Monday, February 2, 2009

The hardest blog I've ever written

I'm having those weird feelings. They stop me from doing what I am supposed to be doing which is preparing my proposal for my third book or writing those guest blogs I promised or putting together that scavenger hunt thing or well just about a million things that I should be doing. Instead I'm having flashbacks to when I was fifteen and having that tug of war about whether or not I should blog about this. I want to, but I don't. I feel like it could help some people, but I feel like it's opening a can of worms or more like a can of stinking, rotting, toxic shit that I'd sealed and buried and should I really open it again? It bobs to the surface though. And I allude to it from time to time, so I should probably just let it out. I think I have to from time to time. You can't bury toxic shit. It poisons you. Even after you've mostly healed. Sometimes you have to let yourself have those moments, those weird feelings. Okay, I'll stop babbling, I'll just do this. Write this down. The blog I don't want to write but know I need to.

What's funny is what triggered this. More legitimate things have triggered almost writing this blog in the past. Like I read Ink Exchange by Melissa Marr last spring and that made me want to speak out in a good strong way. Also last June when I got the first part of my IWBYJR tattoo and was reflecting on why I got the female signs tattooed on that arm in the first place, I started to blog about it. You can read it here, I say that next I'm going to blog about the intensely personal reason why I got the tattoo. I even started to write something. Saved it somewhere. But the next day Marcel died. And the world fell apart for a long, long time. Bits of it are still in pieces. By the time I got back to blogging about the tattoo, I couldn't deal with the emotions of the broken teenage girl because I was still reeling with emotions of the broken twenty-nine year-old whose friend had died. Anyway, I'm babbling. This is just a long way of saying that I feel stupid admitting that what brought this one was an episode of Degrassi. Yeah. My little TV show escape. 

I was addicted to the original Degrassi as a kid because it seemed so real, not glossed over. The new Degrassi appealed to me too even though maybe I'm too old for it or whatever. But I watch it when I catch it on the N and I've been slowly buying and working my way through the boxsets. I just got season 4. I was psyched, I cooked dinner, figured I'd watch an episode while I ate. Then I'd get some work done before Scott gets home from school. 

So it was the episode where Paige goes to court to confront her rapist, try to put him in jail. I'd watched the episode where she got date raped alone once and was like, whoa, I shouldn't have watched that, especially not alone. So I really should have known right away to turn this off. Maybe see if Rock of Love or Sober House or something was on instead. But I didn't. Tears were in my eyes for the entire episode, but I started straight up bawling when Paige told her boyfriend after he said he "wanted the old Paige back" that "That Paige went upstairs that night and she never came back..." I couldn't hold back then because it's so simple and so true. When something that awful happens to you, it is like you walk into the situation and someone walks out of it, someone who is sort of you and sort of not, but part of you never leaves that room or that place or whatever.

I can't even pinpoint an exact moment when I lost myself. Was it when he destroyed the stuffed duck that belonged to my now-best friend Katie who was just-becoming-a-good-friend back then. He destroyed the duck and made me give it to her as a sign of his control over me. You will give her this duck and you will not be her friend anymore because you are with me now. Did I lose myself then. Or was it in my at-the-time-best-friend's bedroom when he basically gave me that do it or I'll leave you ultimatum so I did it and I cried and he didn't even notice. Or was it another one of those do it or I'll leave you ultimatums when his little sister was upstairs and I didn't want to, but I did and I went home and burned my skin in the hot shower singing "He Hit Me (and it felt like a kiss)" that messed-up song that Hole covered on MTV Unplugged thinking about how I'd said I liked Courtney's dress on Unplugged and he said of course I did because it was slutty.  Or did I lose myself months later when I was trying to recover from all that he did and I was spiraling out of control and losing friends because I was too intense and some people thought I should just get over it. I guess I lost myself in a lot of places. It didn't solve itself neatly in 42 minutes like it did on Degrassi where Paige drives her boyfriend's car into her rapist's car and really enjoys it but then takes responsibility for her actions. It took a lot of therapy and a lot of years and still there is a Stephanie that picked up a phone when she was fifteen and talked to a boy who asked her out and she said yes and they dated for about half a year and the Stephanie who came out of that relationship was never the same. 

