Searching for safety and consent

I want to write this for strangers. Which means I need to give context that might be annoying for folks who know me well. Sorry about that.

It’s been a long journey. I’m only 34. I turn 35 in just over three weeks, so I’ll call myself 35. I’ve spent  almost 33 of those years in therapy, much of it court ordered. I have long been considered “treatment resistant” with my many mental and physical problems. For those who don’t know my diagnosis list includes (in no particular order): Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, fibromyalgia, TMD (jaw problems), and Pre Menstrual Dysphoria Disorder. Recently my therapist and psychiatrist are starting to suggest ADD. Because I need more letters in my alphabet soup.

Pretty much what all that can be summarized as, “I’m a highly traumatized person who is fairly fucked up.”

When I say traumatized I mean both long-term severe neglect as well as periodic extreme trauma. Things like having my face ripped off by a pit bull (117 stitches were necessary to put it back on). Things like having my biological father rape me and hold a gun to my head. Things like moving more than 50 times before I was 18 and attending 25 schools. I mean things like having to steal food in order to not starve. It was bad. If you want to read more about it… I wrote a book.

I mean things like I am the product of rape. Fairly recent studies show that being completely unwanted by your mother during pregnancy can have a permanent lifetime impact.

All of these things combine to create a person (me) who has had a lifetime of very little intrinsic self worth, very few self protection mechanisms, and very little inherent ability to figure out what is healthy for myself.

It’s complicated.

I’ve been raped a lot. Starting when I was a toddler and moving into my 20’s. Some of these rapes were very clearly RAPE. Some of them were… kind of muddy. Guess who gets to define them as rape or not? Me. No one else. I wish I had a scale for talking about my experiences, not because I want to invalidate the experiences of other people but because talking about my personal experiences is really hard because they all sound… kind of equivalent when I’m speaking about them to other people. Or someone will think that some of them don’t count because on their personal scale, some of my rapes “don’t count”.

You know what? People are differently traumatized by experiences based on a wide variety of personal factors.

I’m not going to bounce back from some things as easily as some people. I’m going to bounce back from other things far more easily than most people. Because we are all different and that is normal, healthy, and ok.

It has been a long journey for me. It has been hard for me to manage my severe self hatred, self mutilation, and disordered thinking. I’ve had a freakish amount of support for someone as traumatized and poor as I was. I prosecuted my father. As a result I was able to get my therapy paid for by the state because I was the victim of a violent crime. My therapists submitted paperwork year after year after year to request continuances on my treatment because they knew I would probably die if I was left to make it through my early years on my own. I am very lucky. The state only wanted to pay for a few months of treatment. Instead they paid for almost ten years. Then I had private insurance and could handle the co-pay. More recently I just pay out of pocket because incest/severe trauma specialists often won’t fuss with insurance.

I’m very lucky I can afford the support I need.

Not everyone is so lucky.

I did not report most of the rapes I experienced. Why? Because I didn’t think anyone would believe me. Because the circumstances were convoluted and complicated and layered. Because after the one attempt at prosecution (which wasn’t actually successful because he committed suicide instead of going to court after fully confessing to the detectives who interviewed him) I tried again when someone spiked my drink and raped me when I was unconscious.

The detectives I worked with as a 16 year old were supportive, caring, and wonderful. The detectives I worked with as an 18 year old told me “What did you expect would happen when you went on a date with a guy to a party?” and “We aren’t going to ruin that nice boy’s life for you.”

I never again attempted to use the legal system to defend myself and I don’t know that I would ever have the courage again. The only reason I had the nerve with my father was because he raped me for so many years and it was so egregious. The detectives who interviewed him came to me afterwards and told me, while pea green, “I have never heard something so horrifying in my whole life. He corroborated every story you told and added details and told us many stories you don’t remember.”

I’m glad my brain decided I don’t need to remember everything. But sometimes I think about going through the legal channels to get the police report. Because… frankly with this much distance I sort of wonder what did I survive?

