Heading deeper into my season of grief, and yet feeling permeated with light, beaming from every pore.

January the year I turned 18 I “ran away” for the last time. That time I made it to safety, after so many tries, so many threats, so many terrors.

It was not very safe, but it was safer there than I ever had been, even walking late nights with my sharpest key between my knuckles, meth addicts in place of zombies, because Snohomish County is a place that I came from.

I still have running away dreams, so many of my dreams involve being chased, having to go into hiding. Waypoints on the two highways that segmented the town we lived in, bus stops and routes that ought to overlaps but don’t, the precarious nature of navigating between them. Bike paths that end in train stations with seven stacked labyrinths and no elevator. Waiting behind a door to fool those who might open it into believing the room is empty.

But I open a new door this year, and I want to stand in the middle of the room, under the brightest light. It is terrifying, and I am alive. It is dangerous, and I am living.

I did not kill myself by the time I turned 25. I am 30 years old now, and that is a fucking miracle. He didn’t kill me, either.

Sometimes safe is just the place where he isn’t, and sometimes I make it myself, thumb prints in clay. And I did. I got me here, fists and boots and traveling spoon, spoked wheels and determination, a hard no and a hard yes. Heart in red marker on my sleeve, because I am not afraid of caring (anymore).

It is in winter that we dig up the old roots, and plant new bulbs.

trigger warning for: aftermath of sexual assault and childhood abuse.

9/2/12 journal entry (1st page of this journal, edited for clarity)

“Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…”

He could be in heaven, but I doubt it. I think I’d have gotten a phone call, maybe a letter. I’d like to think there would be a letter. But that seems unlikely, too, come to think of it. What I want is the money. I want an apology, too, even more–but the money might better make up for the way his bullshi8t derailed my dreams. I mean, “interesting” things happened when I went off the college track, to be sure, but it’s just so hard to get back on.

[I pause in between typing and wonder if I was ever on that track to begin with, or if my mental “illness” would have stopped me then.]

After he got out of the navy, he let all of his hair grow, even his scraggly beard and a clumsy mustache. [my mother used to say: “looks like he’s gonna rob a 7-eleven.”] He was a mass of coffee-stained flannel, tangled dark hair, cigarette smoke residue. I can feel him in my bones sometimes, when I walk purposefully, heel-toe, heel-toe, over a hardwood floor in my boots.

Daddy is a powerful word. I started calling him Papi or Pops when I was a teenager–I was trying to take some of the power back. It only worked sometimes, and even then I was quaking inside when I had it, riding fight or flight and expecting the next thump to be my father’s hand on my shoulder, turning me around. [at night] Turning me over.

It didn’t have to happen in this world for it to happen. As it turns out, if your father leers at you and touches you just this side of inappropriate right around the same time you are raped several times over by one of the neighborhood predators, your brain will have a hard time distinguishing the difference. Especially when you’re dreaming.

Trigger warning for slutshaming and radscum. ’nuff said!

Recently I volunteered to perform at a Take Back the Night rally. A friend had invited me to a feminist book club that also includes an online presence on Facebook, and someone associated with TBTN had put up a call for performers. I’ve been thinking for a few years about wanting to create space specifically for survivors of violence to share our stories and let go of some of the shame that (for me, at least) sometimes accompanies surviving violence, and so I responded to the call with a few pieces. One of the organizers responded enthusiastically and said they’d be glad to have me perform, and gosh, it was really useful to have my pieces ahead of time for the ASL interpreters. ASL interpreters! I have been performing as a hearing person for over 10 years at this point, and I have never performed with an ASL interpreter, so I was excited by the chance.

Take Back the Night has its roots in the mid-1970s second wave feminist movement, as a direct action protest against sexual violence against women. At the same time that these actions were taking place, a woman-led effort to do away with pornography was also taking hold and became closely linked with TBTN. The era of the so-called Feminist Sex Wars is of particular interest to me as a feminist, a pervert*, and a trans person. Several of my favorite writers (Dorothy Allison, Gayle Rubin, and Pat Califia among them) have written fairly extensively about this era and the various witch hunts that ensued, from the exclusion of masculine-identified people from the women’s movement (Leslie Feinburg writes about this in Stone Butch Blues) to the rise of a pro-censorship and anti-pornography faction called Women Against Pornography (WAP), the vilification of the practice of BDSM and beyond.

