Processing … Processing …

The week of Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) that I first had to write the details of my rape, and then read it daily, hurt like hell. And I started to feel vulnerable. But slowly reading it became, kinda, more mechanical. I started feeling more, blissfully, numb.

Last week I felt numb.

This week it has been full on rage every time I so much as start to read it. One sentence and I feel my blood pressure rising, pounding in my neck and temple. Nightmares are back. I feel tense all the time. I’m on that edge.

In CPT group today our fearless leaders (there are two) asked me what was under the anger that I’m avoiding feeling …. Well damn. Are we really going to go there?

Yep.

Not that I don’t have a right to feel anger toward my rapists. Not that the anger isn’t justified, because it IS. But what ELSE is there hidden under the anger? And I know what it is. I know because I’ve been stuck in this pattern for awhile now. I feel anger, and when I exhaust myself I feel depression. I know how to handle both of those feelings though I don’t particularly like either one. What’s under them is fear. But what am I afraid of?

What I can’t handle, what I avoid, is that big black sucking hole of hurt in the middle of my chest. Maybe I don’t know what to do with it. Maybe I’m afraid if I let it have it’s way it will overtake me. Maybe I’m afraid if I let myself feel all that pain I’ll never be able to feel anything else because I have so much in my life to feel that kind of pain for.

There’s also the vulnerability. Allowing myself to feel the hurt means allowing myself to feel vulnerable. Much as I don’t like feeling anger or depression, I REALLY don’t like feeling vulnerable. In fact, I would probably do almost anything not to be or feel vulnerable.

But I’ve been here before, processing other things. I know the only way out is through. I’m committed to the process, and to my own growth, even when I groan (real or implied).

So damn. Here I go again.

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Suicide

I haven’t thought about killing myself in a long time. I spend time on Facebook talking with other veterans who sound like they are or may be suicidal. I try to get them to choose life. So you can imagine how surprised I was to find myself seriously thinking about getting my gun and eating it.

I wasn’t aware of feeling surprised until much later. I only felt a deep black hole of despair growing inside my chest, and the certainty that I would never be okay, I would never be unbroken, and the people in my life were better off without me.

It can sneak up on you like that. Even years later. Even after therapy. Even during therapy.

To be frank, I’m going through Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) group and individual therapy for issues related to military rape (MST) and post traumatic stress (PTS). I was writing the details of that rape for the first time when I spiraled down that dark hole of despair.

I was able to pull myself out. I have reasons to live, those who depend on me. It was enough to get me through. Others have not been so lucky.

Daily, an average of 22 of my sister and brother veterans successfully commit suicide. This has to stop. If you are a veteran and there’s any chance you may feel depressed or suicidal, please take the Spartan Pledge with me, or with your battle buddy:

spartan pledge

Next, if you can’t reach your Battle Buddy, or if you don’t have one, call this number (1-800-273-8255, press 1) and talk to someone, or go online to chat with someone at (https://www.veteranscrisisline.net).

Reach out. Please. Even if you don’t feel like it right now: you are valuable, you are lovable, you are worthy, you are wanted, you are needed, YOU MATTER … just exactly as you are right now.

The Lucky Ones

I’m one of the lucky ones. I have an honorable discharge from the military. Because I’m service connected, I’m being treated for physical disabilities and for Post Traumatic Stress (PTS), as well as for Military Sexual Trauma (MST), which in my case means rape. I’ve already gone through a bunch of individual and group therapy in the civilian system earlier for childhood issues which haven’t been a major issue in my life for some time. Though I will add this codicil: something always pops up once in awhile. You can’t go through all I’ve been through and come out completely unscathed, no matter how much therapy you get. And maybe I’ll talk more about that down the road someday, or if you have honest, reasonable and respectful questions you want to ask me in the comments section.

Now I’m dealing with the military rape, which was a particularly brutal, physically abusive rape. I’m receiving individual therapy and am also in group Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT). It’s the first time I’ve actually told anyone what happened to me in detail. Even myself. I’ve not sat and thought through what happened. Maybe that sounds odd to you. Flashes of memory have hit me and I’ve stuffed them down with work, with drink, with food, with whatever. But I never let myself sit and think through the events of that night. I couldn’t. It was too painful and degrading, and I felt too alone.

There’s something about being in a room with my military sisters who have been through some version or other of what I have been through that makes it easier to face the demons that haunt my nightmares.

It’s easier to see the strength and courage in my sisters than it is to see it in myself. It’s easier to see the blamelessness in them. It’s easier to stand up for them. And slowly I begin to be able to see and do these things for myself.

MoonSmWomyn2

Rape is not just sex you didn’t want, so you can’t just get over it. Besides the physical damage that’s often done to your body, there is the psychological, emotional, and spiritual damage. It is a violation of the most fundamental and personal kind. It isn’t even about sex. It’s about power. It’s about your rapist(s) demeaning you, treating you like you are something less than human, stripping you of your most basic human right–to determine who will intimately touch your body and in what manner and when and where and why. It affects your ability to make these choices in the future, because even with therapy there will be times when something reminds you of your rapist(s) and the beautiful man or woman you are with now, who accidentally triggers that memory with cologne, or touch, or words, or … will end up paying for that mistake by a ruined moment. If they’re a good, mature and compassionate person, they’ll stay and work it through with you or give you the space to work through it. If they’re not, let them go, they have a lot more growing up to do.

