibility that they don't have.

Sometimes I think, why do I have to sacrifice my dream job? Why have my needs become the least of my priorities? But do I have any other options? I don't think so. 

When You're Gone

SUBMISSION TWENTY-EIGHT CONTAINS THEMES OF: MENTAL HEALTH AND RELATIONSHIPS.

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Part 1

When you’re gone…

 

It’s 11 p.m. and…

Soft, warm blankets encompass my body.

The sweet scent of lavender fills my soul,

And I once again prepare for sleep.

 

It’s 12 a.m. and…

I’m still awake, but I’m so exhausted

My body aches in need of rest, but my mind won’t relax.

Like an automatic alert system, it says,

“You have 9,000 appointments starting at 10 a.m.”

“You need to have 800 things done by class at 11 a.m.”

“Don’t forget to e-mail the 40 people you haven’t e-mailed back yet.”

“Don’t forget”

“Do more”

“Work harder”

 

It’s 1 a.m. and…

I stare at the blinding light of my phone screen

Waiting for exhaustion to take over my mind

And allow sleep to overcome my anxiety.

Endless distractions keep my mind occupied as my body fools it into falling asleep.

 

It’s 2 a.m. and…

I finally drift to sleep.

 

It’s 3 a.m. and…

The dreams start to take me over.

Life is normal and fine, the same as it is in reality.

Things are going well, but there is an ominous feeling in the air –

It’s trying to swallow me whole.

 

It’s 4 a.m. and…

I’m running.

In a cold sweat that feels like failure, I’m running

From the heartbreak of having a child with cancer

And

The terror of having an intruder in my home

And

The fear of the bomb that’s falling from the sky

And

Everything that could ever potentially destroy my life.

 

It’s 5 a.m. and…

There’s nowhere left to run.

My dream life has taken over.

I’m drowning in sorrow and fear,

And no emotions are left for me to feel.

 

It’s 6 a.m. and…

I wake up, and the blankets that are supposed to feel like warm kittens

Feel like sticky rag dolls in my sweat.

The dream world around me is gone,

But I’m left with this one,

And in this moment it feels just as bad

Because what if all of that is just symbolic for

All of this.

 

It’s 7 a.m. and…

I don’t want to sleep anymore,

But I know I have to.

And I start over, scrolling through the endless sea of distractions.

Waiting for sleep to embrace me.

 

It’s 8 a.m. and…

I fall asleep once again.

 

It’s 9 a.m. and…

Waking up is hard.

The alternate reality of my dreams still haunts my mind

But I don’t want to take on this day.

Not yet…

 

Part 2

When you’re here…

 

It’s 10 p.m. and…

We finished dinner a while ago,

And we’re watching tv,

And I can’t help but fall asleep.

With no effort and no thought

I drift into a sweet slumber on your soft shoulder.

 

It’s 11 p.m. and…

You ask if I’m sleeping, and

For the 5th time I say no,

But you know I’m lying so

You take me to bed.

 

It’s 12 p.m. and…

I sleep easy.

 

It’s 1 a.m. and…

I sleep easy.

 

It’s 2 a.m. and…

I sleep easy.

 

It’s 3 a.m. and…

I sleep easy.

 

It’s 4 a.m. and…

I sleep easy.

 

It’s 5 a.m. and…

I sleep easy.

 

It’s 6 a.m. and…

I sleep easy.

 

It’s 7 a.m. and…

I sleep easy.

 

It’s 8 a.m. and…

I.

Sleep.

Easy.

 

It’s 9 a.m. and…

We wake up and make breakfast,

And all is well.

Does It Matter?

SUBMISSION TWENTY-SEVEN CONTAINS THEMES OF: FEMINISM AND ASSAULT.

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After three years, I wonder if any of this matters. 

Have I really learned anything by throwing this around in my head for so long? Have I really decided what any of it means? 

I don’t know what happened three years ago. When I used to think about assault, it seemed so black and white. It’s either assault or it isn’t. It is all at once. You know it when you see it. 

He was my dear friend. I was attracted to him. We spent most days together, confiding in one another about our failed relationships and going on adventures. We were friends. Black and white. 

Our movie nights don’t end the way they used to. His hand is on my leg. He locks the door, puts his hand in my mouth. I wonder how I got to this point. Now we are gray.

I drove home and cried in my bed, but I don’t know why. I could never tell him no when I was scared, when I was tired, when I didn’t want to. Why couldn’t I tell him no? We were “just friends,” after all. 

But what about the times when I did want to? All the nights leading up to that point when I was burning for him? 

My experience was not one in which a stranger emerges out the dark alley. Mine was gradual and as gray as it gets. I didn’t say no. Shouldn’t he have sensed that I was uncomfortable? Does it matter? I was never raped or anywhere close to it. But I was afraid of the consequences of saying no to someone I cared about. 

There are stretches of days when I feel totally back to normal. There are stretches of days when I cry, feeling as though I have lost something very dear. Who knows what? There are days when thinking of him sends waves of guilt and panic coursing through me; there are others when I miss him. 

This past September I bought a “Me Too” pin to put on my backpack. It was a way for me to acknowledge the validity of my own experience. It was a courageous statement.

This month I realized the pin had fallen off somewhere. I imagine someone picking it up in a parking lot, reading those words, and their minds never once thinking of a story like mine. 

Does She Know?

SUBMISSION TWENTY-SIX CONTAINS THEMES OF: MANIPULATION.

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My first kiss took place on a threadbare couch, the lights dimmed as my favorite movie, “The Great Gatsby,” was projected on the living room wall.

We held hands under blankets full of childhood memories and my heart raced a staccato anthem in my chest, running wild with fear and anticipation. My eyes were wide open, his tongue was heavy in my mouth, and I remember wondering is there supposed to be so much spit?  Mere moments earlier I had met his mother, and I can recall nothing about her except how we fooled her into believing I was a college student. My gangly limbs and boyish stature spoke otherwise and she later remarked, “She looks young.” I was. 

At age 16, I fancied myself in love. My whirlwind of a crush had morphed into a brief, clandestine love affair, complete with unsatisfactory make-out sessions and hidden hands held. It was heaven under the sweltering southern sun. We messaged day and night on Facebook, hung out at our small-town youth group meetings and even made each other old-school mixtapes, burned onto silver CDs that we decorated in permanent marker. I was overjoyed that, for once, my affections were returned because age is just a number, right? I knew exactly what I was doing, so there wasn't anything wrong with it, right? We never slept together, so that fact that I kissed my high school teacher, ten years my senior, couldn't count as rape or harassment or assault, right? 

The last time I saw him, I was running out the door of his parents’ house, because my mom had called me demanding that I return home, her stone voice echoing from the phone. I was busted. He held my face in his hands and stared into my eyes –– he was fascinated with irises and the individual colors that swirled. He kissed me again, messily, no sense of urgency. My sense of self-preservation finally rang through. “I have to go,” I said. “My mom is going to kill me.”

My mother grounded me, indefinitely, and cried because for the first time in my life, I had lied to her and gone behind her back. Even worse, I snuck around with an older man. I was furious when she made me go to the police because he didn't do anything wrong –– he wasn't a bad person. I told the female police officer that he didn't try to touch me inappropriately, which was the truth, but I don't think she believed me. The shame and embarrassment burrowed under my skin and into my bloodstream where it lived for ages. I'd be lying if I said it wasn't still there. 

It took me six years to understand that I wasn't at fault, at least not entirely. My roommate has two young sisters. They're twins, fifteen years old, the same age I was when I met him. The first time I saw them, I was shocked by how young they looked and acted. They're beautiful girls, but they were shy and small, so petite and young. They're babies! I thought. Is that what I looked like when I was fifteen? Did I ever look that young?  Yes. I did. 

I look at students in high school now, like my roommate's sisters, and I know there's no way, as a grown adult, that I could ever be attracted to someone that young. A child. It churns my insides so violently with a rage I don't know how to handle. My classmates still reminisce about how wonderful of a teacher he was –– some of them are friends with him now, as adults. I know that he got married too, to another teacher. What would they say if they knew? Does she know? Does his wife know what he did?

"Dress Up."

SUBMISSION TWENTY-FIVE CONTAINS THEMES OF: SEXISM.

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From the time I was 12 until 16 I babysat for my neighbors who had seven children. It was in the sixties so I did this for fifty cents an hour. When I turned 16, the father invited me to work with him in his real estate office which was in their house. "Dress up," he said, so I crossed the field in my high heels and pretty dresses, slip through the fence, and help him by filing and performing simple tasks. I remember him asking me to stand on his desk and change a ceiling light bulb while wearing a tiger print dress and black patent high heels. One Sunday he phoned me and asked if I’d come meet a client and help him show a client an apartment that was for rent. "Dress up," he said. I crossed the field in my best sandals and white shift that I had made myself which had huge orange flowers on it. We drove to a town seven miles away and entered the empty dark apartment. Suddenly he grabbed me, embraced me, and planted a big sloppy kiss on me! I shoved him hard and expressed my shock. He immediately acquiesced and begged me not to tell anyone. I was lucky that he wasn’t a brutal weirdo but, you know, I kept it to myself. Just as I did when the husbands of two of my friends propositioned me and as I did when my boss took me to lunch along with my two-year-old son, laid a fifty on the table and asked for a blow job. I didn’t keep it to myself when a professional architect with whom I worked pulled a very weird sexual prank on me or when another boss offered me a hundred to approach a customer wearing nothing but a fur coat and flash him. I am fortunate that I was never seriously hurt, raped, or molested in any way, but I spent my entire young life fending off men and their inappropriate shenanigans! It was considered normal and the weight was on us to keep our mouths shut to protect the guilty. 

