Posts Tagged ‘Healing’

It is done.

The actual SmartLipo procedure, that is.

The healing process is just starting, and it hurts. And itches. And is generally pretty swollen, bruised, lumpy, and gross.

But it will get better, and I will be better for it.

I was planning on detailing the days immediately leading up to the procedure, but they didn’t really include anything special, aside from avoiding alcohol (which I’m pretty good at anyway), drinking a quart of water a day (which I’m decidedly not very good at, though I’m committed now), and picking up my prescriptions (which turned out to be the only part of this whole process I’d classify as “affordable”).

I picked up my prescriptions on Monday:

All these bad boys cost me a whopping $12.76. Thanks, insurance!

On Tuesday, I went to all my classes like normal, and then boyfriend and I headed up to Coeur d’Alene, which is roughly a two hour drive. We got into town about 8pm, and headed to dinner at a roadhouse type joint I’d been wanting to try for a while. I had some delicious pulled pork and grilled shrimp, and a sweet potato, which sadly I did not photograph. Sad, because it was epically delicious. I’ll snap a picture on a return visit. Promise. Then we checked into the hotel, which was a little dated, but contained a lovely, suite-sized bathroom and comfy king sized bed:

All this, and a view…

We spent the evening watching bad reality TV, and I took my first dose of antibiotics, and first shower with the requisite Hibiclens anti-bacterial wash as instructed. Hibiclens basically smells like rubbing alcohol/hospital hallways, is red, does not foam, and leaves your skin feeling dry and tight. Which was kind of a bummer, since no lotion is allowed in the 24 hours before surgery. But if it prevents infections, I’m all for it:

And yes, I politely wiped off the tub after staging this photo.

The hotel also provided this center-less soap, which at first I thought was kind of ridiculous, but ended up actually really enjoying:

In the morning, I got up about 6:30, called for room service, and took my second Hibiclens-required shower. I picked the hotel because it was the best deal, but mostly because it came with room service. Because I do not do mornings (willingly) and getting up to drive somewhere sounded like a lot of work. I had some delicious French toast crusted with almond flakes and drizzled with a huckleberry compote:

This cost half as much as the room. Seriously. So either the room was a *really* good deal…

After breakfast, which was counter-intuitive to have before a surgical procedure, I dried my hair and gulped down my handful of pills about 45 minutes before I was supposed to be at the surgeon’s office:

Two painkillers, two anti-anxiety/muscle relaxers, and one anti-nausea pill. Done.

Then I had some free time to kill, which I used to pace around nervously and take pictures of my old tummy in the mirror. Because while it is (finally) going away, it will always have been a part of me:

Sweatpants are sexy.

We finally headed out to the doctor’s office and got there promptly at 9:15. At that point, I was still marveling at how I didn’t quite yet feel the effects of the medication, and wondering what it was going to do to me, since taking 2 substantial doses of Ativan is essentially what I presume crack would be like. My awesome nurse, who rotates between calling me “sunshine,” “girlfriend,” and “sweet pea,” settled me into a cushy chair to wait. About five minutes later, I informed her I was going to vomit. My French toast had turned a marvelous blue color (no pictures of that). That was the point where I realized the drugs had kicked in and I no longer cared what was going on around me.

Somewhere in all of this, I donned on my extra-sexy disposable panties and robe they gave me (I assume the nurse was involved in the process, but honestly, I remember very little), took some pre-op pictures, and walked down the hall to the surgery room. The nurse put some little covers over my eyes, and for the next three or so hours, I recalled vague snippits of conversation, saying “Ow” a few times when asked if I needed more local anesthetic on my tummy, and at one point the surgeon noting they’d taken out a liter of fat.

SmartLipo didn’t really hurt too much while it was happening. I could vaguely feel the instrument under the skin moving around, but by that point, the Ativan had done it’s work and I could have cared less. It took me a full 24 hours to realize that two of the incisions are about an inch up from my lady-parts. Do no remember the surgeon being down there…

Eventually, they stood me up, assessed, laid me back down, took off some more fat, and called it good. Then the nurse had me stand and balance against a counter while she zipped me into my compression garment. Which, I might add, is crotchless and has simultaneously become my best friend/worst enemy. My bra was very bloody and gross from things running up my back (this is normal, apparently), so we took that off, and she took me to the recovery room to hang out for a little while until I was coherent. Boyfriend had apparently been at the grocery store for most of this time, and him and the nurse chatted about the medical benefits of orange juice and saltines while I munched on some of my own saltines, apple sauce, and apple juice. When I was mostly back on the same planet as everyone else, the nurse helped pour me back into my clothes and the doctor wheeled me out to my truck in a wheelchair. I remember thinking at the time that it was odd for the actual doctor to do that, so bonus points for him.

Back at the hotel all of 5 minutes later, I curled up into bed and promptly slept for the next six hours.

I woke up long enough to direct boyfriend to purchase me a mushroom-swiss burger and salad (they said to eat whatever I wanted…) and went back to sleep until he got back from picking up dinner. By that point it was about 8pm. I ate about half my burger (which was delicious, and everything I was hoping for), took one painkiller, and went back to sleep.