Okay so I'm still babbling in a non-cohesive, stream-of-consciousness manner. Sorry that's how it comes out at first. I will organize my thoughts now so they make sense and can I hope in some way help other people as opposed to just being me opening the toxic can of shit. 

As I’ve mentioned rather vaguely on this blog and slightly more specifically in this "Slut" blog I wrote for Reviewer X, high school was rough for me and a Very Bad Thing happened at the end of sophomore year. I’ve been vague about this because after it first happened and I began to process and cope with it, I spoke out about it and while many people around me were supportive, particularly my now-best friend (who totally forgave me for the duck incident) and my friends in the riot grrrl scene, others were not so supportive, it made them uncomfortable when I spoke about it and I lost a lot of friends and became pretty jaded with the punk scene because of it. So I'm skittish to talk about it again. I wrote a few zines about it when I was younger though and they helped people and I probably shouldn't cling to what people (okay, one person specifically, who was an arrogant jerk anyway) said about me speaking out. So I'm going to tell it now because it's all stirred up so I need to and maybe hearing it will make some other girl feel slightly less insane and will give her courage to get through whatever she may be going through. Because before I even start telling this, I want you to remember that the moral of the story is I survived. I survived and I followed my dreams and started writing books and I met the boy of my dreams and I'm marrying him, so I got my happily ever after. Its just that I still have nightmares sometimes.

I have to start with some background...  

I had very low self-esteem as I entered my teenage years. Pretty, popular girls chased me home from theater camp on roller blades and I insulated myself by listening to the Sex Pistols as I tried to out-skate them. Boys teased me in gym class, called me ugly, called me flat, said I looked like the lead singer of the Black Crowes (as a result I cannot stand the Black Crowes). I had serious insomnia and cried a lot. I cut myself for the first time in eighth grade. I’d accidentally scratched my arm on a nail while working on stage crew and realized it felt good. I’d graduate to scissors and razor blades and broken glass and cigarettes and I have a lot of scars because I was unable to stop doing this until I was about twenty. I know self-mutilation is glamorized a lot now, but believe me it was not a fashion statement, it was a sickness. My best friend moved away when I was thirteen and I wouldn’t find a friend I felt I could really trust until I was fifteen. The first two guys I really liked had drug problems. Then the third….

I loved the third as much as you are capable of loving someone when you’re a fifteen year old who doesn’t even love herself. I lost my virginity to him. We talked about running away together. We talked about getting married and having kids someday. I thought of him as my Punk Rock Dream Come True and when you look at the Bratmobile song by that name, which I didn’t hear until after the relationship, it’s kinda scary. He was the kind of guy who preys on girls with no self-esteem. Sometimes I give him the benefit of the doubt and think that he was troubled and didn’t even know he was doing it, but seeing as I saw him do the same thing to more than one girl after me, I don’t really think that was the case.

