x152 (offbeat home & life guest post)

I had another guest post go live on Offbeat Home & Life yesterday titled “This is what I wish someone would have told me about relationships when I was young“.

Here’s what I wish a loving older brother or sister figure would have told us (and what I’m passing on to you young Offbeat Homies out there): there is nothing wrong with wanting a casual relationship. Not in your late teens and early twenties, and not even in your late twenties, thirties, forties… you get the idea […] Alternately, there is nothing wrong with wanting a serious relationship that ends in marriage. You don’t necessarily have to do something as strict as the “courtship” route, but if you go into relationships evaluating your partner for their potential to create marital bliss, that’s fine. Again, communicate this to your partner and make sure your goals are on the same page.

Check out the rest on Offbeat Home & Life!

x151 (nothing)

By Eternal Sunshine, used with Creative Commons License, edited by Mydnyht Rantings

By Eternal Sunshine, used with Creative Commons License, edited by Mydnyht Rantings

Lately my therapy appointments have consisted of talk therapy and trying to get me signed up for a local clubhouse. In mental health circles, clubhouses provide support, activities, and employment for people with mental health concerns who qualify. During our last appointment, I mentioned to my therapist that I had been triggered by something I had seen on TV. I am highly triggered by having my genitalia touched or even seeing someone’s genitalia being touched by someone else. I had been watching an episode of the National Geographic show “Taboo”, and while there wasn’t anything explicit or graphic since it’s a cable show, it was implied that a “sex guru” was touching the genitalia of one of his clients (a fellow “sex guru”). I ended up turning off the TV. I couldn’t handle it. My therapist asked if I would be comfortable working with this trigger in our next EMDR session, and I said yes. I would be happy to see this particular trigger go.

The other night, I was reflecting on this while laying in bed. I was wondering if, perhaps since this is such a strong trigger, I would end up having some kind of flashback or breakthrough in therapy or directly after this particular EMDR session. That catty, negative little voice in my head immediately responded with:

“No, because it’s unlikely something happened.”

And that got me thinking… what if nothing happened?

I feel like this is a topic I’ve explored on this blog many, many times. I thought I was molested (something I remembered), people told me “no, that’s not sexual abuse”, then I thought I might have a repressed memory on top of that, but outside of an incredibly triggering and difficult month, no memories have yet to surface. I have no idea if I have any right to identify myself as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. I’ve seen psych papers that detail the phenomenon of repressed memories, and apparently if you have a traumatic event in your past that is never dealt with properly or that nobody validates, it is possible to subconsciously develop symptoms of a repressed memory – it’s your psyche’s way of garnering attention for something people have been ignoring. I know that, given the science and given the conversations I had with people I know about the histories of the person(s) I suspect of having molested me, that it’s not unusual and certainly not my fault that I would develop symptoms of a repressed memory. But it still haunts me. Almost four years later, it still haunts me. How likely is it, really, that something happened? The answer varies depending on who I talk to and what kind of training in psychotherapy and experience in sexual health and trauma they’ve had. Is it pointless for me to continue with EMDR in therapy if there’s “nothing wrong”? If I do have PTSD (which, I was recently diagnosed with), then what is the traumatic event that caused it? Can you have PTSD without being able to identify a single traumatic event it could stem from? I mean, I can think of plenty of traumatic things from my childhood – or, rather, things I think were traumatic, even if they wouldn’t affect anyone else in the same way. If you touch my backside, I react very violently and am massively triggered. I don’t even kneel in church or walk around the house naked because the feeling of my exposed backside is triggering and more than I can bear. I have nightmares, both about the incident I do remember that some people say isn’t sexual abuse, and about what I think happened where I can feel the molestation occurring. Given all that, how can it be nothing? This is the question I continually ask myself. But the longer it takes to have an exposed memory, the more I doubt myself. The less people are willing to talk with me about what happened, the more I question my fears.

What if nothing happened?

Do I deserve to identify as a survivor?