Abuses That "Don't Count"

SUBMISSION TWENTY-FOUR CONTAINS THEMES OF: INTIMACY, ABUSE, AND MANIPULATION.

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I want to talk about the abuses that don’t “count.”

I want to talk about the things that seem to matter less, because I think we shine so much light on the sexual abuse that we forget that any kind of feelings-of-being-less-than matter. I think a lot of women are in a situation where they don’t feel like they should speak because “my situation was not nearly as bad as hers.”

I’ve never been in a situation where someone explicitly expressed attraction toward me. No one has ever outright said to me, “You’re attractive. Can I take you out?” Not until him. He expressed his attraction in a very flashy way: a literal double take. He looked at me and then he looked again. Obviously, I was quite confused because I didn’t know what he saw. Was it one of the mice we spotted earlier in the store or a coworker making a mess behind me? I ignored it and continued to treat him like a customer. He then asked for my number and I gave it, finally understanding that I was the one to catch his attention.

I was excited but nervous. It was thrilling to have been able to attract someone and for them to pursue me. I didn’t think about much else but that fact: I caught his attention! It was odd though, that my nerves were making me think clearly. I knew how I was when it came to first meetings and first impressions. I was standoffish and quiet and I didn’t want that for this date. So, I suggested a group date with people who would bring out the best in me. I thought I was doing us both a favor. I thought it would make both of us more comfortable, but he refused and I should have put more thought into his refusal.

During the date, it was clear that he was not interested in me, but what he thought—what he assumed—he was going to get from me after dinner. I was aware of what he wanted because he made it clear in the first ten minutes. I shot him down right away saying, “I have never and I don’t plan to any time soon.” He was so disappointed, he went so far as to warn his hand that it was going to be just the two of them for a while longer.

I pushed that part of the conversation away, thinking the crisis was averted, and enjoyed the rest of my meal and the conversation we managed to save. In my eyes, he redeemed himself from his foot-in-mouth comments. I enjoyed myself and I even stuck around chatting with him after dinner at his car, but I was obviously wrong about his redemption. He made yet another comment, “If I was with anyone else we’d be started by now, on top of this car.” I wish I remembered exactly how I responded; I hope I didn’t apologize because it was not my fault that he made incorrect assumptions about me.

I left that date stupidly thinking that, aside from those comments, it went well. I received a text message from him several days after that night saying that he still wanted something physical from me. I simply said no, that’s not something I do, and he basically said it was my fault that he didn’t contact me sooner. I remember my response to this message. Stupidly, I didn’t want to be rude, but I didn’t want to apologize. I knew he wanted a specific reaction, but I don’t think I even gave him that. “Am I supposed to apologize?” I replied.

Although I was able to say no, I still felt so stupid. Although I was untouched, I still felt so violated. Although he took nothing from me, I still felt less than what I know I’m worth. I didn’t know what it was about me that made him think I would give him things that were not previously discussed. I didn’t know how many other people looked at me the same way he did. I didn’t know if it was a smart idea to get close to another guy since him, afraid that he would also incorrectly assume things about me. I was scared and I’m still scared, all because my trust was broken before it was even established.

If you’re in a similar situation, if you were untouched and stood your ground, yet you have these feelings of naivety and shame and confusion, that matters. There is no scale for what counts as wounds that need to be healed. Abuse of any kind matters, whether it’s physical, sexual, or verbal. Even if that abuse is in the form of impossible expectations put on you by someone who has no right to do so. Even if that abuse is in the form of someone incorrectly assuming your character and blaming you for not playing the part.

I'm Afraid

SUBMISSION TWENTY-THREE CONTAINS THEMES OF: MENTAL HEALTH AND SELF-WORK.

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I'm afraid — afraid of the life that I'm living, but also of the one that I can't see before me. I’m afraid that I'm useless and worthless, that I dream nothing, do nothing. I don't know if I'm strong enough to live the life I see in my head, which involves letting my guard down and striving for something that may not even happen. I thought I knew where I wanted my life to go, but the truth is, I have no idea. I'm afraid to notbe the person everyone thought I was, the person I thought I was. I'm afraid to be someone else, even if I don't want to be who I am now.

My Anxiety

SUBMISSION TWENTY-TWO CONTAINS THEMES OF: MENTAL HEALTH.

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My anxiety has completely taken over my life. The scariest part is the “depersonalization” feeling when I feel like, holy shit, am I even really here? Or am I just flesh and bones? Leaving the house makes me nervous. Seeing my friends has become more of a chore than anything else. My doctor prescribed me medication but I am too scared to even take that. It feels as if my life is falling apart. I don’t know what to do next.

To: A Tired Young Girl

SUBMISSION TWENTY-ONE CONTAINS THEMES OF: FEMININITY AND MENTAL HEALTH.

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To: A tired young girl

I am a woman—I smile, I laugh, I love. Love is a funny thing.

It has a way of making you feel like you're on cloud nine and embraces you into a warm, comforting hug. It makes you take in every second of this beautiful life and wish you could live in the moment forever, with whoever or whatever you're sharing that moment with. 

But...

Love can be complicated. It can make you put your trust into the wrong people. It can be manipulated and make you feel ashamed, guilty, and anxious. It can make you hate and blame yourself for thinking that what happened to you was your fault. Then you dig yourself into a hole that seems impossible to get out of, and feel yourself slowly suffocating.

Well, I am here to tell you it is not your fault. You did not do a damn thing wrong. You put your trust in the wrong people and they took advantage of you. 

You cried, you died inside, you wanted to crawl out of your skin and escape from it all. It is now time to let it go. Inhale. Exhale. Clear your mind, and finally let it all rest in the past.

Live the life that you were meant to live. Slowly learn how to love again. Regain your confidence. Smile as the sun sets. Enjoy the cleansing nature of the rain—let it wash away and give birth to the new you. 

This new era may be scary, you may need to leave some old friends behind, but it's okay. You'll find your way. When you start to feel like you can't breathe, remember all of those who truly love you and have always been there for you. They support you. You support you. You can do it. 

From: Someone who is ready to grow

I Don't Know Why

SUBMISSION TWENTY CONTAINS THEMES OF: CAREER.

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I don't know why I get so offended. Am I being too sensitive? I feel like people will never take me seriously. I feel like I constantly have to prove everyone wrong and sway people to think that I am qualified. Today someone said “How can she be fit for the job? She is so shy.” Another said “You’re so quiet”. 

All day I kept thinking about these two comments and couldn’t seem to understand why they hurt my feelings. It's not like what they said isn't true and it's also not offensive. They weren't bullying me, they were just stating facts. It got me thinking –– why am I so afraid to speak up?

I've always been shy since I was a little girl. I hated presenting during class, got nervous just to say “here” when they called my name, and wouldn't dare use the bathroom during class, either. I'm now a senior in college holding down a part time job and internship, but I still feel like that shy little girl. Will I ever break through this shell? Will I one day not be afraid to speak up and be myself? 

Or maybe this is who I am. Should I stop being ashamed of who I really am?

I'm Different Now

SUBMISSION NINETEEN CONTAINS THEMES OF: INTIMACY, RELATIONSHIPS, AND ABUSE.

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When I was nineteen, the first boy I ever truly loved made me feel so safe, and so whole, and so loved. Sometimes he would make deprecating comments about me, or my appearance, or my brain, but it would always be brushed off as a joke — something to laugh at, something he of course didn't mean because he loved me. He showed me that so much, so often, in so many other ways. His older friends became my friends, and as we all spent more time together, I couldn't help feeling like I was the butt of their jokes more often than not. But he loved me, and made me feel so free in so many other ways. He was older, smarter, funnier — I just needed to learn how to not take myself so seriously...especially with sex.

I had never wanted to have sex until I was on top of him one night a few weeks after we had started dating. I was kissing him and, “I love you,” just fell out of my mouth like an exhale, just as natural as breathing. It felt so right, so perfect, and he asked so many questions and wanted to know everything about what felt good to me. And it was so fun and so perfect and we learned so much about ourselves and each other. Even risky things — that we both liked spanking, or a light hand around my throat — little acts of power that said, "I trust you. I trust you not to hurt me because I know you love me and I know you know how far to go." It was exhilarating, intoxicating, this secret pact between us. We had a safe word and everything.

Until one day in the spring, on a day that I can't remember anything else about, he was inside me and raised his hand. And he hit me in the face, hard, his flat palm smacking loud against my cheek and then holding my face down into the mattress. I was stunned. Literally stunned, like a fish knocked on the head with the butt of a knife. He kept going until he finished and then as we were getting dressed he asked, "Was that ok?"

With the red marks from his fingers still on my face, I said yes. Because I didn't know. I didn't know what it felt like not to feel safe with him; I didn't know how to tell him he had just broken that trust forever. I didn't know why he had wanted to hit me, and I was so scared to ask myself that question. I didn't know why that was so different from everything else we had ever done. I didn't know that he should have asked first, not after, I didn't know that it was ok to not feel ok about it. I still wanted to be the effortlessly cool and free girlfriend — I wanted him to still love me, I didn't want to make him angry or sad. I put everything about him first, I was trying so hard to...impress him, for some reason.

Everything started to fall apart after that. Not just because of that, but because I started to see and feel so much more intensely all the little ways in which he made me feel like I was less than. That I couldn't say no, that I couldn't not love him, that I couldn't not be the person he wanted me to be. It felt like he was grinding down my personhood, my core self, until I would just be anything and everything he thought I was or wanted me to be. I started to feel this gnawing in the pit of my stomach, at the bottom of my ribcage, growing larger and deeper every time he only said “I love you” when he was drunk.