To be honest with you, I knew all of this history when I volunteered to perform at the rally. But I also thought to myself, “RD, it’s 2012! We’re in [liberal West Coast port city]! We’re known for our sex-positivity! Besides, this rally is supposed to be about survivors, not about political analysis.” Well. I guess I was wrong.

The first speaker to take the mic was the college president, who seemed genuinely glad to be there and said that he “look[s] forward to the day we no longer have to have these rallies, because there is no more violence!” Unrealistic, maybe, but okay. Hopeful. I like hopeful.

Pass the mic, next speaker. My blood ran cold when they said that they were with WAP. It is 2012, right? I found myself frantically checking my wrist and looking around me to see if I was having a nightmare as the tirade was launched. The speech was fairly long and it felt a bit flailing, to be honest, but it certainly riled up the crowd. The first piece of rhetoric that I can recall was “If you can’t imagine pornography without sex, you’re fucked!” My friend W., who was also present, tells me that she noticed people wandering the room beforehand with stickers with the same troubling quotation on it, but I didn’t see or hear it until that moment. What?! As if fucked is the worst thing we could be? I like getting fucked. And I bet I’m not the only one in the audience who does. Next up was the tokenization of queers. The speaker continued, repeatedly checking “LGBT people,” seemingly without actually understanding that hey, we’re right over here, and we can speak for ourselves! It’s hard sometimes when being tokenized to not stand up and start yelling You don’t speak for me! in one’s big voice, but I held my ground. And then they came for the kinky ones, and began deriding “torture porn,” and spoke of being in tears upon seeing the bruises on models’ bodies. As an occasional sex worker and a person who likes bruises, likes bruising others–after all, it is the consent that makes all the difference, this was the last straw. I got up and left in an absolute quaking rage.

I don’t disagree that a significant amount of pornography is exploitive and symptomatic of a violent, misogynist society (not to mention racist, sexist, ableist, etc…class, we remember the terms kyriarchy and kyriarchical, right?) , but it’s just that, a symptom. Trying to do away with a symptom without getting to the root of the illness is simplistic, foolish, and likely to do more harm than good (Comstock Act, anyone?). I felt like the speaker was denying people their agency while making sweeping generalizations about “men” and “women” as somehow homogeneous groups, with men playing the part of the aggressor and women playing the part of the victim. This tactic denies peoples’ agency and erases people who live outside that binarism, and that’s just to start with. W. talks much more about why the arguments used were problematic here.

Overall, I was incredibly frustrated and disgusted. I spent a large portion of the day thinking about and discussing this happening with various friends who frequently act as support to me. I had really hoped to share part of my story as a survivor with others as a part of the healing process of removing shame from those experiences by bringing some of mine out into the open, telling our truths in a safe place, but it turns out the safe place was anything but safe.

Did I deserve to be sexually assaulted if I had had kinky sex with my abuser? Did my father assault me because he could see my perversion before even I knew about it? Are my experiences with violence still important/valid as a masculine-identified person? There are a lot of victim-blaming and slut-shaming narratives that start pounding in my temples when I’m feeling shitty, and I didn’t really need to hear those again. I’ve spent a lot of time in therapy and a lot of time doing personal healing work for myself to put those questions down like an insurrection, so to speak. I know the answers to them now. But this event made them pop up and it’s gonna feel like whack-a-mole for a few days with the bad brain voice, I think. Ugh.

Anyhow. I think I’d like to organize a speak-out about sexual violence. No politicking about banning pornography or slutshaming about sexual preference allowed. It’s the consent makes all the difference.

ps. this was pretty much all I could think all day: 1982 called and it wants its shitty second-wave analysis back. just sayin’!