Am I “lying”? Am I ruining people’s lives by “accusing” them of molestation and sexual abuse? Should I stop trying to speak up about it?

I don’t know.

I keep asking.

And I still don’t know.

x150 (motivation)

By Tramidepain, used with Creative Commons License, edited by Mydnyht Rantings

By Tramidepain, used with Creative Commons License, edited by Mydnyht Rantings

I didn’t always want to be a homemaker or a stay-at-home mom. In fact, the first career I ever recall aspiring to was that of a Catholic priest when I was at the tender age of four (my father told me I would be the first female Catholic priest; my mother told me women can’t be priests. She was raised Catholic and he converted. Can you tell?). After that, I wanted to be an artist. Then a paleontologist. Then I went back to wanting to be an artist, although since I was no longer five and had started to think about college, I more specifically wanted to be an animator. The closer I got to college age, though, the more I wanted to be a mother. If I had unlimited funds to provide for a child, I probably would have tried to have or adopt children right after high school (as ill advised as such a far-fetched dream may have been, the only obstacle in my mind between myself and being a mother was lack of money). I remember getting to a point where I realized that a “career” was only a means to an end for me – I would work until I was either married or had enough of a savings cushion that I could be a single stay-at-home mom. What motivated me was my love for children and my craving for motherhood – being a homemaker was on the back burner at the time. My mother had encouraged my brother and I to help keep a clean house and I was a relatively neat person unless my depression was getting the better of me, so I didn’t think much about keeping house. It was just something you did in addition to other things, and never my sole focus.

Once I was unable to work, therapy and socializing (which was important to help me get out of my negative and anxiety-ridden headspace) were my main focuses. I was consumed with my repressed memory and living in fear of a flashback, desperately wanting to get out of the house where I suspected I had been violated as a child because it was so triggering. I helped out around the house because it was what I had always done, and because it gave me some sense of contributing even if it wasn’t financially. It wasn’t until I started dating my now fiancée that I gave any consideration to being a homemaker as a primary occupation. Early on in our pre-relationship discussions, she stated that she was fine with me not being able to work because it meant when we had children that someone would be home with them, and she hated the idea of putting her children in daycare. When we first moved in together and people asked what I did for work, she would quickly chime in that I took care of our needy dogs and kept the house running ship-shape, something she couldn’t imagine doing on top of holding down two jobs between the both of us. This avoided the embarrassing admittance that I, in fact, could not work. My motivations for being a homemaker – or, in fact, my desire to label myself as a homemaker in the first place – were changing. Keeping house was no longer something I did on the side: it was a full time occupation and it was how I shouldered part of the responsibilities of adult life. My fiancée worked and was the primary financial provider for our family, and I made sure that the housework was kept up with, fresh bread was made twice a week, and a from-scratch dinner was on the table every night. I was keeping house to provide for my family, not just as an afterthought.

If I had a Titus 2 mentor, someone who would school me in the ways of Biblical womanhood, she would tell me that my primary motivation for being a homemaker would be G-d, and my secondary motivation would be to create a welcoming haven for my husband and family. If I produced more goods than my household consumed, my primary motivation would likely be sustainability, a la the radical homesteading movement popularized in the recent economic downturn. While I can’t say I believe that a woman’s G-d given calling is to care for the home under the jurisdiction of her father and then her husband (in fact, the concept can be a bit creepy under a certain light), it is nice to know that in some circles the work I do is highly valued and seen as important, and even spiritual. Eventually I would like to expand our small porch garden so that we have more output, and get into canning and otherwise preserving the summer harvest so that we can incorporate more and more from-scratch items into our kitchen. We try to be eco-friendly and make things other than food from scratch as well, such as household cleaners and laundry detergent. But religious conviction and sustainability aside, I would say that my primary motivation at the moment to be a homemaker is to provide for the well-being of my family. I’m not engaged to a man and thus I’m not under anyone’s headship – it’s our choice that one of us works and the other stays home, and those roles are not dictated by Biblical authority. In fact, once the kids we plan on having are school age, I’d like to do some work outside the home. Nonetheless, keeping things running smoothly on the home front is something I’m proud to be doing, especially since it benefits my fiancée and our pet babies. My motivation for keeping house is to benefit my family, and although it might not fit in with the goals of other Christian homemakers, it’s good enough motivation for me.

