freedom

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 17: terrorized | a spirit of defiance

Tuesday, 3/22/2016

Today is the first day that I have ever felt utter fear on the subway.

I’m already annoyed because I’m on the train on my way to a CityMD (aka purgatory) to get an X-ray of my wrist that I’m confident I fractured a few months ago, refused to go to the doctor for, and now hurts like a b. I get a seat (score!) and look at the guy across from me. He seems nice enough. There’s a young kid listening to absurdly loud rap music to my right and a girl taking selfies to my left. Normal enough. And then I notice a guy in a huge jacket looking at the map. It’s not that cold in New York tonight - maybe 50ish degrees - and he’s bundled up and has gloves on. I can’t stop staring at him and all of a sudden, fear grips my entire body. 

This morning the world woke up to news of the terrorist attacks in Belgium. 

At first, my mum mentioned it to me over the phone and I answered with an apathetic, “yeah that’s sad.” I looked on Facebook, and there was some mention of it here and there, but nothing like the magnitude of posts when Paris was attacked. Celebrities were posting the standard flag heart photo with the hashtags #PrayForBrussels #PrayForBelgium #PrayForTheWorld. But most of the people I actually know were mainly still focused on the state of our country’s election (Jesus, help us.) 

Have we become so accustomed to this level of evil that we no longer give it a second glance? Are we so self-centered as a country that when atrocities are happening all over the world, our main concern continues to be who is still enough of a democrat or enough of a republican to suit our fancy? Am I so focused on my own '52 day journey' that I respond to news of this magnitude with a, “that’s sad,” all because it didn’t happen down the street from me?

I logged onto twitter a few hours later and saw news that the hashtag #OpenHouse was trending. The people of Brussels were opening their homes to those stranded. I saw footage taken after the underground explosion and was struck by the eery almost silence - the sound of rubble falling, a baby crying, and people telling each other, “it’s going to be ok.” Before I knew what was happening, I was crying and couldn’t stop. How much longer will the world operate on this level of evil? The tough answer to that question is that, as a Christian, I don’t believe we will ever see the world operate on any other level until Jesus comes back. 

But that three letter statement - as a Christian - stops me in my tracks. I know what it is to believe something to the core of my being and to hold those beliefs in such high regard, that I give up things for them. Good things, fun things. Things that I don’t want to give up, but I do, because I believe God calls me to. 

I was eight years old when Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris shot up Columbine High School. The next year, I was given the book, “She Said Yes.” It was reported that in the moment before Eric Harris shot fellow student, Cassie Bernall, he asked her if she believed in God. When she said, “yes,” he pulled the trigger. I remember reading that book as a nine year old and feeling intensely sure, and ashamed, that I wouldn’t have the bravery to say yes. I knew that the Bible says that if we deny our Father on earth, He will deny us in heaven (Matt 10:33.) I didn’t want to be denied in heaven, but I knew I would be too afraid to leave earth. 

Last year, when Paris was attacked, something shifted. I left my house that morning and realized that if I had a gun pointed to my head, and someone asked me if I loved Jesus, that I’d say yes.  I understand what it is to hold convictions so dear that you’d die for them. But I don’t understand holding convictions so dear that you’d kill, torture, or maim others. I can’t understand that. I won’t understand it. 

So here I am, sitting on the subway, and all of a sudden, this intense fear overtakes me. Not a stingray/cat fear (see Day 10) - a real, paralyzing fear. It becomes incredibly real to me that I could be on a subway car with a suicide bomber. Would it be a long, slow, and painful death? I start looking around at my fellow passengers, just waiting for the car to explode. 

And then it hits me. This is what terrorists want. Hello, it’s in their name. Terror. They want us to be afraid, to doubt the goodness, the common decency, and respect in others. They want to convince us that its only a matter of time before they succeed in terrorizing our city, our country, our people. They want to take away the joy of freedom. What is that? People thinking that our joy or our freedom is theirs to take away. Why is that? I’ve thought about it a lot on this journey. Did my attackers intend to take away my joy? Did they intend to take away my freedom? Did they know that what was a mere few hours in their world, would impact me forever? Did they even think about it that intently? Probably not. It is statistically likely that I am just another girl whose name they didn’t know in a long line of unconscious girls whose names' they didn’t know. In other words, I was nameless, faceless, and worthless. And in the weeks and months following, I believed that “logical conclusion.” 

But I’ve come to realize that I can’t believe in logical conclusions when I believe in a miraculous God. 

Whenever you feel unloved, unimportant, or insecure, remember to whom you belong. - Eph 2:19-22

Listen, I know- in the darkness, it’s a fight to believe the truth. So fight, friend. I promise you it’s worth it. Fight to defy the lies. Don’t walk, RUN to the truth.

