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day 27: hope floats: HIV & hopelessness

Friday, 4/1/2016

Hope Floats is (if you know me) not shockingly one of my favorite movies. Sandra Bulluck? Check. Adorable, feisty, little girl? Check. Quirky grandma? Check. Texas? Check. Often rated one of the worst movies of all time? Check. Handsome cowboy? Chhhheck. #whatsupharryconickjr

The movie begins with Sandra Bulluck’s character, Birdee, being humiliated on a live talk show when it’s revealed that her husband and her best friend are having an affair - all in front of her daughter, Bernice. They move from Chicago to her tiny Texas hometown to start over…

Starting over... there’s something about this notion that we’ve decided goes hand in hand with hope. A fresh start –> brings hope. A new beginning –> brings hope. A new chapter –> brings hope.

But- where do you find hope if starting over isn’t an option? What if you need hope in the circumstance you’re actually in? What happens when you’re driving through a fog so thick that you can’t even see the lights in front of you, let alone find a new road to drive down in order to find hope? What happens when all hope is lost?

It had been two months since I was assaulted after my friend and I were drugged, separated, and taken to different apartments – me under the guise of finding her. I picked up the bottle of pills from my nightstand, took them to the kitchen, opened my cabinet, stuck them on the highest shelf behind all the sauces and spices I intend to cook with, but never do, shut the cabinet, went back to my room, shut the door, got in my bed, under the covers, and began to sob. If I put enough physical distance between them and me, then that horrible thought would disappear too.

There’s this worldwide, mutual feeling that we all know. It’s those first 15 seconds after we wake up, when the reality of whatever we may be facing hasn’t hit yet. And then it does – like a ton of bricks. For me, that moment came every morning, without fail, at about 7 seconds. I’d roll over, look at my bedside table, and BOOM – there it was. The bottle for the month-long course of HIV Antiretroviral Post-exposure Prophylaxis medication sat there, staring me in the face. PEP – as it is referred to in medical circles. Such an odd abbreviation for such a heavy thing.

In the hospital the morning of/after my assault, I was immediately given Plan B, started on a high dose round of antibiotics to prevent STD's, and given a prescription for PEP. I didn’t know my attackers and I was still foggy on everything that had happened, but the evidence collected indicated that should they be HIV positive, I had been exposed to the virus. Taking PEP within 72 hours of exposure is the only way that it’s effective. Once the course is completed, the protocol is to have an HIV test at 6 weeks, 3 months, 6 months, and one year “after the rape incident.” PEP may make me unbearably nauseous for the next month or so, but I had no choice, I had to take it. So I did. Every day for 28 days. And every time I did, I was poignantly reminded of a night I was desperate to forget. With each horse size pill that I swallowed, a little more of my hope disappeared.

I finished the course of PEP and went to the doctor two weeks later for my first round of HIV testing. It came back negative. I was told that while this was indicative of a good result, I shouldn’t get too comfortable – sometimes the virus can take time to form. The chances were slim that the results would change, but I should keep a realistic view.  Talk about being handed a sliver of hope only to have it quickly taken away. [1 year later, my final test would say what all the others had - I never contracted the virus, I was, and am, definitively, HIV free!!!]

Two weeks after that doctor’s appointment, I rolled over, got out of bed, and reached for my heart medication- glad that I was no longer reaching for PEP. I don’t know where the thought came from. But all of a sudden, my mind was running away from me –  “Ya know, that heart medicine you’re about to take, it slows your blood pressure. It slows your heart. If you took a few extra, all of this would go away. Your hopelessness would vanish. You’d be free.”

Terrified doesn't do justice to how I felt. Where the actual EFF did this thought come from? My life was miraculously saved a year earlier from having brain surgery. Hell, it was saved the night of my attack – it could have ended very differently. And now I was thinking about this?

No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. My body shook as I took that bottle of pills to the kitchen. I was devastated. And I was disappointed in myself. I was not raised to think this way.  I’m a Christian for God’s sake. As if I wasn’t ashamed enough already of this whole experience, I was absolutely disgusted with myself for this. I was better than this horrible thought.

But you know what? No, I wasn’t. The human response to trauma can’t be confined to a standardized response. We can’t box it up and say, “this is how trauma looks for [fill in the blank here.]” “Your response is selfish.” “Your response is acceptable.”

I didn’t want anyone to know what I’d just thought. But I knew I had to get it out. I was living with enough secrets, and one more might make me explode. So I texted my therapist, who reminded me of the truth she knew I already knew, somewhere deep in my spirit - first via text, then via phone, and then in-person the next day.  

