Monday, June 25, 2012

"The R Word," Why now? and various other musings

First, another article I read and need to share. Warning that this is heavy - triggering, for some, and more graphic than most things I've ever posted. It's a discussion of the trivializing use of the word "rape," in this case specifically in video games:

I think I was especially struck by this article because it articulated so many of the arguments that I tried (and sometimes failed) to make in similar discussions, most notably one evening on Facebook last year when I argued about the term "Facebook rape" with some friends of friends who I didn't even know. That night hurt and sent me into a tailspin for a little while. The author of this article describes his own experiences in pretty stark detail, which is disconcerting but probably necessary to drive home his point, especially in the gaming world which is a harsh place where I don't hang out (not just because of things like this in gaming culture - also because I'm not great at video games!).

Some key quotations, for those not keen on clicking on the potentially triggering link:

"Despite all the articles, I have yet to see one that helps people understand, in detail, why this is such a personal topic for people who have had rape in their past. Perhaps it's our fault for not taking you there, for just assuming you'd care about something that for you is an abstract idea, but for us is a painful reality." Yes. So much. And it's so hard to hammer home that point to people...but that's exactly what this brave man did. 

He voices the troubles faced by people with PTSD, rape survivors in particular, and this bit especially rings true: "My whole life I had felt worthless. I always tried harder than anyone because I was afraid of what authority figures, those who had power over me, would do if I failed. That's not uncommon for rape victims, it turns out. Trauma like that changes your brain chemistry, makes you feel helpless and inadequate even in situations you're perfectly capable of handling." My terror of authority is one of the few things that still really hinders me - at work, and in unexpected situations when I become afraid of people I merely perceive to be in positions of authority, such as more experienced drivers or better-dressed people on the street. I still cower in the face of criticism, and it wounds me in a way that is far from constructive. It is cliché to say that being a perfectionist is a weakness at work, but I do think in my case that it is. It means that when something goes wrong, and is noticed, that I dissolve entirely and have difficulty rebuilding, staying in a fearful mental space for far longer than is healthy or normal. Some of this may be due to being emotionally abused by a teacher in elementary school, compounded by years of bullying, but I do often think it was driven home by rape, which instilled in me an even deeper fear of how people in power truly could hurt me. Part of me, even years later, is still ensnared by that fear, which emerges whenever there is a situation that brings up even tangentially related emotions. It's not very productive!

Then the anonymous gamer makes a key point which I've never quite elucidated in my own arguments on this topic: the difference between hurt and offense. It seems obvious, but somehow is something I struggled to make clear to people when I objected to their words and became upset. In this case, again, his words are better than mine: "Often I won't say anything, even when I'm upset, because I don't want to be negative and ruin everyone's fun. Except "ruining fun" is exactly why I dislike it when people use that word. It ruins my fun. It sucks the fun out of a game like oxygen through a blown airlock. Being raped was the worst thing that ever happened to me, and I don't like to be reminded of it when I'm supposed to be enjoying myself. Imagine if someone captured your flag or dominated you in deathmatch, then rubbed in your face how your sister was killed by a drunk driver or your dad abandoned you when you were little. That's how close it cuts. People keep using the word "offended," in this discussion -- I'm not offended, I'm hurt. Hearing this word causes me emotional pain."

I'm hurt, not offended. This is what I wish I'd said, what I need to say, in so many similar situations. A little over a month ago, at a staff training retreat at work, several of us at lunch ended up talking about stalkers. I'm not sure how the topic came up - I certainly didn't introduce it. Someone in a more senior position to me mentioned how she'd been "stalked" by someone who gave her cookies and other baked goods, and how she'd not been fond of his behaviour but wanted to keep him around for the baking. She set up this supposed stalker with a friend of hers and they are close now.