What he did to me is hard to explain. Sometimes I call it emotional abuse, sometimes I call it psychological abuse. Once I dared to call it sexual abuse, but got chastised pretty bad by people close to me that I couldn’t claim it was that. It was definitely text book emotional/psychological abuse though. First he isolated me from all of my friends and our mutual friends, claiming that they’d said bad things about me or about him and that everyone was against. He actually forced me to give this mutilated stuffed animal (her stuffed duck) to my now-best friend to basically prove that I was loyal to him and not her anymore. Then he began to dictate what I could and could not wear, saying that my dresses and makeup were slutty and I could only wear that stuff when we were alone. I was terrified to upset him because he’d make me feel like total shit. Everything was my fault and never his. Then there was the sex thing. As I said, I lost my virginity to him. Apparently he was of the mindset of once you say yes once, you are forever obligated to say yes. One day I said no because he wanted me to sneak into my at-time-best-friend's (the one friend I was still allowed to have) garage and do it there. He gave me the silent treatment for hours. Finally my friend talked him into talk to me, but since she had an inkling of what was going on, she told me “don’t sleep with him.” Not like “be strong, don’t sleep with him,” more like “that’s gross if you do that in my house and I’ll think you’re a whore.” In fact “whore” is what she whispered to me when I slunk out of the room a half an hour later and it was clear by the look on his face that I’d given in. She wasn’t a very good friend nor very good for my self esteem which is probably why he let her stick around, though he made me get rid of her after awhile, too. I went in to the bathroom and cried because little did she know, I felt like a whore. In the room, he’d made it clear that if I didn’t have sex with him then and there that I didn’t love him and he would break up with me. So I did it. Tears fell during but he ignored them. My necklace was in between us, bruising the hell out of me, but I was too scared to even ask him to move it. And I was so screwed up that I went home and wrote a journal entry about how grateful I was that he’d forgiven me.

There were a few more “afraid to say no” incidents before he and I finally broke up at the end of my sophomore year. He told me that he wanted to see other people but still sleep with me. I managed to put my foot down.

It took my six months before I fully realized that what had happened was not right. I’d begun doing volunteer training at a domestic violence center and realized during my volunteer education that a lot of the stuff they were talking about had happened to me. Deeper depression followed along with anger and self-hatred. I didn’t find a good therapist until I was nineteen and didn’t start regular seeing him until I was twenty-one. In between sixteen and twenty-one there was a lot of self-destructive behavior. Alcohol, drugs, cutting, bad relationships, nights where I went so crazy that I sat in a playground tunnel talking to a firefly until my now-best friend coaxed me out. There was a period where I even pushed her away and only hung out with people who would party with me.

The main thing that kept me strong through the end of high school was feminism, a group of likeminded Riot Grrrls that I met mostly online and some locally in Chicago. I told the full story of what happened with Him at a Riot Grrrl Convention and had never felt so empowered and supported. 

But I slipped and fell a lot until I went back to school for writing. The main things that ultimately helped me heal were listening to music and writing. I drowned my anger and sadness in music. I told stories to escape my own bad stories. I lived through it. And now those of you who have read IWBYJR you know why I say I relate to Louisa a little bit. If I hadn't gotten my shit together, I would have been another version of Louisa. In a way I wrote her to remind me and anyone else who has lived through Very Bad Things that you have to face your demons, not run from them.

So yeah. That's what I went through when I was 15. I still don't really know what to call it. But that's why things like that Degrassi episode make me cry and bring up weird old feelings of rage. Because I never took Him to court or anything. There are so many gray situations like mine where there is no legal justice. And that screwed me up for a really long time. It still screws me up sometimes. I know, because this seems to be the era where everyone knows what happened to everyone they went to school with, that he has a band and girlfriend and probably a totally normal life because he never felt he did anything wrong. I did confront him. More than once. His denials aren't worth rehashing again. I did that years ago in a zine called Hospital Gown. But he hurt me, he hurt other girls, and he gets to live a completely normal regret-free life. That totally sucks. But I believe in karma... And, though it's cliche, I also believe that living well is the best revenge. And I have been living well. I have the best boy on the planet. I've published a book and hope to publish many more. And the best thing about publishing those books is it gives me a voice and the ability to reach an audience. When I was 15, 16, 17, I would have used that voice to shout his name and try to ruin him, but honestly that doesn't matter. Karma will take care of that. I want to use this voice to help others. Every book I write, every really personal blog entry I write that's why I write it. Because as much as it upset me to watch that Degrassi episode it also helped to go, oh my god, some writer out there who created this knew how I felt. So I do hope this helps someone. Sorry it's all stream of consciousness and weird. But I hope it helps.


Natalie Hatch said...