+ I was not captive – my thoughts have been taken captive :

We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ – 2 Cor 10:5

 

+ Even if I felt trapped or chained – Jesus came to set me free:  

He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners [captives]
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Luke 4: 17-21

 

+ - and His word does not return void:

So is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
Isaiah 55:11

 

At the end of Hope Floats, Birdee says,

“Beginnings are scary. Endings are usually sad, but it’s what’s in the middle that counts. So when you find yourself at the beginning, just give hope a chance to float up. And it will.”

Ok, listen – I love Sandra. I do – but like, what a load of MALARKEY. Give hope a chance to float up and it will...? Girl, please. I was giving hope ALL the chances. I was lying on the ground blowing into the air in case hope needed a little push. I was releasing balloons with the word “hope” written on them in Sharpie – ok, not really the last one, but I was close to not being above trying it.

Hope doesn’t need a chance to float up. In fact:  Hope deferred makes the heart sick... Prov 13:12.

The great thing is this: hope isn’t some far off ideal that we aren’t really sure about. Hope is found in Jesus, and Jesus is the truth.

God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf.
Hebrews 6:19

 

I had accomplished the fleeing and now it was time to take hold of the hope. Sometimes you have to grab hope by the horns, hold on for dear life, and see where it takes you.

It wasn’t a new start that would give me hope – it was hope in Jesus that would give me a new start. 

If you have been the victim of sexual assault, oh sweet love, I am so sorry. Please, please, seek professional help to begin the process of healing. It is scary, but it is possible. If you would like help in finding help, please reach out via the contact page. If you are in NYC, I cannot recommend my therapist highly enough and would happily pass her info on to you. You are not alone. It is not your fault. You are VALUABLE, beautiful, and worthy. Nothing that anybody does or says can take that away. There is a God in heaven who has called you by name. He says that “you are beautiful and there is no blemish within you.” Even if you can’t believe that now, there are others who can and are praying on your behalf. If it feels dark, keep fighting - keep pushing. You WILL rise out of the ashes + into the light.  

if you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, please call 1-800-273-8255 and get help.  life is worth it babe - even if it doesn't feel that way right now. 

- all my love, B

 

day 25: the flu, pt. 2: my golden hour

Wednesday, 3/30/16

Pressure cookers are interesting right? Cook something faster by putting more pressure on it. If you forget about it, the cooker more or less explodes. Turn the cooker down at the exact right moment, and the food is cooked as desired, in less time, with (potentially) less hassle. 

Ignore your feelings, and you, much like the forgotten pressure cooker, will explode. It’s just a matter of time. The intention is to put those feelings that hurt, away; out of sight, out of mind. Focus on something else. Do something else. Time heals all wounds - isn’t that what they say? But what we don’t realize is that the drawer those feelings have been shoved into is actually said pressure cooker - equipped with all the means necessary to speed up the explosion we are doing our best to avoid. Put enough of those hurt, ignored, waiting for time to fix them, feelings in there, and it’s a given that the mess they create will be worse than the one that would have been created, had we tried to cook the meal the slow, normal, time-consuming way. It’s the absolute irony of the whole scenario - the thing we want to ignore by pretending those feelings aren’t real, is the very thing we invite over a high speed connection. 

I wish somebody had told me that a long time ago. Actually, somebody did- I chose not to listen. 

For the majority of my life, I put my feelings into a pressure cooker, but I never failed to turn the cooker down at the exact right moment. I may have cut it close at times, but I always regained control. That ability to regain control quickly disappeared after I was attacked. I questioned every instinct I had. I couldn’t have any good instincts - I mean, I went with them willingly. I understood that I had been drugged, but I couldn’t recognize it as playing a part in my instincts being compromised. Before I could really identify that it was happening, I felt myself spinning out of control. The faster I ran to try and catch up, the faster I spun out. 

"How wild it was, to let it be." - Cheryl Strayed : saw this beauty on a hike in Ireland the day before I stopped running. One of these days, I'll tell you all about our magical encounter...

"How wild it was, to let it be." - Cheryl Strayed : saw this beauty on a hike in Ireland the day before I stopped running. One of these days, I'll tell you all about our magical encounter...

5am is my golden hour. Some of you are like, uhhhh 5am is a crap hour, also known as shitty o’clock. I hear ya. I don’t love when the alarm goes off that early - but it’s in that hour that God has historically spoken to me the most clearly. The 5am silence is beautiful and peaceful, but one morning a little while ago - it was deafening. 