Strong trigger warning for: emotional and physical abuse, incest, sexual assault. Please take care of yourself! Click away to pictures of adorable kittens here.

editorially: this poem is several years old at this point, but today i submitted it as a performance piece for a Take Back the Night rally. unsure about certain elements of the final stanza but i <feelings>. thinking a lot about how different my personal narrative is from many other folks, and especially thinking of CeCe today. -RD

I came out of the house of rape, abuse, and neglect.

It was not my home, but I lived there for a time.

They kept me under no lock and key, I was bonded by the state to my father’s house.

Threats straddled the doorways, booby-trapped the exits with their sinister and invisible promises.

“You belong to me,” he said.
“I can do anything I want with you.”
“You are my daughter.”
He didn’t say “You will submit to me,” but he should have.
Echoes steal their way back as echoes will, a sensation as simple as a wet kiss and a brush of stubble on my cheek can trigger me to panic.
I give warning to those with whom I will share a bed, “If I cry or fight in my sleep, don’t touch me, just use your voice to call me back from the nightmare. I’ll tell you when it’s safe to touch me again.”
Bruises in the shape of his hands have healed, but the stain of being treated as chattel does not, nor can it wash away.
But I am wearing it down, like sanding a label off of a steel frame.
My self-worth, my integrity, and my boundaries remain intact.
I am borne up, out of the house of rape, abuse, and neglect.
I am lucky.
My mother has lived her whole life in the shadow, fearful.

My early childhood bedtime stories were of bogey-men who would put their hands on me at the slightest provocation, a short skirt or a late night walk or the simple appearance of vulnerability.

Working late one evening, my only other company is a male co-worker who is, in my experience, incredibly kind and friendly. But as I walk to the bathroom, I am terrified he will follow me there and force himself on me, where no one will find me huddled until the morning.
You see, it is not the strangers that I fear the most, it is my acquaintances. It is my lovers, my friends, the people closest to me.
If my consent was so ill-regarded by someone who was supposed to love me best and most of all, then what is my consent to all the others closest me?
I can not remember all of his trespasses, though they come to me in the night.
I am not always sure of truth or fiction, because I have tried to separate myself from the devastating nature of truth.
But I do remember, concretely, words and blows, boundary-crossing, abject fear, threats.

In the light I look like some one, but I know the truth of how tenuous my circumstances are.

If I fall, it will be without a net.

But if I succeed, I have arrived on my own two feet, at the pace and on the path that I have chosen, and that is the greatest achievement of my life, beyond any epic art or activism, that I have arrived here of my own accord.
By my choice, by my words, by my deeds, I am borne up, and out of the house of rape, abuse, and neglect.

-RD

trigger warning for um, y’know. the stuff of nightmares. violence, sexual assault, despair.

lots of bad dreams lately, ugh.

nightmare the 1st: my mother, stepfather and i are in a car, speeding down a highway through the forest. it’s curvy, maybe in the Cascades. we are arguing and drinking, gulping vodka from a plastic jug. they are taking me to the woods so they can leave me there because they don’t want me any more. i am a bad seed, too gender variant to fit into their lives, their family. i keep trying to grab the wheel to make us stop or crash so that we can all either die together or i can get out and run away. something very bad is waiting for me at the place they are taking me. i pull out fistfuls of my mother’s beautiful black hair, bloody flecks of scalp cling to the ends. i hate this dream. i wake up unable to move and breathing hard, trying to will myself awake so i can turn over and put my hand on the person next to me, remind myself of all that is real.

nightmare the 2nd: my father is chasing me around trying to rape me. he has done this before, he will do it again. and again. my parts hurt. i hate him. i hate that 8 years later, i still wake up yelling. it took me hours to fall asleep, heart rushing and mind racing, and this is what i get when i finally fall sleep. i hate whatever it was that happened to me (i still don’t know what it was!) that makes my brain call it back up like this. i hate waking up exhausted, body aching. i hate feeling like there is so much work to do outside of myself, but that what i really need to be doing is self-care. i feel broken the whole morning, carrying this memory of a nightmare inside of me like cancer that sheds despair. how can you kill what is a part of you? sometimes i think: i would torch my childhood memories (even those happy ones) to rid me, for once and for all, of these nightmares.

