Tag: violence

She’s a Little Runaway

I laid low for a little while, on my best behavior, after the social worker came by the house. The thought of being sent back to the small town Missouri high school of 400 after attending the exciting Arizona high school of 4000 terrified me. I had a new set of friends that I wanted to keep, even if I only got to see them at school.

I was no longer grounded, not that it mattered much, since I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere anyhow.

There had been no mending of the relationship between my father and me. As my bruised face healed, my pain was forgotten by the adults in charge. After a trip to the dentist to fill in the chipped portion of my front tooth with composite resin, all returned to outer normalcy (if you didn’t count what my father had deemed my “whorish” blond hair). Minus the physical reminders of the fight during which he punched me in the face repeatedly, we moved forward without discussing the incident, as if it had never happened.

There would be no family therapy sessions, no psychological counseling, like in the After School Special television shows. In our family, when abuse happened, we did the sociological equivalent of a cartoon character emitting a “just minding my own business” whistle and sidestepping uneasily out of the room. Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.

I had my gym bag packed with clothes and all of the money I had ferreted away to date; around forty dollars. The plan was to ask to spend the night at a good friend’s house. If I was denied, I was running away. Because I was never allowed to go anywhere, I was pretty sure I would be running away.

I’d had it. I was angry about being beaten up. I was angry that nobody cared. I was angry that I didn’t get to have a social life and was expected to spend my teenage years friendless, in the middle of nowhere. I was just plain angry, and I wanted to do something bad to the people who were making me feel this way. It really was that simple.

A therapist would probably call it a cry for help, but a more accurate assessment would be that it was a middle finger. Fuck you. Fuck you, you awful, kid-punching people who never let me be a teenager or have any fun. Fuck you, I’m leaving. Oh, and also: fuck you. Did I mention that?

That morning, I asked my father if I could spend the night at my best girlfriend’s house. He said no, as expected. I left the house with a goodbye yelled down the hallway, so that my gym bag would not cause suspicion. I walked the usual route down the dusty gravel road to the bus stop and rode it to school, just to get out of nowhere-land and into the city.

When I got to school, I walked off campus. The girl who had been in accelerated classes and the gifted program her entire life was now resigned to not graduating from high school. I didn’t even care. I was so unhappy with my life; I couldn’t stand it in my desert prison with the guy who’d beaten me up, even one more day.

I wandered around the city, getting further away from the school as the day progressed. I worried my father would send the police to the area, looking for me. What I didn’t realize in my naivety was that he had as much reason as I to avoid the police. The police would ask his teenage runaway daughter questions with ugly answers that painted him in an unflattering light. He never called the police.

Foolishly thinking I would need a disguise, I bought a hair dye in a grocery store to change my white blond hair to a burgundy red. I grabbed a bag of on-sale bread rolls while I was there. I ate a few and gave the rest of them away to a homeless person in a Phoenix alley.

I found a bathroom and changed my hair. The violent incident that led to my eventual running away from home was set into motion by the bleaching of my hair, and the irony of now putting it back to a more father-friendly color to evade the police was lost on me.

After school hours were over, I found a pay phone and called my best friend. She told me about a party that night and we arranged a meeting place where she would come get me. Nothing else to do, I headed that way.

The party was in a cheap motel room. It was being thrown by three older military guys with a penchant for high school girls. The bathtub was full of ice and free booze, and the dimly lit room was packed with illegal deeds. A boom box sat on a bedside table, blasting the latest rock. It was sweaty, crowded, and overpowering. The smell of teenage pheromones was louder than everything.

The party tapered off into the late hours, and as high school curfews slowly eliminated the crowd, I found myself wondering where I was going to sleep.

One of the older guys throwing the party had latched on to me. We were drinking and talking, sitting on the edge of a bed, which would have seemed like a dangerous idea if the same bed hadn’t been used as a crowded couch for the last few hours. It seemed benign enough to an ignorant young girl who had no idea what he really wanted.