x149 (goals for the month)

By Daniele Zanni, used with Creative Commons License, edited by Mydnyht Rantings

By Daniele Zanni, used with Creative Commons License, edited by Mydnyht Rantings

June was not the most successful month when it came to completion of goals. I’m pretty sure I managed to do yoga four times, though, although it never occurred to me to find a better system of keeping track of my practice now that I’m not using the WiiFit. I found a set of YouTube videos I’ve been using and so far I like it a lot better than the WiiFit – it’s much more exciting and I feel like I’m less likely to get stale or bored. Unfortunately, I was not able to put money into savings this month – I actually dipped into my savings and spent more than I brought in this month. I plan on being much more careful with my spending this month.

Due to funds being tight and my dipping into my savings, I wasn’t able to meet with a friend for coffee or take the train out to meet with a local rabbi because I couldn’t afford to do either of those things. I did, however, get better about picking at my skin – my skin is clearing up because of a combination of that and some new acne medication and a drying mask I’ve been using.

Many of my goals for the month are repeats – once again, I’d like to put money into savings and do yoga four times a month. I’d also like to try once more to meet with a friend for coffee or lunch. This is a repeat goal from a month or two ago, but I’d like to hang more things up on the walls to give our apartment more of a lived-in feel. My final goal for the month of July is to plan two reunions – one for my immediate family and one for my friends that I think of as family. I had wanted to do this last year but never got around to it.

New month, new start. I got this.

x148 (college)

By ajagendorf25, used with Creative Commons License, edited by Mydnyht Rantings

By ajagendorf25, used with Creative Commons License, edited by Mydnyht Rantings

Back in 2007, when I was graduating high school, I was excited to go to college. My therapist at the time was supportive but to be honest, one of the biggest reasons I was attending post-secondary school was so I could remain a dependent on my parents’ income taxes and therefore still be eligible for their health insurance. MassHealth existed at the time, but the Affordable Care Act did not. While there was a lingering option in the back of all of our minds that maybe I should apply for disability and focus on therapy (the summer before my senior year of high school kicked off an extremely rough depressive period that I still haven’t recovered from), we didn’t know enough about the process to realize that I was eligible. My parents drilled into my head how important it was that I have health insurance, because without it I wouldn’t have access to the health care and medications I so desperately needed to function. While I wasn’t sure at the time what I wanted to do for a career outside of being a stay-at-home mom when the time came, the first thing I always asked when looking into a certain type of job was “what kind of health insurance does this field typically offer?” So even though there were some major issues that weren’t properly addressed, in the fall of 2007 I headed up to Maine to begin my college career.

Long story short, it failed. Miserably. I did well in one class during my first semester, and sought medical withdrawals from all of my classes in my second and third semesters. It became clear pretty quickly that through a combination of me being lazy and in no mental state whatsoever to cope with the stress of college life that I needed to return to Massachusetts and get some intensive care before proceeding with adult life. Except that didn’t work either. Strapped for cash and not really getting out of the house much, my mother encouraged me to get a job – “Just to give you a social outlet,” she said. Except being the perfectionist that I am, I got promoted before my 90 days was even up and instead of getting the intensive care I needed and focusing on my therapy, I was hyper-focused on my retail job instead. It wasn’t until I finally had a long-overdue breakdown that I quit without two weeks’ notice and finally applied for disability so I could focus on my mental health and well-being.

