Forgiveness Without Remorse

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about relationships and forgiveness. This past week was an anniversary of sorts for me, marking a year since I decided to stop drinking. Although I’d already started to make other changes like running more and eating better, the decision to stop drinking was when everything started to click. But it didn’t come without a cost. I stopped drinking because I didn’t like who I was when I drank. I stopped because I needed to prove to myself and to others around me that I could. I stopped because I never again wanted someone I loved to use alcohol as an excuse (and it was an excuse, not a reason) for turning their back on me.

An important part of changing my life in 2012 was learning to forgive myself: for drinking too much, for not being richer or prettier, more successful or married or finished with my Ph.D. But forgiving myself wasn’t really that hard, because I had felt so awful about my faults and misdeeds (real and imagined) for so long that, looking at myself with compassion, I understood it was time to let go of that suffering. What do you do when it comes to forgiving someone who isn’t sorry?

Visual aid

The other thing that made me think of forgiveness tonight is that I learned this week that my former fiance has moved to Algeria. It’s been nearly nine years since we met, just over six since we broke up, and about that long since we’ve had any form of communication. We still had a mutual friend, and I would occasionally get pointed feedback from her about how he was living in the same apartment, working the same job as when we broke up. My reaction to these reports was something like Schadenfreude mixed with validation. He broke up with me in a cruel way. He took his time doing it, and in the meantime he spent nearly three months verbally and emotionally abusing me. I was called fat, told that I was unattractive, and he told me he was embarrassed to go to nice places with me because I didn’t dress well enough or have good table manners. He disappeared on me for days when it was convenient. He made me believe that my plans to get a Ph.D. would ruin him financially, and made it clear that he thought I was keeping him from some better future. These things would be terrible to say to anyone, but to say them to someone who had just been through a rape and a trial less than a year earlier–events he knew full well of–were ruinous to me. When it was finally over, I was suicidal. A friend literally drove me to a therapist on my lunch hour because I believed I would kill myself. I believed that I was totally beyond redemption, damaged to a point where I would never be loved by anyone. It has taken me years and many other bad relationships where I put up with bad treatment to get past some of these statements… And even now I still believe some of it might be true, in my darkest hours.

He never apologized to me for what he did. He never showed any remorse, not even to mutual friends. In fact, I found out months later that he’d led his friends to believe that had been the one to break up with him. Years later, I don’t know how to forgive that. I had a lot of emotions when I found out he’d left the country. While he was still living in my hometown, there was always a chance our paths would cross again. I’ve long since left behind any feelings I had for him, but I always had the hope that maybe some day I would see him on the street or at a party, and he’d apologize. I wanted to believe that a person I once loved was capable of empathy and remorse for what he had done to me. But it seems our paths are unlikely to ever cross that way again. In some sense, I was happy that he was gone. I regained some respect for him knowing that he finally did take a leap and do something with his life. But can I forgive him? Sometimes, in life, actually saying the words “I’m sorry” is the only form of justice we get. It’s the only thing that truly heals a wound. Sometimes, forgiveness just can’t be given without being asked for.

One year ago, something else was broken. It was broken by both sides. I apologized for what I did wrong because I knew it was the right thing to do, and I changed. But, once again, I never heard the words that I wanted to hear. I always want someone I loved to redeem themselves. I want to take that cloud off the memory of our time together. I want to know I wasn’t wrong to believe that the other person had a heart, or that it hurt them to break mine.

Perhaps I should just give forgiveness freely. I reflect on my resentments every time I meditate. But some resentments are as hard as stone, and wear away just as slowly.

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On Todd Akin

I am angry. Todd Akin has pissed me off. I don’t want his comments to get under my skin, I didn’t want to write this blog entry–which I’m sure will once again have someone noting how sad and pathetic my life is. I don’t want to think about my own rape, but it’s hard to think about anything else when the word rape is all over the fucking news. I guess this is the part where I’m supposed to stick a big **trigger warning** as I list off some of the many ways rape has fucked with my life. (See also, last week’s pity party on the subject.)