Yo survivor: How do you talk about the cycle of abuse with your family? Do you? Do you talk about learning healthier ways of relating to people (boundary setting, coping skills, embodiment, etc)? Do you talk with them about healing work you are doing for yourself? Is there any measure of accountability for past abuse/boundary crossing shit? I mean, with yer bio fam, the ones you still speak to–if you do.

My mother has taken to telling me about the horrible toxic shit my maternal grandmother pulls on her. I’m glad she can’t perpetrate physical abuse on her anymore, but damn that woman still has some power. I told my mam she should just straight up stop speaking to her, but I think that (like me) she gets lonely, not having any family left but me, her partner, and their son. Her partner’s family tried for years to break up their marriage, it seems like it’s only 20 years on that they’ve become a little kinder and gentler.

I just, really. WHAT THE FUCKING FUCK PEOPLE? can we just not be jerks already?

It’s more complicated than that, but still.

I understand, I do. It took me years to leave my father’s house, tho I was 18 when I left. When I was younger he would threaten to harm me or my partner and so I felt helpless, trapped–and of course, the law was on his side. And do you know? I love him, I just don’t think it’s safe for me to be anywhere near him/his partner/their little family, tho I have been talking about trying to get in touch with his sisters and our family in Mexico. I kind of want to go travel down there, listen to peoples’ stories, especially the women of our family, who I feel like are too often erased by misogyny, racism, and classism.

And still: I have often found myself in love with people who remind me of my father in some way, many of them positive–some of them less-than. Ho well. Awareness feels like half the battle with that.

Anyways, just needed a shoebox for my feelings, I am so tired of the cycle churning round and round. She also relayed some other dismaying news of the cycle of abuse being perpetrated upon folks of my generation, but I’ll try to let that rest for now, tho it’s nagging at me hard.

trigger warning for: incest, repressed memories, PTSD shit. take care of yourself, this shit is rough. -RD

if the heart is a drum machine, then maybe the part of my brain that tracks trauma is a sun dial, and my body follows in its turn. January is usually a pretty crummy month for me. not only is it the dark heart of winter, but it is also the anniversary of my departure from my father’s house, culminating at the end of the month.
this month started well enough, i spent NYE with several close friends in a city a few hours’ train ride away from my own, and returned home feeling refreshed and renewed, optimistic and planning for the new year. how quickly winter’s darkness returns! my nightmares returned at a frantic pace, a series of anxiety attacks ensued, and i got sick for the 2nd time in <6 weeks (still sick now). i’ve been feeling pretty exhausted and disconnected with only the occasional respite.
here in the Pacific Northwest where winter means an even further reduction in exposure to sunlight as well as an increase in rain, i don’t think that any of these sensations are unusual, mine just so happen to be connected to prior trauma. <shrug> c’est la vie?
i’ve always known that my father was a creeper, and descended from another creeper (my grandfather), and while i’ve been able to remember some of the weird stuff he did (insisting i sit on his lap at an inappropriate age, being super-possessive, treating me more like his girlfriend than his child, attempting to buy my affection, etc), i could never remember actually being molested. in some ways i am pretty fucking grateful for that. a therapist once told me it didn’t really matter if i had been molested by him or not, that he had crossed my boundaries in so many other ways that were so wildly inappropriate. in some ways i am inclined to agree, but i have still wondered what actually happened–if it was him, or someone else, and i still don’t know for certain, probably never will.
last week i was having a bad evening and decided to make myself some pot-infused milk to relax and get back into my body (ah, dissociation!) so i could sleep. it took awhile to take effect but finally i could feel my body again, and decided to masturbate myself to an appropriate level of sleepiness. at first pleasurable feelings ensued, but then out of the ether i started having visions of myself at a much younger age and performing sex acts on a much older man, probably my father. it was all i could do not to scream and wake up my housemates. or it would have been if i could move, but my entire body was frozen and instead i was forced to watch in psychedelic cinema as body parts came up out of the ether. the memories themselves (as i think of them–it’s hard to say if they’re real memories or not) were like a step out of time, some animation sequence, the colors inverted and strange like a hallucination, and much of the images were shrouded in darkness. after a long time of thinking, i finally fell asleep.
in the morning i at first did not recall the vision i had received on the night previous, and began my day as usual, maybe a few minutes late for work. later i felt a wave of panic and anguish wash over me, and i remembered everything as it had passed*. i pinged a friend who had experienced repressed memories, and described what i had seen and experienced. they confirmed some similar sensation of those memories being a step out of time, like no others, without going into too much detail.
my panic gave way to relief in some strange way, as if this half-knowing is a win in and of itself, the mind finally revealing a long-kept secret.
that day i filled out the intake form for a local queer counseling referral service, so hopefully i’ll be back to therapy soon. been thinking for a couple of years that it would be really useful, and this experience only re-confirms that.