I came into the bdsm community at 18. By 19 I was in a 24/7 M/s relationship with a man almost 13 years my senior. He had been in the community for many years and had a really established reputation.

I would like to formally say that my Owner probably fucked up a few times with very minor negotiation details because we are all human but he never ever harmed me. He was the first person who respected my boundaries and lived up to his commitments with me. I’ll be grateful for him for the rest of my life. He did not abuse me. He did not rape me beyond carefully negotiated rape play scenes. They were never traumatizing and in fact helped me work through a lot of trauma.

Outside of my relationship with him my experiences have been more muddy. I would say that the vast majority of my bdsm partners have been respectful, honorable, wonderful people. Thank you for honoring me by sharing the gift of play.

Then there were the people who heard “Don’t do X” and did X after restraining me so I couldn’t resist. One of the people who did this has apologized profusely, publicly and in a way that made me feel like he really did misunderstand and fuck up. I’ve known him for 16 years after that event and I’ve never heard a single other story about him fucking up like that. It was a genuine mistake, he learned from it and I healed and life moves on. I don’t want to make it sound like all people who violate consent are horrifying unrepentant monsters who should be burned at the stake. I don’t believe that.

I have committed rape. I was a child. Five years old to be specific. I didn’t know it was rape for many years. When I found out it was rape I denied it and called the person who was accusing me a liar. I was twelve when I denied it up one side and down the other. I called the parent of the person I raped and said that the person was lying about me. I feel so much shame for my actions that I cannot possibly express the extent of my feelings. But now, as a 35 year old who has not (to the best of my knowledge) ever done something like that again… I am trying to forgive myself. I was doing what my father told me to do. I was trying to be good.

I understand that a great many rapists are following the scripts they were given by their family, by society, and by the media for how to be a good/strong man/person/dominant/whatever.

When I became an adult I reached out to the person I raped and I spoke to them. I apologized up one side and down the other for raping them and for denying it and getting them in trouble. I didn’t and don’t think I deserve forgiveness from them. That is up to the person I hurt.

You can never undo a wrong that big.

Back to my adulthood. During my relationship with my Owner I had the great fortune to be introduced to a number of professional sex workers. These women were the first people to really explicitly talk in front of me about boundaries, how to enforce them, how to keep yourself safe, and how to not give a shit about not meeting someone else’s needs. I’m still in touch with many of them. I count them as friends and I’m grateful for their presence in my life.

When I left my Owner I… didn’t do a great job of keeping myself safe. I had friendships with several men that involved a lot of small slow increases in boundary violations and I didn’t retreat from the relationships. I didn’t really know how. I was still in contact with my biological family. I was still trying to figure out how to separate my feelings of worthlessness/feelings of deserving to be hurt from whether or not I should put up with the person in front of me hurting me.

I still struggle to identify within myself when my desire to engage in bdsm practices comes from a Harm Reduction desire to have someone else hurt me (because they will probably do less damage to me than I will do to me) or when it comes from a place of just genuine sexual desire. I do genuinely get off on bdsm. It isn’t all bad. It isn’t all trauma and fuss. Bdsm has been the door to me learning a lot about my own strength, worthiness, and genuine friendships.

I am grateful for my friends in this community. Your faith in me has carried me when I could not carry myself.

One particular rape sticks out in my mind. It happened when I was 24. I was at a public sex party. I had decided to do GHB with a few friends at the party. When the party host (who was a sometimes sex partner of mine) asked me to go to a back room with him I thought nothing of it. I was completely ok with the idea of having sex with him. With a condom. I was not on any form of birth control and as a fertile womb carrying person… I needed a condom to be used. He knew that about me. He had unprotected sex with me while I said “No no no no” and tried to push him off. I wasn’t strong enough, not at all with the drug in my system.

When it was over I stumbled out, grabbed my clothes and went to sleep off the drug in my car before I began the 35ish mile drive home. I cried a lot. I didn’t tell anyone for a long time.