  • When I was raped, I had to take drugs. Lots of them. I took emergency contraception, because it turns out you can get pregnant after all. And did he wear a condom? Who knows. It’s just a bit hard to think straight when you’ve been slipped so much GHB that your memory comes in spurts, that you lose consciousness, and that you wake up semi-aware, but completely unable to move your body for what seems like an eternity–unable to run away and unable to push him off you. Does that sound like a “legitimate rape?” When you tell the hospital staff you don’t know if he used a condom, they give you more drugs. The anti-retroviral drugs that you get to prevent HIV are the worst. After being raped, after being poked and prodded by a rape kit, after letting strangers take photos of the intimate parts of your body, they hand you a supply of drugs almost guaranteed to make you vomit over and over again.

  • The drug regimen ends, though. What doesn’t end is the anger and mistrust. Eight years later, I’m still surprised by my own responses. Rape jokes make me angry.  Any man could be a rapist. A lot of men see me as just an object or a sexual target, I can see it in their eyes (or at least I imagine I do). I can’t forget the look that I got this morning from a man who decided to drive by me reeeeal slow and get a good look as I was walking my dog. At 6:30AM. I try not to wear shorts and a tank top when I walk the dog anymore. It doesn’t really change anything. When that guy leered at me, my mind just thought: Predator.
  • I drank too much. For years. Now I get to feel shame about that, too. I was a “monster.” Yet, since I quit drinking, I find that just being in a bar makes me intensely uncomfortable. Going to parties makes me uncomfortable. So I stay home, night after night. It feels like there’s no winning. If there’s a middle ground between social anxiety and full-on drunk, I haven’t found it yet.
  • I am also afraid. I am afraid I will never find love, because who wants to love a nutcase like me? I am afraid that I have no future and nothing to live for. I am afraid I might hurt myself sometimes. I am afraid to run before dawn. I have panic attacks where I can’t stop crying. I cried this morning in the pet store. I am afraid of myself. Sometimes I don’t want to be alive anymore. Sometimes I think surviving was a mistake.

My point here is not to make you feel sorry for me. (Although, wow have I done a great job of making myself look bad here…) My point is that rape can ruin your life. It can mess with your head. Years later, after you start a new life and when you think things are fine and when you think you might have a bright future after all–WHAM! A news story, a scene in a movie, even the word “rape” sneaks up behind you and knocks you to the ground.

If my life is this unmanageable now, imagine how I would have felt if I had been pregnant and had to carry my rapist’s baby to term. Imagine, amongst all I already feel, if I carried the knowledge that I’d given birth to that child and gave it away, or if I kept it and was reminded of rape all the time. Abortion is not a win, either, mind you. But don’t these women deserve a right to make a choice they can maybe live with? Don’t they deserve to at least have their suffering called “legitimate?”

Todd Akin, you did not misspeak. You did not show empathy. You cannot possibly have empathy for my life, or the life of a victim who is pregnant here in the U.S. or in Rwanda, Bosnia, or the Congo. You cannot imagine, and I’d never wish it upon you or anyone you love. Fuck you.

Damage

Eight years ago this month my life changed forever when I was raped. It’s an issue I’ve tried to avoid writing about, because it’s hard for me to look at directly—even though I think about it every day. Lately I feel haunted by it, and I’m not sure if it’s because I’m spending too much time alone, or because I’m anxious, or because it just happens to be August.

It turns out, you can’t really talk about rape. It shows up in movies, it’s almost a weekly feature on Law & Order, but you can never really talk about the time that it happened to you. For one thing, it’s painful to discuss… though it is sometimes equally painful to hold it inside. For another, it makes people uncomfortable. In spite of the shockingly widespread nature of the crime—RAINN reports that someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted every two minutes—it’s something we speak about in hushed tones. It seems generally expected that outside of “appropriate” venues, like a support group, we do not discuss our experience of rape. Break that taboo and you get stared at, or people look at the floor, or some people even get angry that you dared to speak out. Fear of people’s reactions is another reason to be quiet. I learned this early on when, during my rapist’s trial, the prosecutor handing my case (a wonderful woman to whom I am tremendously grateful) told me that the officer to whom I reported my rape would not be testifying at trial. It turns out that officer—who was a woman—told the prosecutor she didn’t initially believe I was raped because the guy who did it was “too good looking.” Since then, I’ve had other people express disbelief at my story. The fact is that I was one of the first victims to go to trial in the state of New York with definitive evidence of a date rape drug. Given how much I still had in my system mid-morning the following day, a toxicologist testified at trial there was no way I could have given consent. But that’s not enough evidence for some people; for some people there is always a question mark.