He pounced fast, kissing me roughly. I didn’t want to kiss him, not at all. I looked around wildly for help as he pinned me to the dirty motel bed, but the room had cleared. There was nobody left but the two of us. He had been waiting patiently for this opportunity, placating the stupid drunk teenager with small talk and alcohol.

Outside the room, I could hear talking in the parking lot as people said their goodbyes. I could hear cars starting, engines revving, and help leaving.

While he was sucking on my neck, giving me the kind of red marks I would despise the rest of my life, I was trying with all of my strength to push him off. I had moved from not attracted into completely repulsed by him, but I couldn’t make it stop.

He was a big guy, and muscular from the military training. He wouldn’t budge. I started to get genuinely scared, as I let myself think the frantic, horrified thought I’m sure many victims have had: “Oh my god, I’m about to get raped.”

This was how it happened. This was how girls got raped. I was saying, “No. Get off of me,” and he wasn’t listening. At all. But I didn’t want to get raped. I needed a new approach.

My whole life I have had a really calm mind in moments of extreme pressure, and this was one of them. I quickly assessed the situation and decided to psychologically outwit this bastard, if I could.

I stopped struggling and saying no, and acted like I was into what was happening. I kissed back. I used my hands. I convinced him that I wanted it as much as he did. I just needed to earn his trust and get him to lower his guard for one second, because there was no way I was getting out of the situation otherwise. He was just too strong.

Once I’d sold my desire enough, I told him in my best husky, oversexed voice that I thought we should both take off our shirts. He temporarily shifted his weight off of me while he sat up to pull his T-shirt over his head. I made bedroom eyes and pretended to start taking my shirt off too.

This was the chance I’d been hoping for, probably the only one I was going to get. I shoved myself out from underneath him while he was off-balance, and ran for the door to the motel room. I knew that if I could just get outside to yell for help, I’d escape.

I made it outside, with my potential rapist running thirty feet behind me. He was shirtless and angry. I spotted my best friend across the parking lot, exchanging phone numbers with a guy she’d been talking to all night. They were in front of his car, getting ready to leave. I ran as fast as I could in their direction.

When I got there, I said in a low, whispering voice, “Help me, please,” right before the guy I’d left in the motel room bed caught up. I said overly loudly to them, “I just realized I’m late for my curfew! Can you give me a ride home?”

My friend and the guy she was talking to both understood immediately what was happening and hustled me into the car, amid protests from my pursuer. We kept it really chipper and friendly, exclaiming things like, “Hey, thanks for the party!” as we drove away. We left him dejected and annoyed, standing in the parking lot.

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Social Networking and Issue Resolution

(Writing from August 3, 2011.)
***
Below is a Facebook message conversation between the high school boyfriend who dumped me, and then beat me up in a moment of sudden, jealous rage months after we’d both moved on to dating other people.
I pressed assault and battery charges. He got a little fine and some community service, and I was left with a permanently damaged finger.
He kept trying to friend request me on MySpace and then later, on Facebook, as if nothing had happened. I finally confronted him about this because the last time we communicated it was via prosecuting attorney.
We resolved our issues because he apologized for his behavior. I’m surprisingly forgiving for a Scorpio, if a person will simply apologize for making a mistake. I’m human. I make mistakes too. I get it. Just be sorry, please. I need to hear the words, and we’re good.
I don’t understand why apologizing is so hard for some people?
***
Facebook Message Inbox — August 3, 2011

“Hi Tawni,

Long time since I last saw you. I regret my behavior on that aspect of early life. I often thought about how you were doing and honestly hoped you found your niche in life. As I can see you have: handsome men in your life and you are still a fun-loving person. I have carved out something of my life as well. I’m still a smart ass, but with two beautiful, smart daughters who are very creative and loving. I hope to hear from you, and once again, sorry for all that is bad between us, and hope you can accept me as a friend.