The next morning, I got out of bed (which hurt a lot), and we checked out of the hotel before heading to the surgeon’s office for a post-op check up. We pulled into the parking lot at the same time as the doctor, headed up to the exam room, and I got to change into another fashion-forward pair of disposable panties for round two of picture taking. This time, I got a sweet print out of before and after shots. The doctor said everything looked good, the nurse changed my bandages and dressed my incisions (I have four of them, one below each side of my ribs and two about an inch above my ladyparts), gave me instructions for my first post-op shower (which couldn’t happen for 48 hours), and boyfriend and I headed home.

Somewhere along the way, he decided it was necessary to go to Harbor Freight, so we drove back through Washington, which was a terrible idea, because Washington’s idea of road maintenance is to not do it. Bumps were not my idea of fun, but I survived. We swung into Target for a few minutes so I could buy some boyshorts (these, I’ve learned, are the post-op undergarment of choice, because they fit nicely over the compression garment, which is crotchless). Limping around was actually a nice change after not moving for 24 hours. We swung through Hu Hot Mongolian grill for lunch (win, as I could get mostly veggies and a giant 7-up zero with cherry!) and then drove the rest of the way home. Where I promptly went back to bed for the rest of the day.

On Friday, I waited for boyfriend to get home from work so I could shower and wash my compression garment. By hand. It took forever to dry, which sucked, because while I was ecstatic to get it off for a while, by the time it was dry three hours later, I was achy and ready to put it back on. They recommend you buy two for this reason, but at $100 a pop, I couldn’t justify it for something I’ll only wear for two weeks of my life. The nurse said that was okay…

I was only allowed in the shower for 15 minutes (I’m not good at short showers…sue me…I had enough 2 minute dirty-water ones when I was a kid to make up for it) and boyfriend had to stand there the whole time to make sure I didn’t pass out, as per the doctor’s orders. I was really sore and limpy the next day (turning over in bed, standing up, and bending over are decidedly not fun), and I have a strange sore/numb sensation on my stomach that I’m not a fan of, but it’s supposed to go away in 6-8 weeks. All in all, the experience has been pretty manageable, and I’m able to get around the house now without too much discomfort. I’m applying cold for an hour or two each day to help with swelling and taking it easy. And hanging out with my cat.

Pictures of the results, coming up…

I Am Full of Christ Love!

Posted: January 16, 2012 in faith, healing
Tags: ,

If you’ve seen the movie Saved! then you’re snickering after reading the title of this post.

If you have not seen the movie Saved! please do so, and then resume reading. I’ll wait.

There was a knock on my door this afternoon, and I opened it to find a somewhat familiar face named Dennis who has been coming around the neighborhood inviting people to come to Sunday night bible study at his house. I think I first encountered him back in about August, and he’s come back a few times since then. He’s very persistent.

I’ve been thinking about going to a bible study or church for a while, because my faith has been an important, if problematic to define, factor in my life for as long as I can remember. For a long time, I assumed church wasn’t for me because I was not nearly perfect enough to fit in. I figured I’d just done too many things wrong and maxed out my limit on what was forgivable.

Other things in my life have made church problematic. Such as the whole “thou shalt not have sex before marriage” bit. I figured I’d screwed that one up the first time I encountered a real, live penis at about age 14.

The first time this Dennis character showed up on my doorstep, I figured the truth was the easiest way to get rid of him.

“I’d love to come to bible study,” I told him honestly, “but I don’t think I’d fit in there. I live here…with my boyfriend…to whom I am not married.”

“Oh by all means, bring him too!” Dennis replied cheerfully.

“He’s sort of Catholic…” I insisted. Clearly, strike two.

“Oh don’t worry, we don’t make anyone go through the conversion chamber until at least the second or third night!” he laughed.

I turned back into the house a little befuddled. I’ve used these lines on the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses multiple times, and they’ve always worked. It was going to be more difficult getting rid of Dennis, I could tell.

He came back several times over the course of the fall, and even introduced himself to boyfriend, who he chatted with about cars or guns or something before continuing on down the neighborhood. When he came back this afternoon, it was almost like seeing an old friend. I’ve come to expect him to pop up from time to time.

Tonight, though, I was part bored and part curious, and figured I had nothing to lose, so I did something uncharacteristic for me, blew the dust off the cover of my bible, and trudged through the snow up the street to Dennis’ house.

You know that poem, about the footprints in the sand?

I followed Dennis’ footsteps through the snow, from my front door to his. The author in me loves the comparison.

And bible study was…pleasant. Non-judgmental. Just an interesting discussion of the book of John.

I’m not sure where this is headed, or if this is the right bible study group for me, but I’m willing to keep an open mind. And maybe even go back next week.

The thing about faith for me is that it doesn’t come in one shape or size, and it’s different for everyone. It has different interpretations. The things I’ve been through in my life can be seen in a lot of different lights, depending on who is doing the inquiring. But I’m ready to look back now and explore what faith means to me again, at this new juncture.

I’m always going to be a sinner. But maybe there’s room for some Christ love in there too.

And seriously…go watch Saved!


2012 is going to be a great year.

I can feel it.