Think of it like being thrown into a POW camp for however long the serious and pervasive sexual harassment, sexual abuse, and/or rape AND RETALIATION lasts (because all of those come under the definition of MST). Only to make it worse, it is your brothers-in-arms, the ones who are supposed to have your back (or your superiors), who are doing this to you. When you bring a complaint, like you are told to do, the retaliation makes it even worse. You can’t leave. You have to work with your rapist(s) and their friends every day. You are subjected to daily retaliation that terrifies you, humiliates you. And NO ONE believes you.

Now imagine all your friends and family back home telling you to just get over it, asking what you did to cause it.

The point is, it will get better. But it will take time, and you will never really be over it. Not completely. Something has forever changed. YOU have forever changed. You are a different person now. You will need to grieve the person you were before, the trajectory of your life before. Most likely you will need professional help to do this well. When you do heal you will still find times that it may come back to haunt you in surprising ways, though without the intensity and crippling symptoms of your pre-therapy days.

I know this because of all the things I’ve already worked through. But some days it hurts so bad it FEELS like it’s never going to get better. I just keep reminding myself I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m still alive. There are so many who aren’t.

Wars

It’s amazing what you can live with, and no one knows unless you tell them.

When you are maybe three years old your mother has a psychotic break and tries to pin your hands to the kitchen table with a knife in a game of chicken. Then she ties you to the foot of the pipe bed in her dark bedroom all day to keep you safe from her voices. You can hear her arguing with them, but you can’t hear THEM. Every time her footsteps approach the door it terrifies you and you fight to get your hands free but you can’t. You feel like a prisoner of her war. Your father finds you there one night when he comes home from work and you are scared because you peed your pants, but it’s okay because he isn’t angry. You don’t see your mother for a long time after that. When she returns she seems like someone else, like a robot. For the rest of your childhood she will mostly be this over-medicated zombie of neglect.
When you are four years old your father starts molesting you. You don’t like it. You don’t want it. But he talks about it as if it is something you do together, share together, want together. He tells you that if you ever tell anyone they will lock you up in a place like your mother went to, and they will never let you out. Over the years he tells you this a lot. He tells you you are crazy like your mother, that you imagine things. The older you get, the more you try to fight him off, the more he says this. He reads Detective magazines. The kind with graphic descriptions of women and young girls being raped and sexually tortured to death. He underlines the worst passages and makes you read them while he grins at you. Your body and your mind are his killing field.

Your father never keeps a job so you are always poor. He moves you around the country a lot. A different school every year. Sometimes more than one a year. You never learn how to build and develop stable relationships over time. The neighborhoods you live in are rough. Every time you move into a new one you have to let the biggest, baddest girl beat you up, because you are small and don’t know how to fight. It’s okay because as long as you have the guts to show up she ends up being your pal and protector, and you end up helping her with her homework. You feel like you are fighting in a war, but for what? You don’t know.

When you are sixteen, because you have found a way to make him leave you alone, your father tells you they are moving without you and you need to find some other place to live. Your mother is crying but she is helpless to do anything. You find a place. You survive. You beat the odds. You finish High School. You feel like you have won a war. You can go home. But you have no home to go to.

You join the military. Because you are smart and responsible they build you into a leader. They mentor you. They parent you. They sibling you. You develop confidence, self-respect, and belonging. You believe in them. You believe in yourself. They become your family. The one you never really had. You would do almost anything for them, for your country. You would die for them, for the whole country of them.

And then they rape you. Your body is someone’s war zone again. Suddenly you are a slut, a whore. You asked for it. It’s your fault. Be quiet. Shut up. Get over it. Shut up. Just get over it! But you can’t. Because everything has changed now. Everything.

Once again you are alone. But now you know it’s possible to NOT be alone. It’s possible to belong somewhere, to be part of something greater than yourself. Now the loss really hurts. You feel lonelier than you have ever felt.

And now you are broken.

You don’t know it’s called Military Sexual Trauma (MST) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). They haven’t even named it yet. All you know is you can’t sleep. Certain things drop you into a cold shaking sweat. Memories hit you like a baseball bat across the face. You can’t stand crowds, or crowded streets. You have to sit with your back to a wall. You constantly scan for danger. You do perimeter checks before you can lie down at night. And god help the person that sneaks up behind you or touches you without warning you first, if you don’t see them or know they’re there. Sometimes a smell, or sound, or sight throws you right back there and it’s like it’s really happening all over again. You are fighting a war inside yourself, and your spirit has become the killing field.
It’s an invisible war because no one can see a missing limb. And no one wants to hear about it. No one wants to know. They just want you to get over it. It’s invisible because it’s fought against women, and believe it or not against men, in the shadows. Very few perpetrators ever see any prison time or even bad conduct discharges. Often, instead, they are promoted and moved, while their victims are processed out of the service with less than honorable discharges–making them ineligible for veteran’s benefits, including mental health services. It’s invisible because it’s swept under the proverbial carpet.

So you are also fighting a war with the patriarchy that wants to keep things as they are. The way that lets predators rape women and men and get away with it, while their victims are at best ignored and at worst criminalized in the military justice system.

There is also war in the moments where fear, duty, shame, courage, and friendship vie with each other: fire fights that scare the hell out of you and you want to run for cover but you know if you do someone depending on you will probably die, and in the split seconds you have to decide who you can save and who you have to let die, and …

The thing is, there are all kinds of wars and they all end up being fought on the inside of people, don’t they?