-RD

*for clarity’s sake: the events of the previous evening

Hello reader, this writing is triggering for me to write, let alone read, so I can only imagine what it would be like for someone else. But I need some place to put this stuff, and this bottle is the only place I got. So read with care, and click away as needed. Trigger warning for: childhood abuse, rape, childhood neglect, I don’t even know what all.

Dear Dad,

I’ve been thinking so much about the tiered tracks of colonialism and patriarchy in our lives. You spent so much of the years I lived with you reading military histories deep into the night, your bedside lamp burning until dawn. Often I would find you in the morning before I left for work, light still on, book collapsed and glasses still astride your face. You and I did not talk about the ethos of those narratives, only the events, the ways that wars are won–we talked about them like they were games of chess, not wages of terror visited upon brown bodies. Bodies not entirely unlike ours, in shade or feature. How funny that you kept your dark hair long and shining, defiantly, even while claiming not to see color. Perhaps you were just too tired of being seen for yours. I remember you in a rare snappish moment with a stranger (usually you reserved your brute force for those closest you). We were near your office and an elderly native man spare changed you, tried to call you cousin. You sucked your teeth haughtily (or I imagine you did) and snapped back, “I am not your cousin.” I remember being shocked a little that my father, usually so over-generous, could be so cold to someone so obviously in need. But then I remember, too, the summer when you got too dark watching us kids poolside at the apartment and you were stopped 3 times in 2 days for the same busted taillight. Was it a speed trap, or were they out to get you? There were other times, I don’t remember them all. You were always being asked if you were Indian, and you were always saying no. And to be fair, we’re the sum of our parts, not just that fraction, and so I don’t call myself native in any sense but that I grew up in this state. People didn’t start to ask me what I was until my hair came in as dark as it is now–each year successively darker, like my body is shirking off colonization.

You believed that my body was a colony unto itself and that you were the sovereign power. You taxed me with forced affection, even after I ceased to welcome your touch. “You act like I abuse you!” you exclaimed after I cowered under your embrace, which at a moment’s notice could have turned to a slap across the face. When you found out that I had been raped, you never asked me if I was okay–instead you yelled for hours about how wrong it was to engage in pre-marital sex while I cried myself thick and swollen shut with mucous, trying to tell you about my rapes. Later, when you found out it wasn’t consensual you apologized offhandedly with no feeling: “Sorry. I didn’t know.” How could you not know, how could it not occur to you? I was fourteen years old. Maybe in some distant place and time sex with a fourteen year old girl who has been abandoned by both parents can be consensual, but not where we lived, not how we lived. And you never thought to ask if I was okay! This broke my heart, and like a bad shoulder mended but never healed it still hurts when the weather turns stormy. The nightmares that used to wake me up screaming were not about my rapist–they were about you, in his place.