Respectfully with a smile,
Aaron”

Facebook Message Inbox — August 3, 2011

“Hi Aaron,

Thank you. The word “sorry” is really important to me. All I ever wanted from you was an apology for the permanently-crooked finger of mine that you broke during your rage in the Holden High School parking lot. The finger still turns to one side and won’t bend properly. Because of this, the tendons feel tight and it aches much of the time. I would like to have it surgically corrected, but lack the funds and vacation/recovery time to ever make it happen. The odd angle of the finger also made it harder for me to form chords to play guitar when I was in bands.

My parents were not the most caring/selfless people in the world at the time, and I had definitely worn out my welcome via typical teenage rebellion. So despite the fact that the Holden police told me, “Yep. It’s definitely broken. You need to have it set by a doctor,” my folks told me to skip going to the hospital. This is why it healed in the wrong position (kinked sideways).

My parents’ lack of concern for my bones is not your fault, but the breaking of my finger was, because it was broken as I attempted to defend myself from your fists swinging at my face.

My point is not to whine about a twisted ring finger, or my parents. I have the life perspective to know that in the grand scheme of things, a mildly bent finger is ultimately not that big of a deal, and my parents and I have a much better relationship these days.

I share these things to let you know that because of this physical reminder, I have been forced to think about what caused this minor deformity (your anger) ever since the incident, which has made it harder to put it behind me or forgive and forget than something impermanent.

(Another example: When my biological father beat the shit out of me at 15 and chipped off a chunk of my left front tooth, it created a similar lifetime reminder. I am still waiting for his apology. We haven’t spoken in years.)

While I am a forgiving person, you have never actually apologized until now, and honestly, that’s all I was waiting for. So please know that I appreciate your kind, thoughtful words and hold no continued resentment toward you. We were kids, and I’m old enough to realize that kids do stupid things. I know I did my share of stupid things. I only hope that as I age, I do less stupid things. I think that’s the most any of us can hope for, really. Wisdom and serenity would be great, but mostly, we just hope to do less stupid things as we get older.

Congratulations on your beautiful daughters, and for holding on to your inner smart ass. Life is so much easier with a sense of humor, isn’t it?

Your friend,
Tawni”

5 Things to Kindly Keep in Mind with People Processing Violence

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Children learn what they see, so please, lead by positive example. Psychologically healthy parents protect their children, they don’t hit them. Fear and respect are not the same thing, and children deserve to feel safe.

 

People who’ve survived any form of physical abuse or threat are often left with hard-to-heal emotional scars. The damage can take many forms, such as: sexual molestation, rape, being physically struck or beaten, experiencing danger, and military service. But no matter how personal safety violations are inflicted, any may lead to psychological dysfunction.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder, dissociation, denial, depression, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are some issues experienced by humans whose nervous systems have been pushed beyond their limits. People who experience assault-based trauma are more likely to develop PTSD, but everyone has a different level of stress they can handle before becoming permanently overwhelmed. Because all humans are different, there’s no way to predict psychological disorders, and no guaranteed cures.

Some common symptoms felt by those who’ve been in threatening situations may include hypervigilance, being easily startled, insomnia, never feeling safe, brain fog, irritability, an exaggerated fight-or-flight response, mood swings, and panic attacks involving dizziness, nausea, sweating, rapid heartbeat, tunneling vision, or a sense of impending doom.

Below are 5 things to kindly keep in mind while talking to people processing violence:

  1. The Compassion Competition—

One of the worst assumptions to make about a person affected by violence is that they lack perspective or don’t understand that somebody always has it worse. Abused people know they’re not the only person to which injustice has happened, and unless they’ve never been on the Internet, they’re obviously aware of life’s many atrocities.

Examples of this might be saying, “Well, at least THIS WORSE THING didn’t happen to you…” and giving an example of something you consider a greater wrongdoing.

This reaction completely invalidates the feelings of the person who trusted you enough to confide, and insults their intelligence. The fact that bad things also happen to others doesn’t magically erase the bad things that have happened to them, no matter where you’d place the abuse on your spectrum.