Steph, firstly I'm sorry you went through that experience, no one has the right to dominate your will in that way. But I do think that talking about it will help others in the same situation. Your ability to overcome it is a beacon to many young girls who are facing the effects of abuse. And yes it was abuse, don't let anyone tell you it wasn't.
I went through similar thing, although I was a little bit older and perhaps more assertive. I had a trusted karate instructor try something similar. I hated him, I hated myself and I hated the world. I wish I could change the past and make it all go away. Unfortunately that's not going to happen. I became anorexic and then battled bulimia for years as a result.
Thank you for sharing. I know it was hard, but I think somewhere out there some girl needed to be allowed into your world to understand she's not alone.

Keri Mikulski said...

Wow, Stephanie.. I'm so sorry for what you've been through. Thanks so much for being brave enough to share your experiences. It's nice to know we're not alone.

Jessica Burkhart said...

Oh, Steph, wow. I'm so sorry you had to go through that experience. But I'm so impressed and proud that you're talking about it. This post is going to help someone--some girl--going through something like this. It will.

I know it was scary to write and you probably kept your mouse hovering over the "post" button for hours. But thank you for sharing.

Diana Rodriguez Wallach said...

Stephanie, that is a very brave post. As YA authors, we do have the benefit of speaking directly to teenage girls. I know there are far too many who will relate to your experience and gain strength.

Unfortunately, I think we all have stories about a guy we let manipulate our self esteem. Your story is intense, and I think sharing it will do a lot of good.

Gerb said...

I'm struggling to find the words here. My heart aches for fifteen-year-old you. The Stephanie who answered the phone had already dealt with more than her share of pain and blows to her self esteem. It says a lot about your character that you were strong enough to pick yourself up from that awful experience and to move forward and become the person you are today.

You are brave to have shared it openly. You have just given a voice to other girls in your situation who may now be able to find their inner strength as you did.


Sara Z. said...

You are an amazing survivor.

Wendy Toliver said...

Thank you for sharing that, Steph. You are very brave and I'm so glad you are doing so well now.

Anonymous said...

It took major ovum to write this, I'm proud of you. I was kidnapped, raped, beaten and nearly murdered in tenth grade. It's horrendous how many of us have suffered such experiences. I expect your writing will quantum leap now~ Tamra

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Thank you for sharing your story, Natalie, it is a shame we both had to go through such things. I also battled anorexia after the abuse. I think when you feel out of control, controlling your food intake becomes a thing.. That's what it was for me.

Thanks also Keri, Jessica, Diana, Gerb, and Sara, all of you writers I admire and respect. It's good to get virtual hugs from you and to hear you say what I thought, that hopefully this will reach a girl who needs it.

Tamra, your pride in me means so much. I've known you since right after this happened. You were one of the women who inspired me to fight my way through, especially knowing what you've gone through. Hopefully the more we speak about it, the less it will happen or at least it will help people. Thank you again.

Anonymous said...

I came across your blog by random chance yet is hold so much meaning to me and my life right now. To read the words of a survivor has given me strength. I'm sorry to know you have suffered such abuse like so many other girls.

I suffered 8 yrs of sexual abuse at the hands of my step-father. I finally couldn't take it and told my boyfriend this last christmas. Soon after my whole family knew and he's now in jail. Yet the process has just begun.

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Anonymous, I am glad my blog post could help you and good luck with healing. I am so glad your step-dad is in jail and hope you can heal and be strong. Hugs!

Michelle Zink said...

Found my way here through Persnickety Snark...

I don't know you, but we're sisters in this journey of life, aren't we? I stand in awe of your strength and a heart that is obviously as fierce and lovely as that of a lion.

Maggie Stiefvater said...

I came here through Persnickety Snark -- and I have to agree with the other commenters, I hope teen girls find this and read it and learn from it. I wish I'd read it when I was first in college. This stuff can't keep getting pushed under the rug. I think you're incredibly brave to post it.

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Michelle and Maggie, thank you for your kind comments. I do hope this can help people as well!