The last time I saw you it was as I broke free from your grip, bruises in the shape of your hands already rising on the back of my neck, welts that later bloomed black swelling the cartilage of my ears. I went to job interviews like that, covered my bruises with thrift store finds and a thin veil of hair. Did I leave off my earrings, so as not to draw too much attention to any discolored flesh still exposed? I remember thinking of it, but I can’t remember what I did. No one asked. No one said, you should leave him, girl, for which I was grateful because being forced to the awkward response that I already had and that it was my father who was responsible, not just any man, but that man, would have been almost too much to bear. In between job interviews and panic attacks and struggling to finish school we photographed my injuries and I moved my things into a tent in a friend’s backyard. The cops didn’t call me back for two weeks, and by then I had too much on my plate to even think about pressing charges (which probably would not have stuck, anyways). I wish I had wheatpasted your office, but what would the posters have said? “This man beats children” might have been sufficient. After all, I wasn’t the only one you raised a fist to, and I probably won’t be the last. I was 18 and I was legally an adult but I was still a child, tho I had already dealt with the vagaries of bills, rent, budgets. I was probably more responsible then at 18 than I am now at 26, second adolescence or something. Remember how you used to forget the bills, and the water would get shut off? I started to remind you, and you resented it. But you were the adult, you were the parent, these things were your responsibilities, and if you couldn’t claim that responsibility then you should never have laid claim to it at all.

I am learning Spanish again, this time in a classroom and not the backseat of your dirty beat-up car. I can hardly say it: I am learning Spanish so that I can speak to my father’s family in Mexico. But not to you. I do not want to speak to you, and don’t imagine that will change in this lifetime, tho life is long enough to allow for it. What I come up against more than anything is not what you did (tho I miss rock’n’roll jeopardy and browsing bookshops, I do), it is what you didn’t do, the places you should have stepped in, been present, where you instead stepped off, disappeared altogether. You let them, your wives. Threaten me, starve me, demean me. It’s not the physical starving that gets to me–I went hungry but not emaciated, not eating-out-the-garbage, just dizzy and achy. No, it was the starving for support, for love, for recognition of my individuation. They saw me as part of my mother, the woman you still loved and hated, and they were jealous of me in turn. You let your wife threaten me, “if you don’t come home now you can never come home again!” mere minutes after you assaulted me, as if it were simply a matter of differing opinions and not escaping the brutality of your violence. She would have watched while you killed me, I know this. She would have burned my body for you. I don’t know why she held you in such high regard and me in so little, but she would have allowed you to take my life before her very eyes. How could anyone? She could. You let these women into my life. You put your hands on my throat and tried to wring the life from me. I can not hate them, I can not even hate you–but I can close the door. No more. I will not allow you and your inability to set boundaries or respect boundaries invade my life anymore. I am no longer your child, I am an adult.

With love and respect for myself,

RD

sick again. not sick like ‘i have a cold in the middle of the fucking summer’, but sick like whole body pain.

keep hoping i will find the magic bullet. some herb, some dietary change, some new exercise, or hell! even some medication–that will keep my body from doing this without introducing intolerable new symptoms in the process. tired of hearing people with “well” bodies complaining about sick and/or disabled people who ask for their bodies and needs to be accommodated occasionally. or claiming that people are just “being neurotic” and that their illnesses are not real. “prove it!” they say.

***

Okay, let’s start with this–not the only study of its type or the only study with similar conclusions, by any means.

In women with chronic pain, self-reported childhood maltreatment was associated with higher diurnal cortisol levels. These results add to the evidence that abuse in childhood can induce long-term changes in hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical activity. They further underscore the importance of evaluating childhood maltreatment in fibromyalgia and other chronic pain conditions.

In non-sciency terms: there is growing scientific evidence that folks (esp. female-assigned folks) who experience trauma also experience significant alteration to their hormone levels that can contribute to various chronic pain conditions like fibromyalgia or osteoarthritis (to name a few).

Interestingly, another recent study showed a correlation between being the child of a survivor of extreme trauma and having heightened levels of  cortisol (think of it like a stress hormone).  <waves> Yup, that’s likely folks like me, who come from extended legacies of trauma.

I find this line of research particularly fascinating when I place it in context with the anecdotal evidence that I am surrounded by in daily life. Approximately 80% of my friends, acquaintances, and family members who experience chronic pain are also survivors of some kind of abuse.  But abuse and other trauma are incredibly common experiences. Heartbreakingly common. Devastatingly common. And it’s not like we sit around confessing our struggles with chronic pain or abuse/trauma histories all the time–these are things that a lot of people are socialized to feel deep shame about, and a need to conceal. None of this is quantifiable, but it sure as hell feels like correlative evidence to me, anecdotal or not.