After over a year of shoving every feeling I had into it, the pressure cooker finally exploded. I sat staring out my window at the Irish countryside, embarrassed, exhausted, and nauseous. There was no one to call, everyone back in America was asleep. Nowhere to go and nothing to do but sit. As I sat, and the minutes ticked by, I felt the tiniest sense of relief creep in. I knew that I was done - done numbing the pain, done pretending that it didn’t exist, and done running from my reality into lie after lie after lie. I knew in that moment that God loves me in a way I might never comprehend. In the deafening silence of my golden hour, God sat down next to me, waited, and offered me His hand to begin the climb out of that pit.   

The mess created by the explosion may have been astronomical, but it was free and in the light. 

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In the light... 

In the light... 

Day 3: tidal change

Tuesday, 3/8/2016

Today I had what I believe will be a key breakthrough in this 52 day journey that deals directly with the negativity issue discussed in day 2. Funny how the universe (or for me, God) works. And the fact that it happened on day 3 only fills me with utter excitement because 3 is my favorite number in the world.

Disclaimer: when it comes to this blog, the deepest desire of my heart is that people who share my faith, and people who do not, will read it and identify with it. This post will discuss two things that people who do not share my faith may find weird and freaky, but also may not! If you’re willing to approach it with an open mind (that does not ask you to believe what I believe, simply to read about it) I think you’ll more than likely identify in some way. So, if you can get through like three Bible verses and a little explanation…press on. And hey, why not get weird early on? At least that way, you know what you’re getting yourself into. 

Ok - so:

I think regardless of faith or religious beliefs, most people believe that there is good at work in the world and there is bad at work in the world. Some refer to it as good energy and bad energy. Forces for good and forces for evil, good spirits and evil spirits. How else could we explain things like war or famine or abuse or addiction? In the Christian faith, we believe that Satan, a fallen angel, is the author of evil and of lies and thus arrives a term that is often accompanied by assumptions of craziness or weirdness: spiritual warfare.

In the bible it says,

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, (we are not fighting against flesh and blood enemies,) but against the (evil) rulers, against the authorities (of the unseen world,) against the (mighty) powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil (evil spirits) in the heavenly realms (places.) - Ephesians 6:12 - New International Version (New Living Translation)

Humans are spiritual beings, so it makes sense that there would be good spirits and bad spirits, regardless of where we believe the spirits come from. 

Alright,

Christians believe that God did not accidentally drop any person onto earth; that every single human being was deliberately placed on this earth for a purpose <- what’s up Bieber album?

The Bible says that God knew all about us before he formed us in our mother’s womb, that He set us apart for a holy purpose (Jeremiah 1:5,) and that every hair on our head is numbered (Matthew 10:30, Luke 12:7.)

“It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ or got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.”  - Ephesians 1:11-12 (The Message) 

Christians often call this God’s plan for our lives. Others might refer to it as destiny. 

So, if God has a purpose for my life, and I ultimately believe that God is good (which despite the anger expressed in recent posts, somewhere deep down I still do,) then I also believe that the purpose for my life is for good and not evil. For joy and not pain. For provision and not lack. And if I believe that satan (or the enemy) is the author of evil, then his goal would understandably be to derail that plan for my life. 

Or in non-faith terms - why would evil forces or negative energy be excited for good to prevail? 

You’re probably like, ok Becky thanks for the religion lesson, but could you get to the point? 

Ok the point is this: I believe that satan’s greatest weapon against the human race is to attack the mind. Or, in other terms, for the bad energy at work in the world to create a mine field of negativity. 

I’ve been pretty transparent about my negative thoughts on this blog so far, but there’s a deeper level to that negativity that is almost embarrassing to admit. Negativity is a kind way to refer to how I’ve been dealing with myself. The more accurate description would be self-hatred. 

I was on the phone with my therapist (yeah, I’m back to that, but this time I’m actually being honest and it’s crazy how much that changes things…except it’s not crazy and makes total sense) and was narrating a recent experience when she stopped me and said, “Wait- what did you just say?” I quickly repeated myself so that I could get on with my story when she stopped me again, “Becky - do you hear how negatively you are speaking about yourself?” The honest answer was - no, I didn’t. I have become so used to the way I address myself, that it no longer strikes me as abnormal. She asked me to expound upon my general self-talk patterns of late: 

  • “You’re fat” 
  • “Your skin - ew, why would anyone want to look at you?” 
  • “You’re a whale.” 
  • “You’ve got so much baggage, no one will ever want to take all that on."
  • “See, there you go f*****g up again. You are SO past the line of God’s actual forgiveness. Prepare for withholding of blessings, big time.” 
  • “You’re SO negative- look at all these terrible things you think - geez, it’s no wonder you’re depressed. You’re depressing."
  • “You’re on your own - good luck.” 
  • “You don’t deserve good things.” 
  • “When will you ever learn? Are you this stupid?"
  • “You’re a liar and a fraud.” 
  • “Can you imagine if people knew that this is how you truly are? My god, you’d have ZERO friends. You can’t tell anyone."
  • “Whey even try for the life you long for? Never. Gonna. Happen.” 