It’s starting off on the right track.

A few weeks ago, I auditioned for the music program at my university. This raised some eyebrows, because I’m a) not a music major b) have essentially no music background and c) am almost done with an advanced degree in something else entirely.

I was terrified of this audition, because to be told no at this audition would have felt like being told “Sorry…you just can’t sing. We don’t see potential here.”

Waiting was a big test of patience. It was almost a month before I got the final word that I had passed, been assigned to a voice studio and choir, and could register for classes.

That’s right. 3 semesters out from finishing my PhD, I’m enrolled in all undergraduate music classes.

It’s going to be strange going to classes again. But I’m excited.

I’m also doing something a little out there, and investing in me this year: I’m having SmartLipo, which is essentially the newest format for liposuction, performed with lasers.

It’s expensive.

It’s costing me, all said and done, half of what I make in a year. (I pulled this off with some extreme budgeting…bye bye iPhone…and a payment plan).

I’ve been self-conscious about my weight and my stomach for a long time. As long as I can remember. A few years ago I got tired of people asking if I was pregnant, so I started doing Weight Watchers and exercising like a fiend.

I lost over 25 pounds.

I’m only 5 feet tall, so that was significant. I’m currently only about 20 pounds from my super-pinnacle of achievement goal weight of 105 pounds, and I’d be happy with making it to 110. I’m not overweight, and in general I’m pretty happy with my size. I’ve cut out soda, candy, butter, white bread, full-fat everything, and anything fast food, besides the occasional Whopper (plain, with cheese, add barbeque sauce) from Burger King that I generally get twice a year, at Fourth of July and Christmas when boyfriend and I head over the mountains to visit his family. I’ve reduced portion sizes, taken to measuring everything, and acquired a Bowflex Treadclimber (second hand). On top of classes at the gym.

After a couple of years of that, I got discouraged and gave up. Because my stomach wasn’t getting any smaller or less-pregnant looking, despite the fact that I’d lost a lot of weight and developed abs of steel beneath it all.

Why exercise and give up all the foods I love if I wasn’t feeling any better about the one part of my body I’m self conscious about?

I binged and gave up exercise for a while. But I realized that I didn’t miss huge portions, or regular soda, or fast food. I did sort of miss exercising. I just needed an added boost.

I got a doctor’s opinion, and a second opinion. It turned out, I wasn’t failing in my diet and exercise routine. I’m just built this way, and genetically, my extra weight wants to go straight to my stomach. The bottom line was, there isn’t much I can do about it short of a) going hardcore-all-out-bodybuilding or b) having surgery.

I don’t particularly want to be a body builder. And I have a friend who does it, and it’s expensive when you add up all that goes into it. So I picked surgery. And a good combination of yoga, pilates, tabata, and recommitment to my Weight Watchers plan.

I don’t expect surgery to give me a six-pack or fix all my body issues.

I do expect it to give me the boost I need to continue moving forward with my weight loss goals, and an added dose of confidence that I believe I deserve after all the hard work I’ve put in on changing my attitude and response to life in the last few years.

I’ve done a lot of work on me.

It’s time for the outside to match the inside.

So there we have it…two major major steps I’ve taken toward building something amazing in 2012. It’s a new beginning that has been in the works for a long time.

I love when a plan comes together.

Breaking and Fixing

Posted: November 30, 2011 in healing

Boyfriend and I had an interesting Thanksgiving break. All was lovely, until the return trip. We were going 60 miles an hour down the two-lane highway that leads to home, about 6:30 at night, in the rain, joking about the bad Christmas music selections available on satellite radio, when suddenly the back of the Jeep skidded and the sound of metal grating on pavement reverberated through the cab. Boyfriend stayed calm and got us off the road with no problem, where we were greeted with this:

The driver’s side rear wheel came off, bounced over a guard rail, and off into the night. Dear Jeep: Fail.

The driver behind us got off the road fine as well, and neither he nor his car were hurt. He told us he’d seen the tire fly off and bounce off the road, and while we were standing there, talking to him in the rain, with cars streaming by, we heard a crash, and turned and watched together as a dozen cars rear ended each other because they were all following too closely. We ran down the line of cars, making sure everyone was okay, while trying to explain to 911 that we were off the road, and there was an accident behind us that we were not involved in.

Twenty minutes later, I sat in the cab of the Jeep shivering and trying to stay out of the way as the first blue and red flashing lights appeared. No one was hurt, and everyone was driving slowly because the people directly behind us, who had driven past by that point, had slowed down to go around us. Not sure what else to do, I texted my brother.

“Umm…the wheel just came off the Jeep. I didn’t know that could happen,” I typed, looking for conversation.

“Holy $%*#! Are you guys okay?” he texted back almost instantly.

That surprised me a little. This is a big corner for my brother to have turned…he wouldn’t have asked a year ago. I also wouldn’t have been comfortable texting him a year ago, so this is a big step forward for both of us.

Then, another surprise: my phone rang.

“What happened?” my brother asked, and listened patiently while I tried to explain. I know nothing about cars; for him, they are almost as simple and as easily incorporated into life as breathing.