When I broke up with him, he begged. He begged me not to throw away “the best thing in our lives.” He begged me to reconsider, to try again. I was so lost, so heartbroken, so tired, that I relented and let him come over again. In the morning, before I was even properly awake, he put himself inside me without asking, before I had even turned over and said good morning, as if him sleeping over in my bed was the same thing as permission. And then when I still didn't want to be together anymore, when I still wanted to break up, he was angry at me. He was hurt that I had let him have sex with me even though I knew I didn't want to be with him.

I blamed myself too. For all of it. I blamed myself for not being good enough to make him want to stop being mean to me in the ways I'd asked him to. I blamed myself for not being able to see another solution than breaking up. I told myself for years that maybe I had made a huge mistake, maybe I had thrown away the only man that had ever, and would ever, love me.

With time, I realized that I am so much more than his love for me — that it wasn't my fault. I found who I was without him, and I liked her a lot. I realized all the little things about our relationship that were unhealthy, that made me unhappy, and I looked for those red flags in other relationships. I started to realize that so much of the behavior we normalize in romantic relationships is actually incredibly unhealthy, possessive, co-dependent and emotionally violent.

I don't think he ever knew that any of his behavior was harmful or destructive. I'm not sure he does even now, almost a decade later. But I won't blame myself for that either. It's not my job to make him realize the damage he's done. I'm never going to change the person that he was, and I don't even know the person that he is.

All I know is that I'm different now, in the best possible ways, and that's enough.

I Have Survived

SUBMISSION EIGHTEEN CONTAINS THEMES OF: ASSAULT, SUICIDE, AND SELF-HARM. BELOW ARE THE ANONYMOUS ONE-LINERS WE RECEIVED AT BONNAROO 2019.

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I have survived abuse and assault.

I have survived depression and anxiety.

I have survived toxic relationships.

I have loved and lost and loved again.

I have survived the death of many people close to me.

I have survived the 10-hour car ride to get here.

I want to show people that it’s okay to talk about difficult subjects.

I want to show others that they can fight too.

I want to show people that personal progress is not a straight line.

I have survived my physically and mentally abusive father.

I have survived a suicide attempt.

I have survived four years of abuse, and 21 more. 

I have survived crippling depression. 

I want to show people that it’ll be okay.

I have survived rape, self-harm, depression, and abuse.

I have survived paralyzing self-doubt and insecurity. 

I have survived my own mind. Because it’s okay to be crazy.

I have survived addiction.

I have survived harassment in the kitchen industry.

I have survived being a nurse.

I have survived my eating disorder and trauma (and you can, too).

I want to show others that I care.

I have survived depression and attempted suicide.

I have survived my work environment.

I fight for myself. I fight to be comfortable in my own skin and for the future I’ll have one day.

I want to show others that there is good in everyone.

I have survived sexual abuse and mental abuse.

I have survived sexual abuse. Now I am strong and happy. Years after.

I have survived sexual assault from a friend’s boyfriend. Lost that friendship and trust for a long time. Life gets better, even if it takes some time. 

I have survived getting molested by my uncle.

I have survived anxiety, self-doubt, sadness, and overthinking.

I have survived depression, sexual abuse, and physical head trauma.

I have survived a lot and I’m still here.

I want to show people that there is always reason to fight on. You are enough.

I have survived PTSD from sexual assault and an abusive relationship with the father of my son. He would get angry and try to trigger my PTSD. I now feel protected. 

I fight for myself and others like me.

I have survived countless panic attacks and sadness I once thought was insurmountable. 

I want to show people that what happened to me in the past does not mean I don’t deserve better in the future.

I have survived gaslighting by people I loved and trusted. 

I have survived childbirth.

I have survived poverty.

I have survived, so far, just being a woman.

I want to show others that no matter what happens, keep hope alive. 

I have survived cancer.

I have survived suicidal thoughts and anxiety.

I fight for self-love. 

I have survived being raped and assaulted by three men when I was 14. One was my best friend. I am currently on my journey to closure. 

I have survived a Donny Brook ‘fight’. 

I have survived again and again. Keep going.

I have survived addiction.

I have survived betrayal and feeling like I’m losing control over my emotions. 

I have survived supporting my best friend through her abortion. 

I have survived being stuck in the same place as my assaulter for years.

I have survived emotional and physical abuse by my mother, self-harm, and crippling anxiety.

I fight for healing intergenerational trauma to make a better future for my daughter. 

I have survived life until now.

I fight for the impoverished.

I have survived being raped by a “friend” when I was drunk.

I have survived abuse, and I pretended it wasn’t real. My sister gave me the strength to see it. Thank you for doing that for others. 

I have survived sexual assaults as a child, a preteen, teen, and adult. 

I have survived abuse and the struggles of being a woman.

I have survived self-doubt.

I have survived severe social anxiety and depression. 

I survived Bonnaroo 2019.

Whatever He Did To Me

SUBMISSION SEVENTEEN CONTAINS THEMES OF: ASSAULT.

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We met when I was nineteen. 

My best friend and I drove to a nearby city for a concert because we had a car and the means. He was in one of the bands and he noticed me. That’s every girl’s dream, right? A boy in a band who has a handful of groupies and yet, he notices you. But he was a man with a lot of pent up everything – an addictive personality, and not a single clue of what the word “no” meant.

Sometimes I think I wasn’t vocal enough, that I let him live in a lie that may have felt so real to him that he had no idea I felt abused the whole time; that maybe he thought we were in tip-top shape because I couldn’t help but keep my mouth shut. But then I also think that he claimed he loved me, so how could he have not noticed?

The honeymoon phase came and went, and exhaustion towards something I didn’t want set in – but I loved him, so I played a role that kept me around. How could I not? No one would “ever love me the way he did,” from what he believed.

One night, he wanted to have sex and I didn’t want to, and I wasn’t hiding it. I’d grown good at being “tired because of work” when I was really just tired from living. He told me that if we didn’t have sex then we might as well just be friends, or I didn’t love him, or I was boring, and annoying – synonyms. So I took off my pants. I engaged. I kissed. I stroked. I moaned. I did the noises and motions for a man that only wanted me for that, because the sooner he came, the sooner it was over with. If I did that, he wouldn’t go out till 4 a.m., he wouldn’t take a Percocet, he wouldn’t yell at me, he wouldn’t guilt trip me for the next week. 

But, he had trouble getting off that night, which wasn’t uncommon either. Most other nights he’d expect an hour-long hand job because if I didn’t get him off, then I didn’t care about him. 

In a vivid moment, I was on top of him and I wasn’t comfortable anymore. I was dry and burning and being rubbed raw because maybe if he shoved me down harder or faster onto him, that would make him hard again, that would make him cum. I fought back tears as long as I could to avoid the fight, the unavoidable conversation of not doing enough to please him. And then I couldn’t. I jolted straight up and said simply, “It hurts.” He smacked his lips and said, “Just two more minutes,” and put pressure onto my hips. I repeated myself, trying to ignore the discomfort of his hands, his eyes, and the screaming between my legs. 

He harshly moved my body off of his, pushing me onto the mattress next to him, and stared at the ceiling, glossy-eyed, angry. I said I was sorry. He said, “Can you at least get me off?” I slumped, looked at him, now soft, and said, “Okay.” 

Now stroking him, limp and unchanging, I sat there feeling lifeless, criss-cross applesauce, fixed on getting this over with. He eventually looked at me again, did a once over of my body and said, “Stop sitting like that, you don’t look sexy.” So, I fixed my posture. He said, “Spread your legs,” so I did. Then his right hand was inside of me before I could communicate an already communicated no. I yelped and grabbed his wrist, “It hurts, you can’t.” 

“Come on, I’ll be gentle.”

“It hurts, you can’t.”

He dropped his hand and rolled his eyes, so I dropped mine. “What are you doing?” I thought it was done, I thought the moment was over, I thought I could go sit on a cold compress while I pretended to shower. “I’m not done yet,” so I kept going, and when he finally got to the climax of his night, he shoved his fingers back inside of me, and I bit through my lip. 

He had me clean his chest. 

I couldn’t wear underwear or tight-fitted pants for three days. 

We broke up almost two years ago. He recently got a hold of me through a loophole I didn’t catch to let me know that he’s doing so much better, he’s really taking care of himself and he apologizes for, “Whatever he did to me.” 

Whatever he did to me.

Be Your Own Hero

SUBMISSION SIXTEEN CONTAINS THEMES OF: MENTAL HEALTH AND ASSAULT. SEE ICONS BELOW.

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It was my 18th birthday. In my country, that’s our legal drinking age. 

I went out with a group of friends. Anyone who knows me will tell you I make friends easily, mainly male friends. 

One of the people I went out with that night was a male friend. We met at uni, and I said he could share my bed with me that night because two of my other friends had taken up the spare bedroom. For me and my friends, female or male, sharing a bed is platonic, normal. 

I was incredibly drunk and crawled into bed. I was completely out of it. The only memory I have of the assault is him stopping because my body wouldn’t take it anymore. 

It was physically impossible, I was tense and dry. He muttered that, stopped, and slept. 

I woke up to my attacker’s arms pinned around me. 

He was asleep thankfully. I slipped out and sat on my couch, headphones on, and in tears. 

I went back to my room to find him unclothed on my bed, staring at me, asking what was wrong and why I wasn't there when he woke up. 

I simply kissed his cheek and smirked that someone has a life and things to do. 

The past few months are the first time in a little over a year I have talked to anyone about it. 

The boy hasn’t spoken to me outside of being normal in social situations for small talk. 

Does he know he did something wrong? 

I have been diagnosed with PTSD from the event. It makes sense that I can become emotional and not want to be touched. 

This story does have a happy ending because I choose to make it one; it is my life and by god it is my own damn body. 

I have a partner who is wonderful, kind, and always knows how to make me laugh. 

Be your own hero. 