— and then I’d get mad at myself for thinking all of these horribly negative things: cycle repeat — 

My therapist asked me what I feel like is keeping me from the life I want - because believe it or not, this ain’t it! 

The best way I can describe it is this: I can see the life I want. I can picture it vividly. I can almost touch it. It’s just waiting on the other side of this impermeable, multi-layered plexiglass wall.  I’ve tried bulldozing it down, walking around it, punching it, body slamming it - and nothin'. It will not budge. She asked me, “if words were written on this wall, what would they be?” 

     hopelessness 

     give up now 

“You know what? That is not your voice and that is not the voice of the Lord,” she said. "That is the voice of the enemy. What would God say in response to all those statements?”  (Go with me here, y’all - I know to some of you, this is SO WEIRD.) 

  • “I’m a child of the most high God.”  
  • “I’m a daughter of the King” 
  • “I am set apart for such a time as this” 
  • “I am beautiful and there is no blemish in me” 
  • “I am cleansed, washed clean, and restored” 
  • “I am found” 
  • “I am a lover and not a hater"
  • “I am free” 
  • “I am gifted with a beautiful mind, equipped with love and positivity.” 
  • “I am created with a purpose.” 
  • “I am promised more in this life than I can even think, ask, or imagine.” 
  • “I am a servant of the king.” 
  • “There is a plan, set apart before the beginning of time, for my life.” 
  • “Every hair on my head is numbered and known to God.” 
  • “I am known for all that I am, and I am loved.” 
  • “I am never alone.” 
  • “Jesus is my truth and His voice is gentle."

Without any concentrated decision, the statements immediately switched from what I like to call, you:accusatory statements, to I:ownership statements. Because my spirit recognized the truth on its own. And I felt my heart lighten.  (for those of you who are Christians, I think it’s worth noting that satan is no dummy. It’s no coincidence that the pride surrounding his beauty and intelligence, and his desire to BE God is what caused him to fall from heaven in the first place.) 

It’s amazing how the truth can turn your whole life around. I have been believing versions of those you:accusatory statements since the spring of 2013 without even realizing it. 

Not anymore. 

Tides are changing sweet friends! 

I am committing to amending #11 on my prep day list from “no needless negativity” to “NO negativity - especially in my mind.” Anytime a negative you:accusatory statement arrives in my mind, I will answer it back with an I:ownership statement. 

“Your beliefs become your thoughts, Your thoughts become your words, Your words become your actions, Your actions become your habits, Your habits become your values, Your values become your destiny.”
- Mahatma Ghandi

I hope that this post was enjoyable and made sense to anyone who read it. While my faith is the most foundational thing in my life, I think that faith so often needlessly divides people - “oh, she believes in something so big that I don’t believe in, that there’s no way we can relate.” I just don’t buy into that. We’re all sharing the same human experience - we’re just sharing it in different ways. 

It’s strange to be going to bed not dreading tomorrow. I can’t remember the last time that happened. 

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52 Days

out of the ashes and into the light

When I sat on the beach meditating that morning (you may already be like, "oh geeeeez make it stop!") and had the thought, “if JD can do that, what can you do for 52 days?”, I decided to begin a 52 day challenge. I’d been stuck in a negative space (that's a kind way of putting it) for months and wanted to drastically change my life. So, I starting thinking of personal mantras that I could adopt for 52 days, all with the underlying feeling that this was a silly, new-age-y, foundation-less idea that I was concocting. Basically, I was annoying myself. 

But then I felt prompted to count out 52 days on my calendar. Day 52 would land on April, 26, 2016. Uhhh what? That couldn't be right. So I counted again. And again. And one more time for good measure because I don’t believe in coincidences, (also because anything in the math realm, even something as rudimentary as counting, is not my strong suit.) My friends might tell you that I have a tendency to take things to be signs. I can categorically say that this was not one of those instances. Because of that, I decided to not only go on this journey, but write about it. Don’t fear - that idea was immediately accompanied with humbling and self-deprecating thoughts like: “Becky, who the actual eff is going to want to read a '52 day journey' about some random, normal chick who doesn't have any idea what it is she's journeying toward or even what she wants out of it, inspired by a random encounter on an Antiguan speedboat?” But that date...