“Where are you?” His next question. I wasn’t entirely sure. About twenty miles from the next major town. Somewhere along a very dark stretch of highway that was suddenly very crowded with flashing lights and blue uniforms.

“I’m headed out there,” my brother said calmly. “I’ll be there in a little bit.”

I hung up the phone a little dazed by the reality that my brother, who I haven’t spoken too much at all for a few years now, was on his way to my rescue (which may sound melodramatic, but in the dark, in the rain, on the side of the road, I very much wanted to be rescued. Especially since I presumed the people involved in accidents behind us would be getting priority in assistance and towing). I was as little worried that boyfriend would be irritated at having another person at the scene, but I also knew that my brother would see the Jeep and know instantly what had happened. There are some things he will never need explained.

I was still huddled in the Jeep when my brother’s little white car pulled up and swung in behind us. He took one look at the damage, asked where the tire had gone, pulled out a flashlight, and hopped over the guardrail in search of it. By the time the two truck finally got to us, boyfriend and big brother were chatting about wheels and lug nuts. While boyfriend considered where to take the Jeep, big brother reassured him it would be easiest to tow it to my parents’ house, which was closer; they slipped easily into discussions of how to unload it (a forklift and a hitch were apparently necessities).

“I guess you guys don’t have a ride,” the tow truck driver sighed, noting that he had to load another car before he could leave the scene.

“Yes, you do,” my brother informed boyfriend.

By the time I was curled into the back seat of my brother’s car, it occurred to me, fully, that my family, in this instance, was coming through for me. By that time, as the Jeep was being winched onto the tow truck, mom had texted me to ask if we made it home safe.

“Actually, we’re on our way to your house…long story…” I texted back. “Hot chocolate is welcome.”

We arrived at the house in Colfax, where I have not been in a while, and where, when I am there, I usually can’t stand. Mom had hot chocolate ready, and it was nice, for a change, to just sit there and tell her what happened and not worry about anything else. This whole thing reminded me that my parents have come through, from time to time, and there are ways that I can reach out and let them support me now that I’m healthy. It might be in simple ways, like cups of hot chocolate, but it’s a step in the right direction.

The tow truck arrived and my dad and brother helped unload the battered Jeep. It felt nice knowing that in this situation, they could help. Usually it’s boyfriend’s family helping me. Not the other way around. We visited for a while, borrowed my parents’ car to make it the rest of the way home, and fell into bed about 4 hours after we should have been home.

The next morning, boyfriend asked me to text my brother and let him know we were coming over. He wanted to go search for his tire in the morning.

Big brother texted me back a picture in response: the tire, in the middle of a wheat field. He’d gone out on his own that morning and found it, and brought it back home.

So the Jeep and it’s wheel were reunited, and maybe, in a little way, I’ve started to reunite with my family. The honest truth is, I may not have my parents for much longer, and while the past was very dysfunctional and very traumatic, it’s important to start building forward now.

I’ve worked through the past, and I’ve been hurt by it all over again while I learned that I was justified in being angry over certain things. But after a certain point, looking back isn’t as important or as rewarding as looking forward. I’ll drink hot chocolate to that.

Visiting Seattle is a strange experience for me sometimes. I lived here for four years, but for most of that time, my anxiety prevented me from getting out and exploring the city in any meaningful way. When I come back, now, it’s a strange mixture of familiarity and newness.

Boyfriend has a work conference this week, so I get to stay for free in a suite at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel. It’s lovely. It comes with designer-brand sheets, an assortment of bath goodies, plush bathrobes, and $8 bottled water. It’s the kind of place that I usually feel out of place in – like I’m pretending, because I can’t really afford this stuff.

It’s nice to be in Seattle and be able to get out an explore it now, without feeling anxious or overwhelmed at every new turn. Last night, I met up with one of my roommates from my undergraduate years. It’s always interesting to see people who knew me back then, and hear their observations of the person I was. I compare that girl to who I am now, and sometimes I wonder where she went. Other times, I feel like she’s looking over my shoulder, waiting to see if she can force her way back in and turn this new life I’ve been building upside down. She’s the voice of self-doubt that always wants me to give up on things; who tells me it’s not worth it to keep trying whenever the slightest hint of disappointment crops up.

I’m doing a much better job, lately, of shutting her up.

I had a very interesting conversation with former roomie, over a Dry Blood Orange Soda and a delicious snack platter of roasted nuts and olives:

What was most intriguing to me, on this particular night, was her view of me, from back then.

When I look back, on the girl who struggled through undergraduate school, I don’t see much that’s positive beyond the school part. I was an excellent student. I earned grades commensurate with the hours and hours I spent locked up in my bedroom, or the library, or (on really good days, when I was feeling adventurous) a coffee shop. That part of my being then tends to fade into a background of student loans, bad fashion, damaged skin, anxiety, and bad decisions. I didn’t know how to function in that world, away from my parents’ dysfunction. I didn’t know how to be social, or how to have fun. Literally – that was a new phenomenon to me, when I worked through the walls OCD and anxiety helped me put up so early in my life.