This Is My Story

SUBMISSION FIFTEEN CONTAINS THEMES OF: RAPE, DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, STALKING, HARRASSMENT, AND ASSAULT. IF YOU OR A LOVED ONE IS EXPERIENCING DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, PLEASE USE THIS RESOURCE FOR YOUR SAFETY: https://www.thehotline.org/.

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This is my story of abuse and domestic violence. For the first time ever, I'm the one telling it.

When I was a teenager, I graduated from high school early. I got a job, saved up my money, and tried to think of what I was going to do for the rest of my life. What I wanted for myself wasn't practical to those around me. 

I'm a lesbian who grew up in a very religious household, in an extremely broken home. Growing up, I had a lot of issues with self-worth and body image. I was told by my family that I would be lucky if anyone ever loved me, and it took me years to realize how much this impacted what I felt I deserved in a relationship. After enough issues at home and with various people I grew close to, I shut myself off and, for some reason, it felt like I was reclaiming myself. 

I met this girl who lived about an hour away from me on a dating app, and the first time we talked, I had this feeling she was your classic fuckboy. She would ask me for nudes and when I said no, she disappeared. After a while, she messaged me and apologized for how she treated me and said she was taking out what her ex had done to her on me because she was depressed. She wanted another chance. This should have been my first sign, but I gave her a shot. 

She invited me to celebrate her college graduation with her friends, and I said yes. At the end of the night, we were making out in her car, and we had probably known each other for only a few hours at this point. She looked up at me and said "I'm in love with you." I was in shock. I didn't move. I didn't say anything because it went from her only wanting me to take off my clothes and tell me how worthless I was, to being in love with me. I panicked. Without warning, she started crying and yelling, "So you don't fucking love me? You don't love me back?" I realize now that the best approach was not to try to calm her with "No, no, no! I do love you, it's just really soon." That night we stayed out until 5 am, drinking coffee at a Waffle House, after the rest of the city was either already in bed or crawling out of it. That was the beginning of everything. 

She insisted on coming to see me every day that week. She would drive an hour to sit at my job and hang out with me when I got off. Other people thought it was moving too fast, but I just thought it was sweet and I liked having someone love me equally for once. She made me feel beautiful in the first few weeks and like she wanted nothing but for us to be happy. There were little things that would set her off in the beginning, but I worked around them because I thought they were reasonable. 

One of my best friends, whom I had dated in the past, knew her from camp growing up. She said she was pretty ruthless to people, but I never told my girlfriend at the time she said that. I decided to bring this girl up and say I was surprised they knew each other and immediately, a switch flipped. Suddenly my best friend was a kid who got upset at everything and milked it and hated her growing up. I wasn't supposed to trust her. 

Shortly after we started dating, I was kicked out of my family's home for being gay and not turning myself around in the right direction... which I guess is straight? I spent the first night with her family. Her family adored me and it was nice to be openly accepted, at least on the forefront. After that night, I stayed with a friend of mine for a few nights in an old house that had been abandoned mid-construction. Eventually, one of my friends had a guy friend who offered to let me live in his spare room. I was grateful and I took the offer. 

My girlfriend moved away for her bachelors degree and suggested I apply because I was thinking about pursuing the same degree and because their program was the best in the state. I applied for the spring semester and we would visit each other when possible. She asked me to move in with her and after a lot of talking, I agreed. So we found a place and I moved a few months early to get a job, etc. I spent the vast majority of my savings on the down payments and rent. Immediately I became a housewife. I cooked, I cleaned, and I worked. 

We were in a very small town where everyone knew everybody. I walked in being known as her girlfriend. Nobody referred to me by my name or even bothered to learn it for a while. She had friends who would come over and I would be told by them and her not to leave my room or I wasn't allowed to talk, etc. I would sit in our bedroom in silence for hours. 

She would go out a lot and get drunk with her friends and cheat on me, but she told people we were on a break so no one said anything to me. When I found out, I was the "crazy" one because I lost my trust in her. It was numbing to have her come home with someone else’s scent still on her and demand sex. I was pushed beyond limits when she was angry or I stood up for myself. She used to count the number of times she could force my body to cum. I would stare at a corner of the wall or the ceiling and wait for it to be over. There was one time she reached 40. The amount of blood made me sick. 

Eventually, I stopped addressing the issues and I started to make sure the doors or the cabinets never hit too hard and the dinner was never burned but always hot when she got home, even though usually it would be hours after she said to have dinner ready. There would be times she would hold me down and the more I struggled, the more she would laugh and mock me because I couldn't overpower her. I wasn't allowed to talk to my friends anymore. She said they were trying to ruin us. I was only allowed to hang out with her friends. She would go through my journals, so I stopped writing. I had to change my best friend’s contact information in my phone because my girlfriend didn't want us speaking. She found a text from my best friend suggesting I grab my things and leave to stay with her while she was working or in class one day because she had seen bruises and how scared I was to do anything that might upset her. 

No matter how bad it got, I believed my girlfriend every time she would say she would change or that things would be better. I made date plans one night, and she promised to be there. She was hours late and ignored my phone calls. Finally, another girl answered, said she was busy, and hung up the phone. She came home that night, took the flowers I bought her, and the chocolates, laid on the floor and continued to call herself a piece of shit that didn't deserve to live. It turned into me having to comfort her and reassure her that I loved her. She always blamed the other girls on me. Eventually, I started to blame myself too. 

It wasn't until our anniversary that it really clicked. I was finishing putting on my makeup when she looked at me and yelled, "Get out! Leave right now. I can't even look at you! If you don't leave I'm going to hurt you and I might not be able to stop." I didn't understand what happened. I went outside on the balcony and I don't know why, but I took a photo of myself. A photo with a blank face and blank eyes. I didn't look like me anymore and I didn't feel like me anymore. She came and got me, smiling, grabbed my hand like nothing had happened, led me inside and out the front door. That night was kind of symbolic of our whole relationship. It was raining and she took photos of me in neon lights outside of an ice cream shop that closed by the time we got there. We took the over-joyed photos for her family and we got in the car and went home. 

It didn't take more than a day for me to say or do something wrong. I don't even remember what upset her, I just remember walking into the bathroom and having her slam the door open and shut. I remember her pinning me against the wall by my wrists and screaming. I don't remember the things she said, but I remember collapsing down the wall when she finally let go and in that moment, I felt so small. She was leaving for a summer job soon, and that's when I decided to break up with her. She warned me a thousand times that she would ruin my reputation, that everyone would hate me and her friends would come after me if I left, but I couldn't do it anymore. My only friends were girls her friend group had gone after in the past. 

She would constantly blow up my phone. Some days it was her admitting to everything she did, other days it was her telling me what an awful person I was and how big of a mistake I had made. Once I asked her why she kept blowing up my phone and she told me it became a game to see if I would cry or not or how much she could make me cry or beg her to stop. It was difficult because I did love her. You can't not love someone intensely and stay for as long as I did, and yes I stayed out of fear, but I also stayed because I wanted so badly to believe it was my fault and she didn't want to hurt me. That she loved me. 

I started to try and live my life a bit. I went out with friends. I tried to tune her out as best as I could, but I knew the summer would be over soon. I was already paying everything for the house to get her to move in with her friends when she returned, because she suggested still living together. When everyone returned to college, things got bad. There were rumors going around that my friend and I had been sleeping with each other our entire relationship and that I was dating her now. Luckily, my friend stayed by my side throughout this despite how quickly the rumors spread. Suddenly, people were saying I was sleeping with 3-4 different people, that I was crazy and obsessive and wouldn't allow her to have friends when I wasn't even communicating with my ex. I got followed to classes. I had my tire slashed. I had my home broken into. My personal items were stolen by my ex and her friends. Things I could never replace were ruined, like things given to me by my great grandmother who passed away. 

My lock to my house was broken. I woke up one morning to find my ex standing over me with her hand covering my mouth. She kissed me and she had sex with me, got up, and left. I had woken up to her outside of my house or walked in on her laying on my couch and because her name was still on the lease at the time, no one would do anything until I could get her taken off of the lease. She always made sure to leave something in the house to let me know she was there or move my things I had boxed up she gave me. Something small that would go unnoticed by anyone else. Her things she would refuse to pick up would trail through the house. 

One night, my friends convinced me to go to a party for a frat at our school. I decided to go and have fun, but not many people talked to me. I noticed a few of her friends there and before long, she showed up. An older guy in the frat was there and eventually, he started hitting on me. I politely told him I was gay and not interested, but he wasn't taking no for an answer. He was all over me when another girl from the party came up and pushed him off of me. He was obviously drunk and he said someone said I was easy and he should try to get with me, that I liked playing hard to get.  One of her friends was watching, giggling in the corner. I walked out front for some air and a little while later, the girl who pushed him off of me came to check on me. She said she thought it was great that my ex still cared so much about me. I was confused. I asked what she meant and she said my ex had found her and thanked her for standing up to that guy because she, "Just would have been heart broken if anything bad were to happen to you or you were raped." I freaked out because she wasn't there when it happened and nobody ever said the guy was trying to assault me, so why would she seek pity for her ex "almost being raped?" I decided to go home. I started walking towards my car when I received a text saying, "I wish I could be with you tonight. But I can't. You look beautiful by the way." To this day I swear I saw her in my car mirrors before I drove off. 

In the weeks following, things were semi quiet, unless I was at a social event and sometimes  I would be walking to class and get text messages describing what I was wearing or saying I looked beautiful. At home or at school, I would receive messages like, "I see you. Do you see me?" Her friends would show up to my job and harass me. 

I went to the dean of students with screenshots of all of the messages and pictures of my injuries and begged for help. They told me they would do the best they could and advised me not to contact the police because they "couldn't protect me anymore" if I did. I had another meeting with the dean after they met with my ex and they suggested I receive therapy and that my ex was a kind person who said our relationship just turned toxic. 