I thought I deserved it. I didn’t think I had the right to call it rape.

It was rape. I didn’t deserve it. After a while I started writing about it publicly and I used his full name. Some of our mutual friends brought it to his attention, asked him about it, and asked him to contact me. He said, “I don’t remember that happening but if you feel hurt by something I’m sorry”.

I… didn’t feel better. In the years since I have had to deal with his name coming up in a variety of contexts and I feel sick to my stomach every time I hear about him. He is a serial predator and I’ve heard about a number of other women with similar and worse stories.

I am very lucky that a number of party hosts know me, trust me, and based on my story and other stories they have banned him. Thank you my friends.

Recently on Fet I’ve been reading about cases of “consent violations” that turn my stomach. The part that turns my stomach is all the people saying, “Oh don’t condemn the person who made a mistake.” Wow. I…

“When do we forgive people who have made a consent mistake?”

I cringe. I cry. Do you know who decides when someone needs to forgive someone who harmed them? The person who is harmed. No one else.

I may want a scale so I can talk about the effect my rapes have had on me, but I don’t want a scale so I can judge whether or not someone else’s experiences “count” or not. I do not have that right. Only the person who is harmed gets to decide that. I wish I had a scale for talking about my experiences. But I sure as shit don’t want someone else deciding for me.

When people say, “Did you go to the police? No? Then it’s not real rape” my stomach clenches. I tried twice. Once successfully. Once I was rebuffed. There were many other rapes. Starting when I was seven years old.

I didn’t think anyone would care about a piece of white trash. My reading of statistics and police policy indicates that I was right on the money. I’m very lucky I was supported in prosecuting my father. Very few victims get that kind of support.

I’m writing this because right now I feel on the crux of changing things within myself. I have managed to hit a fairly major breakthrough in my therapeutic process. I did actually find a way to release some of the shame, blame, and guilt I feel over existing. I have managed to get a break (at least for a few days… so far…) from the horrifying voices in my head that tell me I’m worthless and should die.

I’m very grateful after so many decades of being considered near-hopeless.

All of this to say that I feel like I might get to enter a new stage. I might get to figure out more about what bdsm, sex, connection, and intimacy might mean to me. This is exciting and terrifying.

I don’t know how other people figure out what drives them. I don’t know how other people figure out what they need vs what they want vs what would be tolerable if someone else really wants it but they don’t care about it.

I have had a very hard time differentiating these things in my life. I’m not blaming anyone, not any of my abusers, but I’m trying to be honest with myself about the difficulties I have experienced so that I can hope to make progress. If you can’t be honest with yourself how can you grow? If you can’t understand where you come from how can you figure out how to get where you want to go?

I need to find some compassion for myself. I have not traditionally had a lot of compassion for myself. I have felt contempt. I have felt fury. I have felt disgust and hatred. Right now I am empty of contempt, fury, disgust, and hatred. I don’t know what will come next. There is this void inside me where I am waiting to see what comes next.

What does being an integrated person mean?

It means having emotions in my body and being able to identify them without scorn. It means being able to have limits and boundaries without hating myself.

I haven’t had much time in my life where I haven’t felt consumed with self hatred. I’m having a fairly surreal couple of days here. I wonder how long this will last.

I’m writing this in this way because I feel heavily triggered by public conversations somewhere else and I’m trying to not wade in deep. There is no win for me in wading in there. So I stay here in my sandbox and talk to myself. This isn’t about my reaction to your journey. This is about me trying to figure out what I’m doing on this journey of my own.

Where am I going? What am I doing?

I’m trying to figure out how to have connection without needing people to harm me. I’m trying to figure out how to love myself. I’m trying to figure out what I have to give back in this life. Yesterday Noah reminded me of a quote from The Last Unicorn ““No,” he repeated, and this time the word tolled in another voice, a kings’s voice; not Haggard, but a king whose grief was not for what he did not have, but for what he could not give.”