When I look back at my undergraduate years, I tend to only see what I missed. In reality, there were parties at my house that I didn’t attend…even when I was in the house. I’d lock my door, stuff in ear plugs, and do homework. Not because I didn’t want to be social, but because I genuinely didn’t know how.

I look back, and see that girl – alone, and isolated, and miserable. I knew then, even before I got help, that I wanted something different, but it took time to make those changes. Time that I tend to look at, even now, as lost years.

I looked at my roommates as my polar opposites – friendly and outgoing; smart and funny; fearless and uninhibited. I wanted to be like them, but I assumed it just wasn’t possible.

When I finally started to unravel the deep dark secrets that hoarding and anxiety had kept hidden in my past, I learned there really was a whole new, big, exciting world out there. When I moved to Seattle, I was filled with that excitement and wonder, because back then, at 18, I really thought that if I could just get out of California, everything would be different. I would be different, because people in Seattle were different. Something had to change.

It wasn’t that easy. But it is more rewarding now, in a strange way, to come back to Seattle and see it with brand new eyes. What I wasn’t expecting from this conversation was to hear that my smart, funny, beautiful, fabulous roommate had found things to admire and envy in me, too.

While I was wishing for just a tiny bit of her talent for navigating the world, she was looking at my dedication to my studies. While I was hoping to learn from watching her how this business of making friends worked, she was watching me push through classes. She tells me I did a very good job of hiding my misery, and loneliness. Which is also interesting to me, because I assumed I must be transparent; that everyone could look right inside to see how pathetic I really felt most of the time.

Which led to another turn in the conversation. One I won’t talk about here, because there is too much at stake for too many people in its revelation. But I will say that it made me consider just how far I’ve come, that in the course of this conversation, I felt capable of doing something I didn’t feel like I could do for most of my life: I told the truth, even though it was scandalous and ugly. And I didn’t feel bad about it, because being able to take responsibility for my mistakes while also recognizing that not everything that goes wrong in the world is my fault is a big accomplishment for me. It’s been a long time coming.

We moved the conversation to a nearby sushi restaurant, where little bites of heaven came to a dark lacquered table on fancy white plates:

We sat there, talking about our hopes and dreams, and it came home to me that I’ve turned a corner here, somewhere, when I wasn’t really paying attention. The past is still there, and still a part of me, but the future is brighter and more promising now than it ever was in my wild, desperate dreams when I first left California almost a decade ago. Being realistic about the future used to mean giving up on long-shot dreams to me. Now it means finding new ways to harness and build upon them. That something real, and worthwhile, could come out of all this has been a hazy, troubling thing to try and wrap my head and heart around for a long time. But it’s there now, and real, and it’s been worth fighting for.

Boyfriend is wrapped up with conference duties all day, so this morning, I took myself to breakfast at the same little coffeehouse that served me a delicious Dry Blood Orange Soda and wonderful conversation last night:

Boyfriend seemed a little surprised that I left the hotel room by myself this morning. He’s still catching up to the place where my being alone is a choice and a treat, and not a byproduct of being too afraid to make friends. I already have dinner plans this evening… with myself.

And as for the scared, anxious, girl that spent so many nights alone when she lived in Seattle – maybe I’ll take her too. To tell her one more time to look around and appreciate how far she’s come. And that, above all else, even though she still holds me back sometimes, I’m proud of her.

My mom called today.

I haven’t actually talked to my mom for a few weeks now…I was super busy taking prelims, and quite honestly I just haven’t had the patience or the energy to deal with my parents lately. I’m getting to a turning point in dealing with everything I’ve been trying to process, and that has made it necessary for me to really focus on me. Not on my parents.

But when Mom called today, I answered the phone. Because she’s still my mom.

Today, she was calling to inform me that my dad came to the conclusion, on his own, that he “doesn’t need any more tractors.”

That’s great…it’s just about 30 years too late for it to have any positive impact on me.

The damage is done. My dad’s hoarding, and my mom’s refusal to ever take a stand against it, have already destroyed my childhood. They haven’t ruined my life, but I’ve had to work really hard to get it back, and move forward, and rebuild it into something better than what it was. If I’d only lived up to my parents’ expectations, I’d still be stuck in California.

And by stuck, I mean miserable.

But I got out, and by being out and gaining some new perspective on life, I’ve (temporarily?) lost the ability to deal with my parents. Because their logic just really doesn’t add up anymore.

In telling me about how my dad isn’t going to buy anymore tractors (which I don’t believe), Mom reminded me that her strategy for dealing with Dad has been to “pray, and let God deal with it.” According to her, this is the answer to her prayers. According to me, this is ridiculous.

My mom has long lived by a “don’t ask too many questions” and “let God deal with it” mantra. She never pushed my dad, by questioning his purchases, or attitude, or behavior, because she didn’t like being in the uncomfortable position of being the “bad guy.” The problem is, sometimes as an adult, you have to be the “bad guy.” That comes with responsibility. Sometimes, being responsible means standing up for what is right, even when it’s not fun, or comfortable, or clear-cut.

My mom refused to be the bad guy. She was far better at being the victim, and she fashioned that role for herself expertly. My dad “didn’t listen” to her (usually very subtle) pleas for things to change. To quote her, she “doesn’t demand: she drops hints.”