I wanted to scream (but didn't; this is my boss we're talking about - and remember my issues with authority here! - it was also at work in a dining hall also crowded with staff whom I quasi-supervise). This isn't stalking we're talking about - this is an annoyance, petty behaviour. Stalking is a crime. Intimidation. Threats. Harassment. Not repeated purchase of cookies that stops when you ask nicely. I was stalked off and on for years by the man who raped me, and on a different occasion followed from my elementary school, threatened, and intimidated by a stranger as a child. Those are experiences I remember with terror - there is no humour in them and they are certainly not experiences I'd bring up as light lunchtime conversation with my colleagues. In my usual pattern, I retreated and proceeded to stew over it. I've been stewing since mid May, and it's now the end of June. It all brought me back to the inaccurate, trivializing, hurtful use of "rape" as a term to describe various virtual interactions that aren't very nice, but also aren't rape. Hurtful. I wasn't just offended by how this person, and other co-workers who mentioned having "stalkers" at various points, lightly told their stories as though talking about their first dates. I was profoundly hurt. She did not intend it, but something that terrified me for years became with this group of people a simple part of dating and courtship instead of the crime that it is. I felt jealous, confused, and angry - but most of all, hurt. And it's taken me a long time to put a finger on it, and to be able to explain to myself why I feel doubly wounded when somebody accuses me of simply being easily offended when I become upset about how people use these words.

I feel like I'm ranting at this point. I probably am. So I'll change gears. Another thing that's been on my mind these past few nights...why now? I've had enough of the "why me?" musings - they aren't productive and there is little I can do but accept that this happened to me. Happened. In the past. So why is it - "it" in this case being my past, issues of rape and bullying, trauma and the fear I always hid - hurting me more this spring than others?

This spring has been tumultuous for my family. My sister has been very ill, and our life has been turned upside-down. Things wrench inside of me because of the fear of losing her, almost every night. Simultaneously, a good friend is also struggling with mental illness that scares me - again, a feeling of loss with each night in the hospital, being overwhelmed and confused, terrified, and feeling helpless. All of this is a huge understatement. It will probably be a long time before I'll be able to really explain how this is all making me feel. One would think my mind would be wholly occupied with the daemons of its present, but instead in the long nights once I think things have subsided and I am finally about to sleep, the past awakens. I haven't had flashbacks again, thankfully, or hurt myself, but the anger and the fear from years ago has been flooding back. Why now? I've been puzzled by this. The best I can come up with is that there is some sort of a connection created by emotions in my brain.

I've been thinking about times and experiences as though they are islands, linked by bridges of emotion in my mind. Currently there is fear, anger, loss, hopelessness relating to my current situation and the fear of losing people whom I love. In the past, there was fear, anger, hopelessness, and so forth while being raped, and dealing with the aftermath of it, but those feelings were so intense I couldn't name them or recognize them at the time. The best I can surmise is that right now there is a bridge of sorts between those feelings, and that something inside of me is crossing over.

It's not fun. Hell no. But I am not as overpowered by my own feelings as I have been in the past. Somehow I know what they are now. Perhaps it's writing about them; perhaps it's time. In my Memories Series poem (which I posted last night while somewhat working through this post in my head), one line reads "Memories are fluid, and engulf me when it’s right \ To look at all the shattered glass that’s gathered in my knees. \ I pull out every shard of glass, and I keep up my fight: \ A fight that’s set on fire by my memories." Lately I've been wondering whether this is simply the time that my subconscious has chosen for pulling out at least some of the splinters that have been hurting me for years, which have become so engrained that I've become accustomed to them. Perhaps when I've been hurting so intensely because of other things in my life, I have the fuel to work through elements of my past that I usually keep buried so that I don't let those feelings free.

At work I jotted down today some things, just fragments, metaphorically linking this again to pulling out splinters: "healing is like pulling out deeply embedded splinters. Bleeding is inevitable even if the nerve endings have long since been severed. It's like unplugging something. It hurts unimaginably and acutely but is cleaner and less toxic than leaving a fragment to keep stabbing for eternity, fermenting, turning gangrenous inside of me."As a child I was always petrified of getting small slivers in my feet from running barefoot on the back deck, and I remember keenly the fear of my mother attempting to root out some stubborn splinters of wood, reluctantly and as gently as she could, with a sterilized needle. Now I know that slivers have to come out. Perhaps now is a time to release the splinters of wood, the slivers of the past, which have been catalyzed by my present fear. I can only hope that this won't be too dramatic or pull me down for too long.

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