In short: Pain is not a contest. You can show empathy to more than one person at a time without dismissing the feelings of anyone. Because regardless of how someone was hurt, it always matters.

  1. The Dance of Denial—

Many victims of physical or sexual abuse find themselves alone with their pain because the topic makes others feel uncomfortable. This can be especially true if the person was violated by a family member.

Families sometimes brush unflattering stories about sexual or physical abusers under the rug because it’s hard to believe a relative is capable of such brutality. But this reaction can re-victimize people by invalidating their pain.

Often, rather than helping those harmed by a family member or stranger, friends and relatives defensively ignore the issue, allowing the perpetrator to get away with something evil. This lack of justice or support can severely hamper the healing process, because a person can’t heal from a wound nobody will acknowledge.

In short: Abuse at the hands of a stranger -or- a family member hurts, and all forms of abuse are abuse. Ignoring the “icky” can make those harmed feel like they’ve done something wrong, rather than the person who caused the damage. Listen, believe, and strengthen instead of shaming.

  1. The Blame Game—

If you ever feel like saying, “Well that person is a ____, so what did you expect?” or, “I just accept that they’re messed up, and ignore it. That’s just who they are!” about the person who harmed someone, go ahead and keep that thought to yourself, because it reeks of victim blaming.

You may have the best intentions, such as trying to commiserate with the person who’s sharing their painful experience with you. However, what they often hear instead is: “Shame on you for being stupid. You should have known what you were dealing with, and anticipated your own violation.”

In short: Nobody in a civilized society should ever have to expect violence. Don’t imply that people could have predicted their own abuse and avoided it, because this only makes you look uncompassionate.

  1. Downplaying the Damage—

There is nothing more unhelpful than someone telling you to “get over it” in reference to anything, including the violation of your personal safety. Unless you have the ability to crawl into another person’s psyche and assess how something has affected them, dismissing their damage can be downright dangerous.

Everyone has a right to feel safe, and whether you’ve experienced similar things or not, your decision that everyone else has to deal with emotions exactly the way you do is thoughtless and condescending, at best.

Being told you’re “histrionic” or to “put on your big boy/big girl pants” are examples of thoughtless advice, and often given by those who choose to live in denial, rather than being brave enough to deal with their problems. This form of blatant invalidation is heartless and harmful. If someone has the courage to face their personal demons, rather than attempting to humiliate them into silence because of your own cowardice, you might instead watch and learn.

In short: Gaslighting is gross. Stop trying to make people feel like they’re overreacting or incorrectly imagining their own abuse. Everybody’s emotions are valid, and your motives are questionable if you’d prefer people in pain “suck it up and move on.” If you feel this way, why don’t YOU move on… somewhere out of hearing range.

  1. No Pity Parties, Please—

Most people who’ve been hurt by someone else are furious that they were forced into the role of victim, and don’t enjoy it. Treating them with compassion is lovely, but viewing them with pity can be upsetting. Being helpless is the worst feeling in the world, and nobody who’s experienced it ever wants to feel it again.

The word “survivor” is preferred over the word “victim” by many because it implies strength, rather than weakness. Surviving doesn’t have to mean someone has survived a life-or-death situation, either—it simply means someone is trying to accept and cope with what’s happened to them.

In short: Nobody chooses to be abused, and treating people like they’re fragile or broken because of the violating actions of another can frustrate them. Let them know you think they’re strong for moving forward, despite those who’ve tried to hold them back. Survivors of abuse would much rather you celebrate their courage than pity them.

***

People on the path to wellness don’t appreciate roadblocks created by other humans, well-intentioned or not. If you truly want to help someone move past bad things that have happened to them, listen to and believe them, don’t invalidate their feelings, and try to empathize.

Kindness and understanding go a long way in this world, and by avoiding the potentially harmful reactions listed above, you might give someone the compassion and support they need to heal themselves.