The problem with this response is that by refusing to stand up to my dad, and by refusing to be the bad guy in situations when things needed to change, my mom sent him a message that his behavior was okay. That nothing needed to change. So he, like a little kid, kept doing what he wanted to do (buying tractors), instead of what he needed to do to take care of his family (buying Mom a safe car; repairing the house). Because of this, all of us suffered (even my dad, though he’s probably never going to understand it).

Also wrong with this situation: by not taking responsibility for our living conditions, and my dad’s role in creating them, my mom put me and my brother in the position of having to play the “bad guys.” I refer to this situation as “playing parent” – me and my brother had to do this often. When the stove broke, or the refrigerator died, or there was no water, or the septic tank was leaking raw sewage down our driveway, or the roof was collapsing, or there were dozens of mice infesting the house, it was me and my brother who had to take action if anything was going to change. We were just kids. That wasn’t fair to us.

I’m struggling through a transition right now. My therapist says that the first part of this process, of learning how to be a healthy, independent adult, involved learning that I am justified in being angry about the list of things in that last paragraph. I’m justified in being angry that I had to be responsible for my parents irresponsibility. I didn’t know that when I started therapy. Now I understand it, and the next step is moving on to acceptance. I’m a little stuck there right now. But I’m working on it.

There’s another giant flaw in Mom’s logic that has always bothered me: the “pray, and let God handle it” argument. I’m all for praying about things. I don’t believe that I need to go to church every Sunday in order to have a relationship with God, and I think prayer can be a powerful thing. But I don’t think God intended prayer to be a replacement for responsibility.

The problem with my Mom’s logic is that she prayed for something to change, but she didn’t take any action. “Praying about it” isn’t a substitute for making hard decisions, and taking responsibility for situations that impact your own life, and the lives of others. “Pray about it” doesn’t mean “let God do all the work and deal with the situation for you.”

Mom started to shut down at that point, and I was reminded (again) that I’m at a much different place in understanding this than my parents are ever likely to be. Mom is going to keep “praying about it,” and I’m going to keep being frustrated that nothing is changing. They’re going to continue to look for ways they can avoid taking responsibility for their situation, and I’m going to keep searching for ways to better mine. It might not always be comfortable, and there will be times that aren’t “fun.” But at least when I look back on my life, I’ll know I didn’t just try. I did.


The Power of an Octave

Posted: November 11, 2011 in healing, rape
Tags: ,

This week, I took a little step toward building the foundation I need to take my (hopeful) singing career to the next level. After a few weeks of playing email tag and trying with limited success, I finally arranged a meeting with a voice teacher who came highly recommended. She was friendly, easy to talk to, and seemed very down to earth. I liked her, without reservations.

She had me standing by the piano in less than ten minutes, ready to test out my belief that my vocal range was limited to about an octave.

It turns out that my vocal range is not about an octave. It’s more.

Significantly more, as it turns out.

I hit notes I didn’t even know were in my range.

“I’d like to work with you, I think you have a very pretty voice,” she told me.

In order to take classes from her, I have to pass an audition, which will come up in a couple of weeks. I’m nervous. Getting up in front of people is easier than it would have been a few months ago–in some ways. I know I can do it. But I also know now how it feels to be rejected, and I’m terrified that I’m going to screw up. The problem with always looking for second chances is that if they don’t work out, you’re being set up for an even bigger disappointment.

So I’m trying not to look at it as a second chance.

It’s an opportunity. It isn’t the first one I’ve had, and it won’t be the last one I ever get.

It’s just what’s in front of me right now.

I truly believe that things happen for a reason. Sometimes, when things are happening, it’s hard to see or understand what the reasons are. But I’ve been through too many things that are coming full circle now to believe otherwise. All the things that have led me to this point have happened for reasons, have shaped me, have made me into someone not necessarily better or worse, but different than I would have been otherwise.

And different is okay.

I knew it when I was explaining to my (hopefully) new voice teacher how I ended up in her studio on a November afternoon, at the age of 27, looking to resume something I gave up on a long time ago.

“Singing was all I wanted to do when I was sixteen…then I was raped, and everything stopped. I’m healthy now, and I have my feet back under me. I need help finding my voice again,” I told her.

“Let’s do it,” she replied, and headed to the piano.

And it wasn’t perfect, but it was right where I needed to be, at that moment, at this point in my life.

My next challenge is deciding what song to sing for my audition. The voice teacher suggested a Christmas carol.

I’m leaning toward Silent Night.

Try Something New

Posted: November 4, 2011 in healing

I tried something new tonight: Indian food. Among other things.

It’s true. I’ve never had Indian food. I think I may have tried a bite or two once when I lived in Seattle, but it never went very far. If you’re familiar with Indian food, then you will understand my dilemma with it – Indian food is very heavy on the onions and garlic, and I can’t have those things in any substantial quantity. So I’ve always avoided foods that exacerbate my allergy. Who wants to go out to dinner and then be sick all night?

I came across an Indian food recipe that looked delicious, and I decided to go out on a limb…and try it.

This might not seem like a big deal, but to me, it’s a big step.