I am at a fairly unique point in my story. I can perceive how lucky I am… and not hate myself for it. I want to move forward with this feeling. I want to figure out how to use the extraordinary luck I have been granted in this life to help others. Others who have not been so lucky.

Not everyone who suffers terribly has years of therapy paid for. Not everyone who suffers terribly is awarded money in court, enough to keep them safe for more than a decade. Not everyone who suffers terribly ends up financially secure, nay rich. I’m not in the 1%. But there is the non-zero possibility I’ll get there. I don’t need many more years at the rate of income we have coming in before I will be able to manage that.

That is astounding to someone who once stole food to eat, to someone who slept in cars and on couches and floors in other peoples homes for years.

How did I get here? One step at a time.

Not everyone can do this. Why did I? It’s not because I’m a better person. It’s not because I’m more deserving. It might be, in part, because I am in fact smart. I am constantly shocked by the number of people who email me, call me, or show up at my house to say, “I don’t understand this and I know you will be able to explain it to me.” I wouldn’t be doing so well financially if I didn’t have brutal self discipline with money.

I taught myself first. That’s part of why I’m a good teacher. I’m a hard, resistant, obnoxious student. If I can get through to me… most other people are a cake walk.

Why am I still writing on this? Apparently cause I want my hands to hurt.

I think I’m just enjoying how it fees to be inside a head that isn’t screaming with hate. I’m enjoying the feeling of exploding possibilities.

I appreciate how many people who work professionally in mental health are excited about what I want to do with the incest data base in the future. I’m told over and over and over that there is a serious need for someone to go do that work. I want to do it. I want to learn how to be worthy of hearing the stories. I don’t want to interpret them. I just want to help those of us in the cohort feel less alone. I want us to understand the commonalities in our experiences. I guess I want to codify the stories? Is that the same as interpret? I hope not. I hope I can be more truthful than that. So much is lost in interpretation. I don’t want to lose the truth that each story carries on its own. I just want to…

Help us figure out what kinds of things tend to happen. I want to know how the others are doing. I feel kinship. I feel relationship. I feel connection with other incest cohort folks.

Even the perpetrators.

I’ve been reading a lot about forgiveness. Who should forgive the perpetrators? Maybe that forgiveness needs to come from elsewhere in the community and not from the folks they acted upon.

Notice how hard I’m trying not to say victims or survivors?

Perpetrators still… seems relevant and fair.

I need more words. I need to hear more stories. I need to hear what people call themselves. I don’t know.

I think I’m so god damn lucky in this life that survivor and victim are seeming less relevant by the year. It’s complicated.

Does that mean I need to forgive my father? I don’t know. Do I need to forgive Paul or Kevin or Michael? Or. Or. Or.

I think maybe they need to be forgiven by someone. Not necessarily by me. Even if I do forgive them that needs to be about me. It doesn’t mean I ever need to talk to them again. I don’t have to. I owe them nothing.

This is all so complicated.

What do I believe in?

I believe in my children. I believe in my infinite capability to adapt. I have proven to myself that I can adapt long past when other people freeze up and just can’t.

I can.

Why?

I don’t know. Will I become exactly what other people want? Fuck no. I didn’t say I would conform. I said I would adapt. Because I do. Over and over and over again.

The more I read about developmental trauma the happier I am with myself as a parent. I am doing the work. I am adapting as they need me to. I hold them close and let go whenever they need me to. I react to their emotions and mirror them. I teach them how to identify and deal with their emotions. I teach them all the things I had to learn painfully out of books and in therapy. I do it with a great deal of gentleness and love.

I’m not perfect. But that would actually be a problem too. I’m not supposed to be perfect. I’m supposed to screw up and grow. So I can model how that works.

We all violate consent sometimes. We all have to apologize.

That’s part of life.

Right now my beloved children are gathering milkweed seeds and spreading them all over the yard (and our neighbors yards… whoops…). They are dancing and spinning and singing.

This moment is perfect.

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