However. As any junior high school chemistry student can tell you, correlation is not causation! But it does give me pause, a moment to stop and say hrm, that sure is interesting.

And it also gives credence to the various theories and schools of thought that embody somatics. The most familiar concept of somatics to me is the idea that the mind uses the body to store trauma, and that those experiences can be intentionally or unintentionally unlocked later via exercise or movement. Like this, see?

What is the legacy of trauma? How does this affect my body or influence the ways that I am in pain now?

Hello reader, this is potentially triggering for discussion of the aftermath of assault. It’s potentially a very triggering subject, so please take care of yourself. But do know–this post ends on a hopeful note. Love, RD

a year ago (almost to the day) I was assaulted by a friend, a co-conspirator, a political comrade, a lover.

Since then, it has been near impossible to feel like any of my relationships are healthy or safe–even my relationship with my self.

The thing that happened didn’t physically injure me in any way other than a couple of small bruises and aggravating a pre-existing injury in my shoulder, but it fucked up my life in so many ways that would be impossible to quantify. I left my home (and with it my chosen family) because while they were supportive, I couldn’t find safe space there–every corner held a new piece of my trauma. I struck out in search of a new space and new friendships, both of which have had their own strengths and follies. I’m still re-building relationships that broke down under the stress, and praising my fucking lucky stars for those that strengthened in the fire. I am grateful for my collective, who rallied round me immediately and supported and backed up the boundaries that I set, despite the fact that _____ had far more experience in the work that we do, as well as a longer history (and more ties) within the radical community. I don’t know if I would have survived that period of time if not for the safe haven of my then-lover’s couch, who put up with me crying myself to sleep on it more times than I could possibly count. Although I have often felt very isolated through this experience, my network of support is incredibly strong. My friends and other community members agreed to hold ___ accountable for his behavior, rather than brushing it off as another drunken “incident”. But they also didn’t abandon ___, he has had access to the support that he needs to address his behavior and make real changes in his life. And he has respected the boundaries that I set after the assault, without question, something many abusers do not do.

Experiencing relationship violence within the radical community has strengthened my convictions both as an anti-authoritarian and a feminist. I recognize that the criminal justice system works for some people*, but it would not have worked in my situation–and instead it probably would have made things worse. So. I am most grateful for folks who are doing work around transformative justice and somatics today, because without their work I would not be sitting here, writing, feeling anxious but hopeful. Slightly stuffy from crying, exhausted from emotional turmoil, but grateful for the communities that surround me.

***

If I were to summarize my way of relating to the world it would be this: caretaker, martyr, clown. I have a lot of bad habits when it comes to self-care and boundary setting. I was never good at setting boundaries with people close to me, in large part due to the weird codependent/abusive dynamics at work in my childhood, but when I am experiencing emotional turbulence it’s even worse. I would work my hands to the bone for someone else before I would take care of my own needs, it’s true. Because I do care-taking work in the radical community, it’s extremely important for me to be aware of this at all times lest I burn out and not be there when I am needed most. Care-taking/martyr behaviour is  a way of being in control when other elements of my life (usually the painful ones) are not under my control. I am working on learning to cede control sometimes. BDSM is a healthy part of that, although sometimes it can be very triggering–I have used my safeword to end almost every scene as of late. I miss topping immensely, but I don’t have the emotional energy for it the way I used to. Hopefully that will return.

Medical texts will tell you that bipolar people do not get anxiety, but I do (and fuck medical texts, this is my lived experience!). My manic highs are replaced with anxiousness when I am unsupported/triggered/not practicing good self-care. My mind and heart race. Every phrase of a conversation triggers some new worry.

The face of a friend whose companionship I had to bail on last night in order to practice better self-care swirls around my brain, circling like a shark fin. I’m hunted by their disappointment, even as I recall that they’ve told me to take care of myself first. Bad brains, take care of me first and the rest will follow.

I take care of myself by writing. I take care of myself by documenting this transformation, from trauma to hope. I will make time for this. I will make time for my self.

-RD

*and fails so many others.