I’ve always been a retreater when things got uncomfortable. Whether it was trying new foods, or meeting new people, or just getting out of my shell, I’ve never been much of a risk taker. The ability to take chances and be okay with the fact that the outcome might be unknown is something I’ve really had to develop. Putting in the extra effort to try new things, like foods I’ve always avoided, has been a big part of that.

I got a recipe for Chicken Tikka Masala from a blog I enjoy: Can You Stay for Dinner? I made the adjustments I needed to make in order to accommodate my allergies by omitting the onion and garlic, and substituting garlic powder instead. I lightened it up a tiny bit by using half and half instead of heavy cream. This was relatively inexpensive to make (it worked out to about $2 a serving) and overall very healthy (about 6 Weight Watchers PointsPlus Points). I served it over half a cup of rice, with marinated mushrooms.

In addition to trying a dish I’ve never had before, from an entire category of food that I’ve never really given a chance, I did two other new things while making this dish:

I grated ginger (and got to use my tiny little spice grater that I’ve had for forever, but never whipped out):

I’ve always been a little afraid of ginger in savory cooking. I don’t know what I was thinking.

And…I minced a jalapeno!

That’s right: I’m 27 years old, and before tonight, I had never interacted with a jalapeno. I don’t know what I was thinking on this one either…this could have been way spicier!

I’ve always been afraid of these things: ginger and spicy food. But like so many other things, I was afraid of them because I’d never tried them. It’s amazing how a tiny little step to the edge of a comfort zone can open up whole new worlds of possibilities.

Chicken Tikka Masala and Balsamic Marinated Mushrooms.

About these mushrooms…

I made them. I loved them. So I’m going to share them.

Balsamic Marinated Mushrooms

1 lb small button mushrooms

15 oz (1 can) low sodium chicken broth

1/2 cup white wine

1/3 cup balsamic vinegar

1 tsp garlic salt

1 tsp parsley

Wash mushrooms and place in a medium sauce pan. Add chicken stock, white wine, balsamic vinegar, garlic salt and parsley. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to low. Simmer until mushrooms are cooked through, about 20 – 30 minutes. Serve warm or chilled.

I will be making both of these again. Even boyfriend cleaned his plate. And I feel good because I tried something new, expanded my comfort zone, and made a nice dinner that both boyfriend and I enjoyed. I’m a little impressed with myself.


Turning Corners

Posted: October 11, 2011 in healing

It feels like I’ve reemerged from a dark room. A very, very dark room.

It has been a long last couple of months.

I took my written preliminary exams about two weeks ago, and when I wasn’t consumed with studying for them, I was occupied with freaking about about them.

I never believed I would actually pass them, but I did. With flying colors, apparently.

“Your answers on Colonial America and Slavery were some of the best I’ve seen,” my major adviser wrote.

I cried. (Out of joy and relief).

“I thought your Slavery answer went a bit outside the bounds of the question, but your response for the question on Reconstruction was very strong,” another professor informed me.

I smiled, nodded, and scribbled notes as he answered my follow up questions.

“I agree, this was overall the best exam I have ever seen,” another member of the exam committee told me in a meeting I arranged to discuss my answers.

Cried some more.

Now I’m studying for my oral exams, which I take in a little less than two weeks. Having a little bit of a hard time believing that time is finally here…I’m almost done. One dissertation proposal and one actual dissertation and one more defense, and I’ll officially become a doctor.

I have never been prepared for being finished with school before. I’m still not sure that I’m ready, but I feel more optimistic and hopeful now than I have…ever. Everything that has happened in the last couple of months has made everything a little more clear, and a little more manageable, in a strange way.

I didn’t think life was going to go on if anything ever happened to my band. It did.

And I strangely feel more hopeful now than I did when I thought I had everything I wanted. I miss being in a band immensely, but for the first time, I feel like it’s okay for me to set my own time line and move forward on my own. The whole process of surviving the last couple of months has been like it’s own little epiphany: I learned just how much I was relying on other people to help me move forward and achieve my dreams. I’m learning now that it’s okay to do it my own way, even if that way looks different than what I might have expected.

I’m in a different place now than I was ten years or five years or even one year ago. And that’s okay, maybe for the first time.

I’m gearing up to compete in National Novel Writing Month for the first time since 2007.

I’m considering a move to another city.

I’m accepting, for the first time, that being a professor might not be so bad.

Best of all, I’m looking forward.

What 9/11 Means to Me

Posted: September 11, 2011 in anxiety, healing, rape, trauma
Tags: , , ,

This time of year is always emotional for me. September 11, 2001, impacted me in the same way it did many Americans – it shook my sense of security, made me nervous about my personal safety, and made me wonder if things would ever feel “normal” again. I wrote an article on patriotism for my high school newspaper and fully embraced my pride in my country. A few months after it happened, I watched the first images of the Iraq invasion on the news and knew the world had changed. Not too long after that, my only brother joined the Army National Guard and moved to Georgia for boot camp. I got to see him three more times before he shipped off to Iraq in 2004. He came home safe, but deeply troubled. It took a long time for us to start rebuilding that bridge.