For a long time I wanted to speak about what happened to me, because I think that people don’t speak enough about it. Since all this happened, I’ve had friends tell me in hushed tones about how it happened to them too, and how they never told anyone. Or how they never went to police. These days, I understand the value in silence. For me, I went to police because I knew I could never live with myself if my rapist remained free and went on to hurt someone else. But it came at a very high cost. It took over a year from the rape to the end of the trial. In that time, I was terrified he would find me or try to do something to me. I feel tremendous guilt about what it did to my parents, knowing I was raped and having to sit through a trial, and I wonder if I would have been better off not telling them. I have still never told other members of my family. At the time of the rape I had a boyfriend, who later became my fiancé. We split the year after the trial. I know in my heart there were other things wrong with the relationship, but I always wonder if the rape is what ultimately doomed us.

I have not been in another serious relationship since. I was always an introvert and a workaholic; I’ve never had great luck with men. But I wonder all the time if I’m too damaged now to be loved. Who can blame anyone for not loving a woman who constantly has her defenses up, who scrutinizes her clothing choices before walking the dog because she doesn’t want attention? Who could blame someone for not loving a woman who gets irrationally angry when guys on the street honk at her or when she feels threatened? Who would want to stand by someone who used alcohol over and over to get past anxiety and to make friends? I’ve been criticized for being depressed and sad and insecure. I’ve also been criticized for pushing myself too hard. I know I get anxious and over-defensive. No one knows my shortcomings better than me. But I sometimes just want someone to understand. There is no way to understand what this all does to you if you haven’t been through it.

When I was raped, I didn’t want it to change me. I wanted to be strong. I wanted to be the girl who had a happy ending. I am angry at myself constantly for not being there yet… but I’m trying to be forgiving. I’ve stopped drinking, something that required tremendous willpower. In the next year I’ll be done with my Ph.D., I’ll (hopefully) have a new job, and I’ll finish my third half marathon. I also study sexual violence as part of my research and I discuss it in classes because I still want it to be talked about. I still hope I can make a difference in someone’s life. There’s a zen saying that I think about often: “If you understand, things are just as they are. If you do not understand, things are just as they are.” I spend a lot of time trying to understand what happened to me and a lot of time trying to see the future. I will probably never do either. My life is what it is, and I’m trying to be grateful just to have the chance to move forward. I’m at least doing a better job of it than I used to do.

Chase Corporate Challenge (A Race Reminiscence)

Well, this is not so much a race report as a race reminiscence. Yesterday in Rochester was the Chase Corporate Challenge, which several of my friends here ran. Maybe you can see a picture of them if you check out the Democrat and Chronicle photo gallery.

Though I was unable to run the race–since I am no longer an employee of a Rochester company–this event always brings back fond memories for me. The Corporate Challenge was my first race several years ago. Just being around to do the race was a big deal for me. You see, in 2004 I was raped by an individual who drugged me at a bar and kidnapped me. I eventually got away and went to police with the incident. What followed was a year and a half long odyssey to take my rapist to trial. To this day, I consider that the hardest thing I have ever done. I had an order of protection while my rapist was out on bail, I feared for my safety, I had to re-live the experience over and over again to detectives, attorneys, police officers, and in a courtroom, and the entire process took such a toll on my relationship with my boyfriend (who, during the process, became my fiance) that I think it ultimately doomed us. I try not to think about it a lot, but what I do remember quite vividly is sitting on a witness stand, being cross-examined by my attacker’s ass of a defense lawyer, and thinking to myself, “If you get through this, you are never again allowed to say you can’t do something, because nothing will ever be as hard as this.”

Running a 3.5-mile race seems like nothing to me now, but before I started training for the Corporate Challenge I had never run farther than the 1-mile fitness challenge back in high school. I worked out, but didn’t consider myself an athlete. I had a friend who did the race every year and who always tried to recruit me, but I said no for years because I just didn’t think I could do it. But that first year after the trial, I couldn’t say no. I trained and ran the race, and I’ve been running ever since. I ran the Corporate Challenge three times, eventually becoming co-chair of my company’s event team before leaving my old job. I’ve also worked up to running many more 5Ks, 10Ks, and two half marathons. This year, in the month of May, I ran over 60 miles. I will soon pass 250 miles run this year. Lots of things in my life have come and gone since that first race, but running has remained a part of my life and I hope it always will.