Two years ago, on April 26, 2014, nine months after moving to New York to pursue my dreams, I was drugged at a bar, taken to an apartment with the promise of finding my missing friend, forcibly held there, assaulted, raped, and then physically thrown into the rain with the trash. It changed the course of my life. 

Sadness, anger, depression, anxiety, fear, recklessness, shame, confusion, pretense, destruction, excess, bitterness, self-hatred, and doubt became the foundations upon which I very secretly, and somewhat unknowingly, rebuilt my life. (Geez, that's a lot of emotions for one sentence.)

I didn’t want to be hurt. I didn’t want to give my attackers any power. I didn’t want to be another statistic. I definitely didn’t want people to identify me as this. And I certainly didn’t want anyone to know the deep wounds, previously healed with some antiseptic and a bandaid, that this ripped wide open. I didn't want to think about any of it.

So while bleeding out, I stuffed some lap pads in there (avid Grey’s Anatomy watcher over here,) abandoned my dreams, and said I was fine and “healed."

I “knew" that one day I would understand why this was allowed to happen and that "God was at work somewhere in it." But I didn't actually believe that. I just knew it's what I was supposed to say. When you really know something is true, you feel it in your bones (or in your fingers and toes… Love Actually anyone?)

I felt like I was being blown around in a tornado. But because I didn’t want to be feeling enraged and embarrassed, I decided to "trust God" the way I have been taught to my whole life. And I believed that the longer I blindly trusted Him, the healing would just come; the more that I got on with life and ignored it, this would fade into the background. That I was exhibiting faith. But I wasn't and it didn't.

Within a month, I stepped into new leadership roles at my church. Within nine months, I decided to start a foundation (this is how I ARISE was originally born) that would raise awareness towards the issue. But being a highly functioning, jerry-rigger of an emergency surgeon on my heart helped no one, least of all me, and the in-between was filled with patterns of self-destruction, often hidden in the dark of late night and early morning hours. 

I wanted I ARISE to be a non-profit, activist, organization that pioneered change, raised awareness and shifted the reality of so many women in the world. My free time was filled with researching sexual assault statistics, finding people who wanted to partner with me, watching documentaries, building a website, putting together a support team, partnering with a production company and filming the beginnings of a documentary. But I quickly burned out. How could I build something designed to help others when I hadn’t even begun to truly pick up my own pieces? But instead of asking for help, I ran in the opposite direction. I stepped down from leadership in my church and within two months, stopped going to church altogether. 

A blog was certainly never on my agenda. The thought just kind of arrived in my mind a few days prior to meeting JD, and I immediately dismissed it. I’m one of those cynics who is almost instantly annoyed at anyone who starts a sentence with, “Well on my blog…” - oh yes, please do tell me about your surely earth shattering blog filled with political opinions, healthy recipes, spiritual guidance, conspiracy theories, and an essay on how if you were the coach of your favorite sports team, they would absolutely, positively, never have suffered such an embarrassing and clearly avoidable loss to                          (insert winning team here.) Not that I don't understand the anger that drives that last one - I mean, I still feel personally victimized by the Texans loss to Miami last season where at the half, they were down 41-0. Sorry. Not the point and I will now get back on track.

Despite my hoity toity attitude toward the blogosphere, here I am blogging, so clearly God humbles our negative attitudes and pride even when it blows - actually let’s just be real here, being humbled pretty much always blows because it means admitting you're in the wrong….oh wait, is that just me? 

So the idea is this: one entry for each of the 52 days of this journey. The day of the idea is March 5 and will go up tomorrow, April 30. Day 1 = March 6 = May 1. 

I have no idea what these 52 days will hold, and therefore, no freaking clue what this blog will look like. Today is March 14, aka day 9. I started writing this introductory entry on March 8, aka day 3, and it'll probably get another edit before it goes live. All other entries will be in the voice of that present day. Here’s what I do know: this will not be a curated blog where everything falls under the same well thought out theme, follows a fluid storyline, or depicts photos all edited the same way for aesthetic consistency. It will be honest (likely to a fault) and at times will seem random - but uh HELLO, we all have a million random thoughts a day...I'm just the ding dong that's putting mine out on the internet for all to see - I'm also the ding dong who is immediately beginning to question this decision.  

But here I go - 52 days, huh? Doesn't seem so long until you come up with a weird idea to span them, and then it's like uhhhh what was I thinking? But if JD could survive his 52 days (I tell you all about that tomorrow,) I can get it together for this. And if I can't, well, I've got a lot more to figure out than I realize! 

 If you've stuck it out thus far, thanks for reading. Hopefully you'll come back and see what happens. 

One thing I've learned already - adventure isn’t for the faint of heart, that’s for dang sure.