While my bipolar disorder was the primary reason for dropping out, another deciding factor was that I was undeclared during my entire three semester college career. I considered declaring my major as early childhood special education, but I didn’t actually have any interest in it – I was simply attending a school renowned for its training of teachers and people told me that’s what I should do because I wanted to be a foster parent. Being a foster parent is too hard, so be a teacher instead, they said. I spent a decent chunk of money on those three semesters and I couldn’t justify spending any more when I didn’t actually know what I wanted to go to college for. So whenever I ran into former teachers while working in my hometown, I staved off their disappointed remarks and glances by saying that I would go back when I could justify the hefty price tag because I had solid career goals. But the longer I worked in retail, the more content I became with my position. I started imagining my career being at one of the stores in the chain I worked at, working my way up the ranks and excelling in customer service. Or perhaps I would work in a higher-end retail store that wasn’t reliant on commissions once I was settled down. Maybe I could be happy working at something that didn’t require an expensive college education. I started to, in my own way, become an advocate for other people who eschewed university – you didn’t need to have an Associate’s or a Bachelor’s or a Master’s to be successful or even to be a worthwhile human being.

However, my lack of a college education combined with not being able to work took its toll on my self-esteem. I had nothing in my back pocket to make people proud of me. Could I still consider myself intelligent even if I didn’t have a degree? Was I even cut out for college? Did my disability prevent me from participating in an inherently ableist institution – or was I simply too lazy to put forth the effort for schoolwork? Could I cultivate a lifelong love of learning without formal schooling? If I did decide to bite the bullet and go back, was I giving up on my stance that I didn’t need college to feel whole and was I passing judgment on others who chose not to pursue a higher education?

I still don’t have the answers to these questions. And if I were to go back to school, at this point it would be to give myself something to do or to expand my academic horizons and for those reasons alone I can’t justify the cost. American universities are an ableist and classist institution that favor those who are neurotypical and can afford the exorbitant cost (or alternately, those who can handle the mind-numbing stress of working their way through school while giving little thought to their own self-care). I still don’t think it’s fair to expect everyone to obtain a college education, nor do I think it’s necessary. But societal pressure still gets to me, and I sometimes wonder if I’m wrong and worth less because I don’t have a degree. I have to remind myself that, yes, I am intelligent and I can accomplish things, degree or no.

x147 (duggar, again)

Anya, apa és 17 gyerek

By lwpkommunikacio, used with Creative Commons License

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I wasn’t quite sure what to say about the fact that Josh Duggar molested five young women several years ago. Now I know.

A lot of people criticized the Duggar family, particularly Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, for not immediately going to the authorities to report Josh’s actions. Jill Duggar Dillard and Jessa Duggar Seewald have also come under fire for forgiving their brother so easily for what he did.

This is normal.

This is not limited to insular religious communities, like the Quiverfull movement the Duggars are part of.

This does not just happen to Catholics.

This does not just happen to Ultra-Orthodox Jews.

This does not just happen in the Boy Scouts.

1 in 3, or 1 in 4 (depending on the statistic) women are sexually abused. 1 in 5, or 1 in 6 (depending on the statistic) men are sexually abused. Sexual abuse is not limited to any of the aforementioned organizations or communities. It transcends religion, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status – everything. No one community can boast that they have no history of this epidemic. And this is a totally normal way to handle it.

It happened to one of the people I suspect of molesting me (although I can’t know for sure if I was molested, because I appear to have repressed the memory). What I can confirm is that when this man was a teenager, he “got a little too familiar” with some of his cousins and they “kept it close to the chest, like any good Scottish family would.” I’ve had it happen to friends of mine who do remember the abuse. Quite often, when you love someone and have positive memories with them, you don’t want to believe they could do something so terrible. So you ignore it. Or brush it under the rug. Or deal with it in a sub-par way. Instead of focusing solely on the survivor or victim, you are also dealing with your own conflicting emotions about someone you love molesting someone else you love.