But in the grand scheme of things, that isn’t what 9/11 means to me. It was more personal; a deeply painful and harshly transformative moment. It happened, I survived, and life went on, but nothing was ever the same.

In August of 2001, I met a boy. He was the singer in a band, and I was supposed to play bass on some demo tracks they were working on. Instead, he wrecked a car. Instead of playing the bass I ended up driving him into town to call a tow truck. Instead of starting my senior year excited about going to college, I started it wracked with anxiety about a relationship that everyone (including this boy) said was bad for me. But I was in love with a boy who knew exactly what to say to keep me coming back to him, even when I knew it would hurt.

This boy and I were total opposites. He drank; I didn’t. He did drugs; I refused to try them. He smoked cigarettes; I pretended to. He stole; I felt guilty and looked the other way. He went to jail; I accepted his collect calls and promised to do anything for him.

I bailed this boy out of jail. With $1’s and $5’s collected over the course of months working nights as a waitress. He disappeared. I waited through weeks of unanswered phone calls and rumors floating around school that he was seeing other girls.

Then one night I ran into him on my way home from work. We went back to his house. It was late. We kissed and he swore he loved me. He took my car keys and cell phone and gave them to a friend, and took me down the street to an old abandoned limousine that was a favored location for getting high, and where, I assumed, we’d make out some more before I went home. Which we did, for a while.

Then he pulled up my dress and he raped me.

I begged him to stop.

He didn’t.

He slammed my face into a window so hard it cracked my teeth.

He pinned me down, and raped me again. And again.

When I was too tired to cry anymore, he told me to put my clothes on and took me inside, to his room, reminded me that his friend would have my car until the next day, and went to sleep next to me like nothing had happened.

The next morning, I got up and wandered into the living room where his mom and her boyfriend were watching TV. The first plane had just hit the twin towers, and I stood and stared, numb.

I spent the day in San Francisco, waiting while this boy bought drugs. The streets were empty, like a ghost town. I felt on the inside the way they looked – dirty, and damaged. Late in the afternoon, he led me down inside a crypt in the middle of an old cemetery and I watched water dripping down the walls while he did meth with a friend. I wondered briefly if he planned on leaving me there. When we got back to his house later that night, my car was there – my purse and cell phone on the seat. He told me to go home like nothing had happened and watched me drive away. I remember the glow of his cigarette standing out against the charcoal gray of a foggy California sky.

I went home.

My parents barely looked up from the news when I came in; paid little attention when I spent two hours in the bathroom, washing away the blood caked between my legs with dirty, lukewarm water. A few days later I finally worked up the energy to take myself to the doctor, where I learned I had Chlamydia. The nurse handed me a prescription and a brown paper bag filled with an assortment of condoms in shiny red and orange wrappers and told me to be more careful next time. It didn’t really occur to me then that what had happened wasn’t my fault, so I nodded and left.

That’s what 9/11 means to me. The end of something – innocence; a belief that I deserved to be treated with respect.

When a teacher finally figured out something was wrong and convinced me to go to the police, almost two months had passed. In that two months, even though I had told my parents what had happened, I don’t remember a single word of comfort. I don’t remember being told it was going to be okay. Ever. I holed up in my room and focused on my homework. I cleaned the house. And I cried a lot, alone.

The police detective in charge of my case eventually called my mom and insisted that she come down to the police station after work one day. She did, but she wasn’t happy about it. At home that night, my dad insisted that going to court was a bad idea – it would be my word against a boy’s, and no one was going to believe me. That was the closest thing to comfort I ever got.

A few days later, I learned from a mutual acquaintance that just before he’d raped me, this boy had had sex with another girl, who had since tested positive for full blown AIDS. I vowed then that if I survived, I’d get the hell out of California. I signed up for the SAT’s a week before the final deadline, worked feverishly on college applications, and waited for the results of my blood work to come back.

In April, I turned 18. I learned I didn’t have HIV. I accepted an offer for an out of state school, enrolled in early admission with no idea how I was going to pay for it, packed up my car even though I was absolutely terrified to leave, and watched California disappear in my rear view mirror.

It’s hard to believe it’s been ten years.

Months of therapy finally helped me see that what happened then doesn’t have to define me now. I’ve survived, and I’ve grown.

In some ways, it still feels like yesterday.

Like a few months ago, when, during a particularly intense fight with my brother, he insisted I’d never been through anything “that difficult” in my life. I reminded him that at 17, I was raped. One of the ultimate violations.

“Yeah,” he responded after a second of consideration. “But you deserved that. You put yourself in that position.”

I cried all the way home.

A few months later, my brother finally started seeing a therapist. I doubt he’ll ever say he’s sorry.

Ten years.

I’m a few months away from earning a PhD. I owe $100,000 in student loans, but I have a life that’s worlds away from what I knew in California. No matter how things turn out, I don’t ever have to go back to that place where nothing feels safe. I’m still learning how to be happy with me, but at least I’m learning.

The boy who raped me still lives in California. I don’t wonder what he’s doing now very often. I don’t need to, because that doesn’t define me anymore. It helped me grow. It made me stronger. It pushed me to get out. But it isn’t who I am.

I mean more than that.