My ex and her friends  weren't supposed to contact me anymore, but that didn't stop them. They found other ways. They would talk about me in front of me to other people, she would even send her new girlfriends to come after me or ask what happened between us. It just got old. 

I had moved on but she didn't want me to live in a world where I didn't fear her. It went on for years. Even after I entered a serious relationship, she still made sure to make her presence known. When she stopped going to the university, I thought it would stop, but for a week straight she would conveniently be on campus beside the building I would get out at every day at 9:30 and she would walk behind me every day all the way to the next building I went to for my next class. She would wait for me to go inside, turn a corner, and leave. 

I had to face people constantly assuming things about me that weren't true, starting fights, spreading rumors, telling her where I was or who I was with all because she was a girl and she was popular on a small campus. I didn't receive justice for being harassed, mentally, physically, and sexually abused because of who she was associated with and the money they brought to that small campus. I was shut up and forced to relive it every day while other people wrote my story on the walls of that school for everyone to see. 

There were very few people who stopped me and said, "What really happened?" For those people I am grateful, but this is my story of an abusive relationship and it is mine to tell. I am done being isolated and I am done not having a voice. Because even though my name is not attached to my story, I want other people who are going through something similar to know they are not alone and I know how much it hurts. It feels like a constant battle and you don't feel safe in your own skin, but in time, you can cut the strings they've tied to you. It will always be a part of my story, but there's something empowering about saying that it happened to me and it's real and it doesn't matter if people don't believe me because I was there and I lived it. There are people who know what really happened, but cover it up because it's easier than facing your friend who abused someone and realizing it's not real feminism if you have a double standard for your friend, who's a girl that's abusive, compared to the guys. Everyone's story is important. Everyone deserves a voice. I don't consider myself a victim of domestic violence; I consider myself a survivor. 

Rage To Spend

SUBMISSION FOURTEEN CONTAINS THEMES OF: RAPE AND MEDICAL REFERENCES. SEE ICONS BELOW.

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I've never been one to have a temper, but now it is my white flag; it is my wolf howl.

I am proud to be angry about what manages to phase me. I don't make promises, but I promised my twenty-three-year-old self that, of all the things I force backwards down my throat, anger will no longer be one of them. But I will be frugal with my temper like my dad was with his cash. I know the difference between waiting in traffic and feeling like your arms that have held babies, your legs that dance, and your voice that tells your stories might as well not exist.

I will never say it is my fault I was raped, but I don't want to act like I've always respected my body. I've slept around like my body wouldn't absorb danger the way it always does on the way to the ground after a hard fall. I didn't protect myself and there were consequences. It was a mistake continuing to have sex with someone who didn't like the feeling of condoms. Those shielded my body from whatever sickness his dick absorbed through his years of sex without them, and I allowed sex without them. You know, "It feels better without them." At the time, I didn't fully understand how far down it was I could fall. I felt my body grow angry at me for the first time. Chlamydia. I felt disgusting, physically and emotionally. I hated that I allowed someone to affect my life so undeniably and I hated that, at the end of the day, I was that someone. 

I went to Planned Parenthood immediately and was taken care of at no cost to me. I begged that boyfriend to take care of his illness so we could continue the sexcapade that led us to that spot. I made the appointment for him, he went. He took his medicine, but I knew we needed to wait long enough for it to do its job before we started sleeping together again. He said he agreed. We had one of those decent days of the many months we were together. We smiled. It was August and there was no cold to make us sad. It grew late. Then early. His parents were sleeping a floor below us. The tv droned on. Alcohol ran out long before midnight, but weed was abundant and I was happy that things were at peace. He was so happy I forgave him for cheating on me and I was happy that I stayed with him so we would feel less alone. I was happy we were going to be having clean, fun sex in only a week. 

I loved him. Despite how much my best friend despised him. Despite everyone I grew up with telling me horror stories with his name as the title. Despite his drinking day-old,  already-opened beers first thing in the morning. Despite the cocaine always lacing his spit when we kissed. He felt good. I felt good. Despite all of those things, I could feel him love me and I loved him. 

"We only have to wait a week." I repeated it through our breaks in making out, but things started getting hotter. I was kissing him back. It was a pretty sexy session of heavy kissing, then touching. It was hard to keep my hands off of him, but I knew it was harder to feel so sick and I never wanted to infect my body again. So I said we should stop. I said the words. “Stop. No, we really shouldn't.” I was repeating "Only a week, just wait a week." His tongue between my legs felt as familiar as pee soaking your bed sheets. I rolled my head back and trusted him like he was driving me around in a car. And then somewhere, at some point, he shoved himself inside of me. It turned dark as quickly as a bad trip. Nothing was lovely. The smiles were gone. My arms failed me. I wished I could slam a door, but I couldn't even get up. After, he crawled off of the couch and into his bed. He left the PlayStation on, and the screensaver sounds still make me sick. 

I cried, and then I cried louder. He asked if I was crying and I told him yes. He told me to be quiet so his parents wouldn't wake up. So I stayed silent until I saw the first sign of the sun. I ran out of the house and I wept as I opened my car door. All of his neighbors felt evil, the squirrels surrounding his yard felt evil. The sun felt like a cynical joke. I tried to call my best friend, and when she finally answered, she told me she had to go because her boyfriend brought her breakfast and a smoothie. I hung up and laughed. It could have made me angry, but I no longer had that kind of rage to spend. 

I Am A Woman In STEM

SUBMISSION THIRTEEN CONTAINS THEMES OF: CAREER AND FEMINISM. SEE ICONS BELOW.

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I am a woman in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). More specifically, I have both a bachelors and a masters in physics. 

Physics is roughly only 20% women nationally, so I'm used to being the only female in a room. Many of the men studying physics today don't see a problem with me being female; however, there is a portion of them that I have to constantly fight — mostly for them to believe that, yes, I do know what I'm talking about.

In order to get my masters degree, I either needed to a) take a three-hour oral exam or b) complete a research project and defend a thesis. I chose option b, to do a research project and defend a thesis.

The guys would all talk about their own research like it was a foreign language to me. In my head, I was like yes, I understand most of what you’re saying; but no, I do not want to do a 20 million dimensional integral. Thanks. 

I prefer experimental physics to theoretical, thank you. And so on.

Whenever I would talk about my research to a room of men, at least one of them would try to explain what my research was about. I would politely reply "yes, that's exactly how it works!" or "close, it’s actually more like this." Almost without fail, the one explaining it to me would counter. 

"Oh no, I was telling you how it worked.” Bitch, I know how my own goddamn research works. Thanks.

I'm now taking that research and making it into a hardware startup technology company. I know that sounds so blatantly hipster, so you don’t have to tell me. 

Now, men ask me how it works and what the intended purpose is; it’s funny how a title change from ‘female grad student’ to ‘female tech company founder’ changes someone’s perspective of you. 

I am exactly as competent as I was then. I am exactly as intelligent as I was then. I am exactly as ambitious as I was then. The only thing that's changed is my public image.

Stay strong ladies. Who run the world?

Forever In My Point Of View

SUBMISSION TWELVE CONTAINS THEMES OF: MENTAL HEALTH. SEE ICONS BELOW.

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The stomach is upset.

The brain is buzzing.

The anxiety is building.

So are the tears.

So are all of my feelings,

All of my fears.

The added stress on top of it all

This ginormous wall

I can’t get past.

I don’t know how.

Please tell me.

I don’t want to feel this way.

I’m tired.

I try to climb the wall

I’m out of breath, panting.

The wall appears impenetrable.

I wish it would just disappear.

There’s no hope.

Others try and help, but they fail as well.

They’re frustrated too.

It’s not their fault; the wall is solid stone.

I don’t have the tools to break it down.

So I just sit and fester.

Stare.

At the granite grey rectangles.

Forever in my point of view.

Slip Through My Fingers

SUBMISSION ELEVEN CONTAINS THEMES OF: PREGNANCY AND CAREER. SEE ICONS BELOW.

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I'm in my mid-twenties.

One and a half weeks ago I got the news that I was selected for my dream job. I’ve been working toward this since I was 18. When I got the news, I felt the happiest and healthiest I had felt in a long time. I finally did it.

A few days after getting the job news, I found out I was two to three weeks pregnant. I saw everything start to slip through my fingers. Years of hard work disappeared as quickly as water down the drain. You see, the field I’m going into is actually very welcoming of families. But you can’t go through the preparation it takes to start the job while you’re pregnant. My spot would be taken away from me.

I could have lived my whole life with fulfillment if I never became a mother. I have been grasping for and reaching toward this job like my life depends on it. It is my dream.

I’m scared of abortion because I don’t feel like I deserve the right. So many people in worse situations than myself have unwanted pregnancies that they see through the end. I have a good life. I have a husband. We struggle sometimes, sure, but I still have a partner.

On the other hand regarding the pregnancy, I’ve never backed down from a challenge. I feel like a failure either way. If I end the pregnancy, I’m a coward.

The earliest appointment I could get in a clinic is in about a week. I wish it would come sooner. I wish I could get it over with. I want to desperately feel again what I felt getting that job offer; I was on top of the world. Everything was in my reach. I felt like I could accomplish anything I set out for. At that moment, limits did not exist. That is what I want so badly more than anything.

Yet, I fear that regardless of the choice I make, those same feelings will never come back. I fear that such things are now an illusion and I deserve only what life decides to give me.

This is a piece of my story; I desperately don’t want it to be the whole story. This is not supposed to be what defines me in the end.

I hope it doesn’t.

Deafening Numbness

SUBMISSION TEN CONTAINS THEMES OF: CHILD ABUSE, MENTAL HEALTH, AND ASSAULT. SEE ICONS BELOW.