And that’s why it was so easy for Jill and Jessa to forgive their brother. That’s why, when I was dealing with the initial issue, before it looked like I had a repressed memory, I posted a note on Facebook around the time of the Penn State scandal wherein I played devil’s advocate and called for forgiveness on the part of offenders. My first reaction when coping with my own history of sexual abuse was to forgive the offender, because I loved them and had happy memories with them. I cared about them. They weren’t all bad, I reasoned. Maybe if I talked to them about it, they would admit it and apologize and we could get on with our lives.

Do I find fault with the way Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar handled the situation? Yes. But they did what most parents in similar situations do. So we need to stop vilifying them and start looking at ways to deal with this in other situations, because it does happen in other situations – not just with the Duggars. Do I thing it’s wrong that Jill and Jessa came out in defense of their brother? No. Whatever was a part of their own individual healing process is their business, and if it worked for them to forgive their brother (provided they weren’t forced into it by their family or Christian counselors with little training) then I think that’s fantastic for them. And I can certainly relate to why they chose to forgive. However, I want to stress that forgiveness may not be a part of everybody’s healing process, and that’s okay too. No one path is always right for every survivor or victim.

This isn’t just the Duggars. This is America. This is all of us. Please, let’s fix this for everybody instead of nitpicking a famous family who did what everyone else does.

x146 (a virtuous woman)

By Paul-W, used with Creative Commons License, edited by Mydnyht Rantings

By Paul-W, used with Creative Commons License, edited by Mydnyht Rantings

During the last weekend of May, my older sister hosted a graduation party for my father who just received his Associate’s degree. My father invited a friend and classmate to the party, and before we headed off to my sister’s home, we gathered at a local coffee shop to chat and listen to my fiancée perform on her guitar. Normally I shy away from explaining what I do all day – cleaning the house, caring for our pets, and cooking tend to be pretty mundane and repetitive tasks that nobody really wants to hear about. But this time, when I had a chance to discuss what I do and why it’s important, I jumped at the opportunity. My father’s friend, who runs a ministry, was familiar with the Proverbs 31 (aka, the Virtuous Woman) when I mentioned her. And from there, the floodgates opened. I was able to talk about how homemaking is a noble and important ministry. I was able to talk about how, in an age where the Internet reigns supreme, women are using blogs and Pinterest to reach out and facilitate Titus 2 mentoring. I talked about how, in the modern, eco-friendly period we live in, Christians are starting to view the earth and its resources less as a commodity given to us by G-d to do with as we please and more as a finite and important source that we need to be mindful of and care for. Because of this, they look at tips for frugal living not just for their cost-cutting measures but also for their ease of impact on the environment. I talked about how this segue ways into the modern homesteading movement and feminist reclaiming of the domestic arts; how Millennials are realizing that the two-income workaholic family model of the 90’s may not only be unsustainable in this recession but also maybe not worth the stress and spiritual strain and drain it imparts on them. They are starting to think that maybe the loss of one income can be made up with becoming more self-sufficient and sustainable on the home front. And I didn’t just talk about the homemaking movement on a larger scale – I talked about how I make bread every week (sometimes twice a week) and cook dinner from scratch almost every night. How my fiancée is so grateful that when she comes home from work, she can relax because the most taxing of the chores are already done. How she has someone to do her laundry for her and a neatly made bed to turn into at the end of the day. How she comes home knowing that she doesn’t have to worry about accidents from the pets because she ran a little late, and that the dogs have been walked and are relaxing on their beds, tails wagging to meet her instead of cooped up in a crate. (These are things that my single friends tell me they long for.)

My father’s friend was very receptive to our conversation. My father even brought it up in a later conversation – “Well, I figured since you’re so knowledgeable about homemaking, you might know about other things and could do my homework for me.” (Sorry, dad, no dice.) I was proud that he noticed and acknowledged what I do. I finally felt as though I had overcome something I have struggled with for a few years now – that my embarrassment over not working outside the home was nothing to be ashamed of. That I make a difference as a homemaker. That I, and what I do, matters. And that’s a good feeling.