Throwing in the Towel

Yesterday my therapist suggested that I quit online dating. In my brief re-experiment with putting myself on the market, I’ve had dates with three guys who were just OK, and corresponded with two other guys who I gave up on after repeated e-mail exchanges that were no more than two sentences long each on their end. The most “success” I had was the guy I went on about five dates with, over the course of a month, who I never even touched. It wasn’t a huge surprise when he stopped calling me after his last business trip, and it didn’t feel like much of a loss on my end either… except that everything feels like a loss or a failure at this point in my life. I passed another birthday this week with no one to share it with. I’m about to go back home to upstate New York where I’ll see one of my close friends get married, meet another’s new baby, and will be the third wheel on innumerable hanging out sessions where husbands, boyfriends, etc. are always present. I, as usual, have nothing new to share about my love life.

My therapist’s advice to quit dating came after I burst into tears when describing myself as “that thing at the store that’s left on the shelf while all the other things get bought, and you just look at it and you know it’s been there forever.” That is truly how I see myself. I have no delusions about who I am–I’m smart, I’m at least moderately attractive, I’ve lost over 30 pounds and don’t drink like a fish anymore. I run half marathons, I almost have a Ph.D., and I’m a good teacher. But that doesn’t seem to be what matters to men. I feel like I’m invisible sometimes; and I’m as bad at meeting people online as I am when I go out in person. As I get older, it doesn’t get any easier.

I think my therapist’s idea was that, by taking myself off the market, I relieve the pressure on myself. I save myself the constant feeling of rejection that I get when online dating–or any kind of dating–just doesn’t pan out. She pointed out that I’m planning to leave Arizona in a year or so anyway and that “it’s probably just not meant to happen here.” But in my heart I’ve started to believe it won’t happen anywhere. My last serious relationship ended almost six years ago back in New York. Before that, I was raped by a guy I met at a bar. The last guy I loved here in Tucson just completely stomped on my heart (as I let him reject me over and over again). At this point, even the thought of going out and meeting new guys who can hurt me again makes me a little sick to my stomach. There’s something called path dependence, and I feel like someone who has been so spectacularly unsuccessful at finding and forming healthy relationships in the past is quite unlikely to do so in the future. The truth is–there’s just not someone out there for everyone, and lots of people go through their whole lives without ever finding a love that lasts.

I just wish I could stop wanting it.

Today in the War on Women…

Well, I have nothing exciting to tell you all about my own life today. (Yes, the so-called “Spring Break” has become a work-fest these past couple of days… Got to do something about that.) Instead, I would like to share some recent updates in the “War on Women.” You may have heard that republican candidate Rick Santorum has been winning some primaries lately, especially in Southern and conservative states. While Mitt Romney still has the lead in terms of delegates, and it would be difficult for Santorum to win the nomination outright, it seems the conservative message has him rattled.

I was annoyed and amazed to see that Romney is now talking about getting rid of Planned Parenthood in order to pander to the conservative vote, in spite of his support of the organization while he was in Massachusetts. The idea of “getting rid of” PP is a stupid one, for several reasons:

  • PP is not a public enterprise. As explained by the folks over at Jezebel, only about 1/3 of PP’s budget comes from public funding and none of that money goes to abortion services. Doesn’t the intervention of government in a private enterprise seem, I don’t know, contrary to the conservative ideology?
  • Given that 97% of PPs services are not abortion, even if conservatives managed to get rid of PP in order to eliminate abortions, who will pick up the slack on all the other services PP offers? The need for contraception, STD screenings, cancer screenings, health education, prenatal and postnatal care, rape crisis services, and so forth will not go away just because PP is eliminated. In his platform to eliminate PP, does Romney propose to address this? Given that he also has a platform to cut the deficit, I doubt he’ll be offering funding to any new services or alternative organizations. It seems like those who can’t afford will just have to go without if PP is gone.
  • Romney’s rhetoric is also not smart, because he still has to win a general election in a country where women–shock!–actually have the right to vote for or against him. Centrist women, even those who usually vote Republican, are disillusioned with their choices. The Obama team has taken notice, and is launching a major initiative to appeal to women voters.