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Deafening numbness is what's left after your first sexual assault, swamping over you like dark fog rolls in from the ocean.

After your second, the numbness has already taken up space; it's infected you, and thus you feel as though nothing has changed. It's familiar. Nothing at all has changed.

I have always been vocal about my experiences with mental health. I write poetry and blogs exposing myself to the world (or more aptly, anyone willing to read it); but oddly, I don’t talk about my sexual assaults. I have an anxiety about it that I don’t feel when discussing my depression or anxiety; it’s ironic because, for me, the subjects are intertwined.

There is still a part of me that feels guilty about what happened to me and I don’t like the idea of drawing attention to that. I’m deciding to give myself a break and to acknowledge openly — yes, I am a survivor of assault, and to ask of people — please do not confuse my willingness to be transparent as a vehicle for seeking attention.

I don’t actually remember how old I was the first time I was abused. I’ve had a strange sense that my childhood belongs entirely to someone else and that I was merely watching it unfold as an outside presence. I think I was nine.

My stepbrother and I had been asked to share an air mattress on the floor of our bedroom, to make way for new furniture moving in the following day. He was older than me. I was sleeping when I felt a sweaty hand slithering its way into my knickers. I remember rolling over abruptly, in a bid to send a message of ‘please don’t touch me’ to him. He rolled over the opposite way, seeming grumpy that I’d denied his advance. We woke up the next morning and he spoke to me the same way he’d spoken to me for years. I was infuriated and uncomfortable to walk past him on the way to the bathroom.

It took me months to tell someone about it. The first person I put faith in was a teacher at my school; she was warm and maternal and I was aware that, even if she didn’t believe me, she would have to alert somebody about it. I had a small, intimate group of girlfriends as school — the kind where you’d talk about the flat you’d share when you went to Uni together, and how your babies would grow up friends like we did. They were actually the first people I told. Because they were my friends, yes, and regardless of age you can trust people you love. They encouraged me to tell our teacher so she could do something to protect me.

She didn’t. In fact, I discovered in my twenties that when she’d called a meeting between my mum and stepdad, it was to ‘discuss the inappropriate lies’ I’d been spreading among my peers. The subsequent nothingness that my honesty relayed only told me that what happened to me didn’t matter.

I was assaulted for a second time when I was 17. This time by a close friend but, again, when I laid asleep in his bed. I struggled more with this one. I say ‘this one’ as if it’s making the perfect poached egg or mastering a yoga pose. This time I was an adult capable of fighting back, of calling out, but I didn’t. I was still terrified. The event made me feel like that nine-year-old again; I retreated somewhere within myself, not consciously aware of my body or what it was experiencing. Yet again, that familiar and loathsome snake of a hand slid its way into my knickers. Only this time, a bright, jarring flash illuminated the room. He was taking photographs on his phone of my exposed genitals. I kept my eyes clamped shut, even maintaining a fake but steady snore to ensure he wouldn’t know I was fully awake. I lay awake still as he masturbated next to me to the photographs he’d taken. When he finally fell asleep, I calmly grabbed my coat, made my way downstairs, and left.

I kicked myself furiously for not being able to summon the courage to roll over and get him off of me. I still kick myself today for not finding the initiative to grab his phone as I left that morning and take it to the police. But I think subconsciously, I didn’t find the will because I knew it would be fruitless. Surely if there’s a lack of willingness to believe a child, there would be no willingness to believe a woman. In society the headlines are unbalanced with the amount of accusations against the people facing repercussions. This is only feeding the monster that teaches survivors it’s not worthwhile to seek retribution. For me, that foggy numbness has subsided into anger, but it feels like that anger still isn’t enough to counteract the notion of being swept under the carpet again.

Maybe one day the anger will flourish into courage, and I will find the tongue hidden at the back of my throat.

A Story About Subtlety

SUBMISSION NINE CONTAINS THEMES OF: INTIMACY, RELATIONSHIPS, AND SPIRITUALITY. SEE ICONS BELOW.

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This is a story about subtlety, about settling in. This is not a story about rage or about force or trauma. This is story about a deep-seededness that becomes impossible to identify until you’re on the other side of it, way over across the way so that you can look at it. Put it in its place. This is my story.

I got a real boyfriend my senior year of high school. While I felt that a boyfriend was long overdue for me, I didn't particularly want to date him. He was well-known among my peers for crying when his grades weren’t above a ninety-five, and he always seemed to have a runny nose. You know, things that don’t immediately draw one in. Nevertheless, his mom was my favorite English teacher, and she always talked about how cute her grandchildren would look if I married her son. I should have realized that coercion from my English teacher was not a stable foundation on which to base my first relationship.

I was uncertain about him for the first few dates, but I slowly began to find him attractive in small ways. He was tall and smart, and he laughed at my jokes. He picked me up at my house for dates and wouldn't move his truck until I had slid over into the middle seat. He was like that, getting offended if I preferred to hover against the window, making me change my Facebook relationship status from Single to In A Relationship while he watched, keeping his arm around my shoulders every time we went out to eat with friends, no matter how complicated that made the act of eating. So I always slid over into that middle seat, even when I wouldn't have minded the distance.

He paid for my meals and introduced me to new music. I went to his basketball games and sat with his family. It was all new to me, dating. My only relationships prior to him were the silly middle school type where an odd match would text 24/7 and become mute as soon as they were in each others' presence. My relationship felt exciting because it felt real and, despite my previous inhibitions, I began to like him.

He came over to my house one night to have dinner with my family. My dad made alfredo and joked about putting in extra garlic to prevent any after-dinner activities between us. Perhaps I was unlike other teenagers in that I wasn't mortified. I had longed for this sort of banter. I had longed for a guy to find me interesting enough to kiss. After dinner, my boyfriend and I hung out in our dining room working on some sort of online math homework that only he knew how to do It was a perfect night, in my estimation. Simple. Sweet.

I walked him out when we were finished, and we stood on the porch for a few minutes. It was awkward because we hadn't kissed yet, and I knew by the way he postured himself toward me that he wanted to. We were quiet for a second.

"You're going to have to do it eventually," he announced into the quiet.

I felt my cheeks catch fire. I wanted to kiss, to be kissed, but a more prevalent part of me was peeking through. I felt uncomfortable, itchy.

"I know," I said, feeling stupid for not being able to do it. "I'm just not ready."

We stood for a few more minutes, him on a lower step. Then, with no further conversation, he stepped up and pushed his too-wet mouth onto mine, baptizing me into a religion I hadn’t committed to. I was stunned. He said goodbye, and walked out of the light from the porch to his truck.

I called my best friend immediately to tell her how awful it had been, to ask her if he was even doing it right. She advised me to hang in there, to try again with him.

"It'll get better," she told me.

I heeded her advice. I dated him for a little over a year after that, and we got comfortable in the way that people do. Neither of us were all good or bad. I was jealous and moody, and he never waited for me to finish putting on my clothes before speeding away to get me home by curfew. We parked a lot in the summer in random fields all over the small town we lived in. We laughed so hard one night when a police officer shone his lights into my passenger window and made me step out of the truck, asking if I wanted to be there, if we had condoms on us.

“It’s not like that,” I told the police officer. And it wasn’t. We skirted around intercourse like all good Christian teenagers do. We left that for marriage and embraced oral sex and hand jobs like they were our Christian rite. Sex was the most confusing part of our relationship, as one might assume. I was filled with all sort of presupposed guilt due to years of not being able to talk about it, and I know I took some of that guilt out on him. We were always setting lines and crossing them and setting them again only to go a little bit further the next time.

We went to separate colleges, and our visits to see each other were marked by these encounters. I always felt guilty doing things with him, and then I felt guilty for making him feel bad about it. But in between, we were happy. He was so clean and kind. He never yelled at me.

We broke up after the first semester of our freshman year because I realized one night that I probably wasn’t a virgin anymore, and I couldn’t think of anything worse at the time than that. He told me his family was going to hate me. I believed him. I hated me. I thought God hated me, too.

I didn’t kiss another guy for a year after that, and--when I finally did--I sobbed in my dorm room after. The new guy and I would make out occasionally, but I called it off soon; I’m not a casual girl. He called me upset after we decided on friendship, but when he put his hand on my inner thigh I knew that even friendship wouldn’t work.

I’m married now, but that story isn’t one of clarity and ease, either. My husband and I spent a lot of time dealing with some of the same issues: guilt, confusion, preferring to interpret physical cues as opposed to just listening to the words that we were saying to one another.

Relationships, even the good ones, aren’t easy. I’m thinking a lot about them these days. I’m thinking about the subtleties in sex, the way that I always felt like I had to do things when I didn’t want to or had to feel bad about them when I did want to. Perhaps this is unpopular, but I don’t think it’s anyone’s fault in particular, not my first boyfriend for kissing me when I said no or my best friend for telling me that it was right, not the youth pastor who told a congregation of youth campers that masturbation was evil. I think of all these things that compounded in my life and made me feel wrong. I think of the nights I spent sitting in front of my mirror as a young girl, repeating the words “disgusting” or “pervert” any time I thought of sex. I remember how big it all felt to me then and how much simpler it feels to me now. How could something so beautiful--lying nude in an empty apartment with my husband before we were married, letting the sunrise shining through the window guide our hands--ever feel wrong to me?

I’m not sure if sex will ever be uncomplicated, but I do know that virginity didn’t make me more or less lovely in the eyes of God. I know that it’s okay to not want things, to give life to your wishes by saying them out loud. And I know that it’s okay to want things, to crave a touch, a kiss. These are things I know now, and I hope you know them too, reader.

My Sophomore Year

SUBMISSION EIGHT CONTAINS THEMES OF: RELATIONSHIPS AND ABUSE. SEE ICONS BELOW.

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My sophomore year of college I was the girl who didn't date. It wasn't for any weird reason and I didn't bring attention to it. I just didn't date. I flirted and got to know a few guys, but that was it. I think I kissed a boy my first week at school, we hung out for like a month, and then both said "nah, not interested."

It wasn't my thing. I had bigger things to achieve and I wanted to get my masters before I ever thought about love.

That was until him. He was my pal: he was kind, funny, and didn't make me feel like my extroverted nature was anything to be ashamed of because he was just like me. But he wasn't just like me; he was not any of those previously mentioned things.

By the end of our first year of friendship the loneliness of my life started creeping in. In retrospect I was being a little melodramatic, but when my roommate talked on the phone with her out-of-state boyfriend for hours every night and my best friends spent their Fridays on double dates, I felt like the odd one out. 

So I ran to him, and we started spending a lot of time together. One thing led to another; I got attached. But I didn't want to be that girl.

I dropped a hint - a simple hint - one night when I was a little tipsy and a little brave: a hint that I would be interested in him if he felt the same way. When we returned to school he called me. 

He asked me, "Did you really mean those things you said?"

"Yeah, but that was stupid I should've told you in a different way," I said. 

"Why don't you come over tonight. We should test this thing out before we tell anyone; we don't want to ruin our group. Make sure no one see you or knows you're coming here. Oh, and I'm probably going to kiss you tonight." 

I met him that night— he was like I thought. Charming, polite, and my best friend. For an hour. 

Then I let him kiss me. I had butterflies; I was in. I let him kiss me for a while and things got different. He roamed my body and I didn't know how to say no. When I asked him to slow down he said, "Why? my roommates will be gone all night."

I didn't know what to do, I wanted him to want me, but not like this.

Luckily his mom called. There was a break. I put my shirt back on and made up an excuse to go home. I cried that night. I cried so hard in my dorm bathroom while my roommate slept. No man had ever touched me like that and I blamed myself. I reminded myself: you went there, you let him kiss you, you didn't tell him no, you didn't tell him to stop. And I convinced myself that I had enjoyed the night and I was dirty and wrong in the eyes of my Christian peers and college. So I cried harder.

The next day in class I told him never again; I didn't get angry, I just said no. He agreed.  

He lied.

In the weeks to come he lured me to his house by telling me our friend group was going to hang out. Instead, he cornered me in his living room. He picked me up for dinner plans that didn't exist and parked somewhere random to force his hands and his lips on me. I tried to trust him and continued to give him chances because I thought one night he would want me for my heart and mind rather my body. But it never changed. 

Every time it happened I cried. I told myself it was my fault. That's what my world taught me: I’m a woman and it is my fault if I tempt a man. To overcome the guilt, I convinced myself I liked it and didn't care. Then I started drinking, more than I ever had before. It continued until one night when he was there; we both got drunk and he tried to force me down on him.

 That was my breaking point, and that is when I stopped being defined but what my society said about my body. Because it was mine and he wasn't going to force me into letting him have his way with me. I kicked him out. So no, this is not a story of rape. This is a story of abuse. And for some reason people seem to think that the kind of thing that happened to me doesn’t matter. It does.

It was over, but I still saw him everyday. He still acted like it was nothing. I should have known. He forced me to keep his secret or he'd tell mine, controlling the narrative. I had to sit by and watch as he dated one of my best friends, turning her against me and letting her make it my fault.

It's been almost 3 years. I am married, I am happy, and I am helplessly in love.

But I still find myself crying in secret some nights for the things he did to me, the things he broke that can't be fixed, the girl who married him and didn't believe me when I told her he was an abuser, and the fact I can't talk about my abuse without people invalidating it. They say I shouldn’t care anymore now that I have a husband. My husband is my partner, not my savior.

Abuse is abuse and you can't just put a bandaid on it.

My Anxiety

SUBMISSION SEVEN CONTAINS THEMES OF: MENTAL HEALTH. SEE ICONS BELOW.

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My anxiety has completely taken over my life. The scariest part is the “depersonalization” feeling when I feel like, holy shit, am I even really here? Or am I just flesh and bones? Leaving the house makes me nervous. Seeing my friends has become more of a chore than anything else. My doctor prescribed me medication but I am too scared to even take that. It feels as if my life is falling apart. I don’t know what to do next.

I Was Awakened

SUBMISSION SIX CONTAINS THEMES OF: CHILD ABUSE AND MENTAL HEALTH. SEE ICONS BELOW.

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I was awakened to the feeling of an unwanted guest, shaken to consciousness by alarm and confusion. I knew those hands, those fingers. They high fived me after I told a good joke, they hugged me and made me beam with pride, they held me when I was a newborn.

Confused.

Terrified.

Frozen.

Scared.

Aroused?

No, I didn’t want this.

After I fled I was told that I SHOULD HAVE....

Said something.

Woken him.

Cried out.

Moved.

Said no.

But I couldn’t.

This was someone I trusted. Someone I loved. Someone I knew loved me. So how could he..... 

This is what I know.

I know what happened.

I believe my body; she has never lied.

I am safe.

It was not my fault.

I am allowed to rest.

I am allowed to not be okay.

Not everyone deserves to know the full extent of my pain.

I will not use my pain for shock value.

I will not freeze my trauma via humor.

I choose to focus on the present moment… my inhale and exhale… not on my future unknown nor my past harm.

I will be okay, just not now.

Because I Said No

SUBMISSION FIVE CONTAINS THEMES OF: MENTAL HEALTH AND ASSAULT. SEE ICONS BELOW.

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Two of my negative experiences with men happened at the same house, two years apart.

I was working a temporary job away from home. On a day off, all of the employees went to one of the coworker's homes; everyone got drunk. I remember laying on the couch—my head on a male coworkers lap, his hand in my pants. And then I remember throwing up.

I never said anything to him or anyone. We only had a week left working the job, and he was close friends with all my other coworkers, as I was not. I was embarrassed…and he was married.

Two years later, same house, different man.

When it happened, I was on vacation with a girlfriend. We were traveling to this man’s hometown and I asked if we could stay with him for a few days (we were college kids with no money).

The last night we stayed, he was leaving the next morning to fly out for a work trip. He took us to get drinks, got us both pretty drunk, and started asking sexual questions. We tried to joke around and change the subject; it felt awkward but we let it slide.

When we drove back to his place, my friend went to bed and I stayed up talking to him. He started asking me deep, interesting questions that I thought were friendly, but then there was a lot of inappropriate touching and I said I was going to bed. I got up and he asked if he could have a goodbye hug since he wouldn’t see me in the morning. I said okay. He hugged me so tightly that I couldn’t move. He tried to kiss me a couple of times but I moved my head so he kept kissing my cheek.

He kept asking why not, why not, why not? All I could think of was saying “because I’ve had too much to drink,” when I really should have said, “because I don’t want to,” “because I don’t like you like that,” “because I’m a virgin,” “because you’re too old for me,” or even, “JUST BECAUSE I SAID NO.”

Eventually he let go. It felt like hours, but the whole exchange was probably only a minute. I went to my room, locked the bedroom door, and stayed up the entire night scared he would come into the room while we were sleeping. We haven’t talked since.

The aftermath? While what happened wasn’t the worst case scenario, I still feel anxious, embarrassed, and untrusting of others.

I still remember every inch of that house.

With Love, A Recovered Alcoholic

SUBMISSION FOUR CONTAINS THEMES OF: SUBSTANCE ABUSE, SUICIDE, AND MENTAL HEALTH. SEE ICONS BELOW.

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Let me preface this with a simple statement: the life that I live today was worth the torment of every grueling challenge and experience I have ever had to face.

I grew up in a home where no one knew how to express love for one another. My father, an abusive alcoholic, was ever-absent. When he was present, which was seldom, he was vicious. Pair the previous with a mother who harbored a variety of mental disorders, then add in a brother who rarely spoke at all. You've got a regular Brady Bunch on your hands.

My parents split when I was around three or four years old. We bounced from one city to the next, riding waves of eviction notices and bankruptcy, as my mother went from one toxic relationship to the next. This period instilled a lot of the ideals that contributed to how my adolescent and early adult life transpired. Among these were, to name a couple, nothing in life is a permanent fixture, so don’t get attached to anything, and love doesn’t actually triumph, no matter how many movies, cheesy teachers, or counselors tell me so. Remember these ideas; they play a major part in my self-destruction.

Fast forward a few years and you'll find my family settled into a small town in the east where things haven't shaped up much. My mother was in a relationship with an alcoholic equally as abusive as my father was. This man also turned out to be kin to another man who, at the time, was sexually abusing my brother. I bore witness to the abuse for somewhere north of two years; more on that in a separate submission. Somewhere amidst all of this, I slammed my instinctual 'fuck it' button and ran. I spent every breathing moment outside of my house, bouncing around friends’ couches, and lying to their parents about why I didn't want to go home. At twelve years old, I yearned for alienation from my family...like I could just push them away and everything would be okay.

During this time I developed a fondness for moonshine, whatever liquor I could find in people’s houses, and a few natural herbs, if you will. This continued for a couple years until around age fifteen. My mother decided she wanted to become an all-powerful, authoritarian figure in the household, monitoring and controlling every aspect of my existence. This spiraled into an emotionally abusive cycle my therapist refers to as ‘surrogate spousing.’ My resentment toward my family grew exponentially, particularly with my mother. My drinking assumed an even more substantial role in my life, and my curiosity for drugs grew with it. From age fifteen on, I would venture to say I did not draw a sober breath until my first trip to a rehabilitation facility some six years later.