The downside to this debate is obvious: It’s scary to a lot of us women to hear serious, national political discourse questioning not only whether our contraception should be covered, but whether we should have access to it at all. (And, note, it’s only access to women-consumed forms of contraception like the pill that are being debated. I haven’t heard anyone talking about getting rid of condoms and vasectomies) The debate also seems a stupid distraction at a time when the economy is still struggling and many Americans are finding it hard to get by. The upside, which is exciting to me as a feminist and a political scientist, is that this is a tremendous opportunity for women voters to make themselves heard. Organized and unorganized women-driven activism has made a difference this year on issues like the Komen funding debate and Rush Limbaugh’s ad hominem examples of uncivil discourse. Women have the power to swing this election either way. We are not a “segment” of voters–we are half the electorate. And while we’re at it, maybe we can get some more women into office. This 17% female representation in Congress doesn’t seem to be working for us.

Theater Review: Necessary Targets

It’s been a while since I posted a review piece on this blog (no coincidence that these things fall by the wayside mid-semester), but I saw a theatrical performance of Necessary Targets on Sunday at the University of Arizona’s Tornabene Theater as part of the Arizona Repertory Theater series and I thought I’d share a review.

This play was written by Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues. (I’m ashamed to admit as a feminist that I’ve never seen that work either. What do you want from me? My life is busy and unless they stage a production in my office during office hours, I’m unlikely to make it.) The focus is on women in the aftermath of the war in Bosnia, sometime around the mid- to late-1990s. The two primary characters, Melissa and J.S., are Americans. J.S. is an upscale New York psychiatrist who’s been asked to join a presidential commission to help war refugees, and Melissa is a seasoned war reporter working on a book who may or may not be going as J.S.’s “assistant.” The two journey to Bosnia in the play’s first act, where they meet a group of female refugees they are charged with helping. Over the course of the play, there are two themes of development: The development of the relationship between the refugee women and the Americans, leading to the revelation of their stories, and the development taking place within the American women.

I was lukewarm on this play overall. As characters, the refugee women are far more developed than the two Americans. As the stories of these women unfold over the course of the play, the Bosnian women come to feel real. This is likely no accident, as the play was inspired by Ensler’s own interaction and interviews with women in actual refugee camps. The stories of rape, murder, and abuse are therefore close to the ugly reality of what transpired in the conflict. The American women, on the other hand, are crudely drawn. While their character development is central to the play, these women are  caricatures and they to some extent remain that throughout. J.S. has such a stick up her butt, reflected in her very prim speech, dress, and actions, that one wonders why she would have ever been chosen for this assignment in the first place. She comes across more as a neo-Victorian society matron who would swoon at the first sign of danger than she does a seasoned professional. Likewise, hard-as-nails Melissa also seems a poor choice. We’re told she’s been trained as a trauma counselor, but from the very beginning she shows little to no interest in the wellness of the “traumatized war victims” she’s working with, and at no point in the play does she demonstrate any kind of sensitivity toward them.

There are also weird inconsistencies and many points that seem not fully developed. At the beginning of the play, we are told that refugee Asra is a lonely old women and it is insinuated that she’s never been married or had sex. Yet later, it is revealed that she was once a wet nurse for a child in her village. Is that possible? There are also hints that Melissa is suffering from an eating disorder, but this plot point only comes up at the beginning and end of the play and is not fully fleshed out. The play’s final scene, with J.S. reflecting on her time in Bosnia, has the potential to be masterful, but it fell short for me. Almost as if she (and Ensler) are unable to truly articulate the meaning of these encounters.

That said, the play does have moments of brilliance. When the tragic past of one of the refugees, Seada, is revealed, it has a powerful emotional impact. Another of the refugees, Zlata, a former doctor who has lost everything as a result of the war, consistently steals every scene she’s in. In this particular performance, all of the young female actors (drama students at the U of A) did a superb job. Kudos also to those who worked on the costumes and set designs. Sunday’s performance was the last day of this play’s run here in Tucson, but it won’t be my last visit to an Arizona Repertory Theater production.