Though the deck was stacked against me at home and I had an ever-growing internal need for stronger substances, I somehow managed to do alright in my school work throughout high school. I was frequently absent or in trouble, but a phenomenal test taker — proven by my drunken 2080 on the SAT (editor’s note: the average score around this time was 1400). This landed me acceptance into college, as well as a great job at the local hospital, and things seemed to be on the up and up.

Seemed being the operative word. The substantial abuse of drugs was going to catch up to me. About half a semester into college, I was no longer able to maintain both sides of my life. The side that just wanted to party and escape from everything (emotions especially) won out. I dropped out during my second semester, left the job I was working at the hospital, and began a more concentrated path of destruction.I got heavily involved in the trafficking of prescription drugs and developed an insatiable taste for crack cocaine. Things were fun at first. I was making more cash than I could spend and I assumed this is what life would be like forever.

However, as you can probably guess, things got worse. At nineteen, I overdosed for the first time and I was hospitalized with stomach ulcers and a heart attack. I left the hospital and immediately resumed my position of drinking and drugging constantly. With the passing of my grandfather that year, I spiraled into IV drug use and lost any identity of myself I’d established. I spent the next two years watching friends back out of my life, lost all connection with my family, and performed some heinous things that I never thought possible. I’d overdose eight to nine more times, holding absolutely no value for my life at all. When there wasn’t an actual overdose, I would fall out and just lose consciousness. To say I’m blessed to be alive is a serious understatement.

I fluctuated in and out of homelessness, a drug dealer lit my house on fire, and I had several run-ins with the law. Those are just some of the many external consequences I endured. These all pale in comparison to the complete, utter despair and internal death I dealt with on a daily basis. It was numb, stifling loneliness.

Things finally broke when I was 21, almost 22. It was winter. While out on bail from a previous legal encounter, I wrapped my car around a telephone pole late one night and fled the scene. The police went looking for me the next morning at mom’s house, where I was not. She brought them to the place I was crashing and they served me papers. I hadn’t really spoken to my mom in about a year except when I needed to beg for money. That morning she asked if she could come inside. Looking me in the eyes, the only thing she said was posed as a question.

“Would you please just go ahead and die so that our family can have peace?”

Wow. That one hit me right in the heart. I spent that night using whatever drugs I could scrounge up and the next morning, to what I can now attribute to God acting for me, I felt compelled to ask my mother for help. I’d dropped from 200+ pounds to 125, had holes in my molars from the drug use, and my arms were covered in bruises and cysts from prolonged IV drug use. I wouldn’t recognize that kid if I saw him on the street today.

Thus began my trips to rehabilitation facilities, outpatient centers, halfway houses, relapses, and geographical changes trying to sober up. I did all this without really taking a hard look at the traumas of my past and the hatred I had towards myself. Finally, I landed in a treatment facility down south where they were well-equipped to deal with my past and lack of self-love and self-care. They showed me that no matter what I went through, no matter the horrid things I had done and pain I had put people through, that I still had inherent worth just for being a human being.

What a thought! This was drilled into me by my therapist and center staff, over and over again, despite my fighting and ego’s desire to hold onto these old belief systems that I thought had kept me alive for so long. These people, who loved me unconditionally just for the sole reason that I was alive and breathing, were attempting to convince me that the one thing I thought was guiding me and keeping me safe was actually trying to kill me. I learned what it actually meant to be an alcoholic of the hopeless variety, and I began to build a foundation, one spiritual in nature, that I could rely on to successfully recover from this hopeless state I had been living in. I slowly learned how to love myself and how to love others.

I began to see what they saw: that every single one of us, no matter what we’ve been through or what we’ve done, have the same inherent value. I began to develop a relationship with a power greater than myself, to which I now refer to as God. It is the constant maintenance and exploration of this relationship that keeps me sober today. As I round the corner of my first year of continued sobriety, I often reflect on what it’s taken to get here and how far I really have come in the development of my ‘emotional sobriety.’ The drugs and alcohol were just a symbol — a vessel which I used to escape from feeling anything at all.

Today I live a beautiful life filled with meaningful connection, both new and old, and a renewed sense of purpose driven towards helping those still suffering. I work extensively with other alcoholics and sober homes to ensure that help is there when people are ready to accept it. I am responsible, reliable, and so full of gratitude for my life and the way it’s unfolded. I would not change a thing. Everything I have endured has led me to where I am today and helped me to establish a trusting and powerful relationship with God, as I understand God.

If there is anything I can leave with whoever reads this submission, it would be a simple statement: I love you, unconditionally.

No matter what you are going through, no matter the traumas and experiences you’ve endured, you are worthy of love always. That hole you feel in your chest, that yearning for connection with someone, it can be filled; but first, you must get to know yourself and identify your suffering. The road forward is not an easy one, and there will be certain trials and low points ahead. But I promise you, it is worth it.

You are worth it.

With Love,

A Recovered Alcoholic

I Don't Know Why

SUBMISSION THREE CONTAINS THEMES OF: RELATIONSHIPS. SEE ICONS BELOW.

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I don’t know why I’m nervous to write this. He should be the one embarrassed of how he made me feel. Why am I embarrassed about how I dealt with it?

He knew the power he had over me. He chipped away at me. He put me down. Then he said he loved me, so I played along. I pretended to think it was normal because he loved me.

After we broke up, I’d never felt so free. I didn’t know what it felt like not to be living in a constant state of anxiousness and fear of his words, his reactions, his rejections.

I haven’t experienced it yet but I know now how it should feel when you’re not settling. I know now that I don’t have to.

"Are You Okay?"

SUBMISSION TWO CONTAINS THEMES OF: SHAMING, ASSAULT, AND MANIPULATION. SEE ICONS BELOW.

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Midnight Woman

SUBMISSION ONE CONTAINS THEMES OF: MIDNIGHT WOMAN, RELIGION, AND ASSAULT AND MANIPULATION. SEE ICONS BELOW.

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I grew up in a Christian church. On top of my education being intertwined with the bible and its teachings, I grew up in the humid cathedral that is the south. Even if you weren’t going to church you were somehow inherently Christian, and taught to say ‘bless your heart,’ by the young age of three. As a young woman of this tradition, I was taught to seek a man who pursued both me and this faith-based lifestyle.

Damn, was he dripping with it. He held leadership positions in service organizations on my college campus, took part in outreach for the homeless, and was studying ministry. He never went anywhere without his bible—a small, beat-up, worn-out thing. It was branded with the vague impression of his hand on the cover. He went everywhere with his journal, which was filled with scriptural snippets, song lyrics, prayers. ‘Lord, I need you’ was his favorite.

We met in a whirlwind and became friends during a time of stress for the both of us. I felt lucky that this Godly man wanted to spend time with me. I felt proud when he accompanied me to church and wanted to introduce me to his close friends. Even though he wanted to keep our relationship a secret, it felt exciting and real. He told me he loved me by typing it into the notes on my phone. In the 3am glare of diner neon, I felt chosen. I felt like I was on the edge of something important as we drove for hours, singing loudly, going nowhere.

And we were indeed that—going nowhere. I began to realize this one night when he continued to flit about my room after I told him he needed to leave.

He lit candles and put a record on, "Come on! Just relax," he told me. This man made me feel important. He made me feel like I was closer to that Godly life I was reaching for. I should just relax.

Heard from him, in the same tone as his prayers and that same, ‘Lord, I need you,” was, "It would feel better for me if you took your pants off.”

“I don’t want to.” He wasn’t happy. I felt like I had disappointed him and made him angry. He snapped at me to just take him home then. My stomach dropped at the thought of this well-respected man on my campus telling people bad things about me. What if he tells people I’m a bad Christian? What if he talks about me like the other girls? Crazy and obsessed. I felt nauseated.

The next morning I felt sick to my stomach and dirty. He looked over at me with a huge grin saying, “I had this crazy dream last night.” How could I have lowered myself to this kind of treatment? Eyes glazed over, that night I posed a question.

"Am I supposed to just pretend like this never happened?" I asked with genuine curiosity.

"Well, I videoed everything we did," his reply.

I remembered how he always had his phone out and was taking Snapchats of me half-naked and yeah, why wouldn't he save those to his phone? Well, I videoed everything we did.

"I put a little camera right over there," he continued, pointing to a corner of my bedroom. I videoed everything we did.

I’m still sick when I smell the candle he lit to persuade me to calm down, a scent that has been stolen from me. I cringe when I hear that record, one that’d previously crooned me to sleep throughout college. I videoed everything we did. To this day I still do not know if this man has video of me. I don’t know if he took advantage of me while I was sleeping. These are questions I have to force out of my head while I’m trying to sleep at night or trying to be intimate with someone else, wondering if I can trust anyone anymore.

I cried. I grieved because I was angry. Because when I reported it, I wasn’t taken seriously. Because I was made to feel like a slut by people who were meant to be my protectors. Because someone had used a faith that was once my lifeline as a way to manipulate me into taking my clothes off. Because for every me there are three more women who didn’t have the energy to speak up. More than he had broken me, my heart broke for them.

As with every story, this is a small piece. There are other men. Other horrible things that have been said to me. Parts of my mental health journey that I’d one day like to address here. Ways that I’ve been discriminated against for simply being female. And let me also say this: though I mention the subject of spirituality here does not mean that this outlet shares those beliefs, nor is it restricted to them. Those are my stories, my experiences—yours are different. I implore and welcome you to use this platform to share your own experiences; and those aren't limited to harassment or abuse. I welcome your thoughts because, together, we can redefine the way we talk about what’s happened to us. What we have survived. To create awareness of such things is the only way to make them stop. Together, we can wring the cloths of silence and fear.

I like to think of it like this: I have stepped into the light of justice. No one could give me the strength to put one foot in front of the other, and no one could give me the light. No one but me.

Welcome to Midnight Woman. It’s for you.

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