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I am nameless: No. “But now, this is what the Lord says—he who created you, Jacob, He who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.” - Isaiah 43:1

I am faceless: No. “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, before you were born, I set you apart.” - Jeremiah 1:5

I am worthless: No. “Her value is more precious than jewels and her worth is far above rubies and pearls.” - Proverbs 31:10

At some point, I became angry at the lies and angry at the liar (John 8:44.) And when you get mad enough, It’s pretty amazing what you can do in a spirit of defiance. Any parent of a teenager (shout out to my parents when they think back to parenting teenage me - #sorrymumanddad) can tell you that. 

Fear is the thief of joy. Joy is freedom. Let’s be doggedly defiant in our resolution to not let fear rule. 

day 13: disbelief: my experience with the NYPD

Friday, 3/18/2016

When I stumbled into the police station that morning I was fading fast.

I wonder if I’ll ever get over the fact that there was a police station on the same street as the bar that I left that night; within blocks of the apartment that I was taken to.

Survival instincts are fascinating. After he threw me into the street, threw my shoes and bag at me, and shut the door to his building, I remember laying on that concrete, breathing a sigh of relief for freedom, and closing my eyes for just a few seconds. I was so tired. I likely would have gone to sleep right there on that rainy street had I not been glaringly aware of the fact that my friend was still gone.  

Once I got up off the ground, I stumbled, yelling my friend’s name, until I made my way back to the bar of origin. I don't remember how I figured out where that was or even what it was called. At this point, it had been almost 12 hours since my friend and I left my apartment to go to dinner. The bouncer told me that she’d tripped on her way outside to look for me, face planted, and the friend of apartment guy picked her up in a cradle and put her in a cab. A few minutes later I was escorted out by apartment guy “like a dead fish.” 

Five months after my attack, President Obama and Vice President Biden launched the “It’s On Us” campaign. I'm so grateful for it. While it seems obvious to me that men should step in if they see something fishy going on, this is a re-education for a lot of people. I don’t say that condescendingly, but with full awareness of what rape culture in this country is. My friend who picked me up later that morning told me that it was very obvious to anyone with a pulse that I was off. Not drunk. Off. But nobody stepped in to ask if I was okay. In fact, at least one person, the bouncer, saw that I resembled a “dead fish,” needing to be propped up against a wall to stand, and just let me go. 

Confession: I feel this [I know, unnecessary] need to justify myself every time I tell this part of the story. To justify why I remember certain things, like my encounter with the police, so vividly. Except that there is no justification. I don’t know why. To try and come up with an answer would be useless. Being drugged is a jarring experience. Pieces of that night are completely black, other pieces are blurry, some are flashes, and then there are a couple of very clear moments. When people ask about it, it can often become, “Well if you were drugged, how do you remember that but you don’t remember this?” I don’t know. I just don’t. I wonder the same thing, but why is that even a question that people ask? 

I’ve read through my friend’s and my texts from that night a hundred times. I’ve tried to piece it together. To make sense of a timeline. To figure out how this happened. I have racked my brain and I’ve racked her brain. Neither of us know. Her memory goes dark about two hours before mine because she passed out and proceeded to sleep for hours. I’ve been told that I have more memory because I didn’t sleep until I got to the hospital. How much I believe that logic is questionable, but it’s vaguely comforting, so I’ll take it with a grain of salt.

The door to the police station weighed about 50 million pounds. There was a female cop and two male cops that I remember. Male cop A was older, balding, tall, and kinda fat (if I’m honest.) Male cop B was young. 

“My friend is missing. I went to look for her and she wasn’t there and something bad happened to me and she’s gone.” 

Female cop: “Is she over 18?" 

"Yes"

Female cop: "How long ago did you last see her?” 

“I don’t know."

Female cop: “Has it been 24 hours?” 

“No. No, not 24.” 

Female cop: “Well, there’s nothing we can do to help you until she’s been missing for 24 hours.” 

“No you don’t understand. She’s never been to New York. She wouldn’t just leave me. Something bad happened.” 

Female cop: “Ma’am, as I said, there’s nothing we can do until she’s been missing for 24 hours. Go home.” 

I grew panicky and started to cry almost uncontrollably. Male cop A stepped in and told me to please calm down. I said something to the effect of, “I can’t calm down. You’re not listening to me. She’s never even been to New York. She wouldn’t just leave me because she will have no idea where she is or how to get home. Her phone is off. I went looking for her and something bad happened when I went where he said she was, please.” 

Male cop A: “Where did you go to look for her?” 

“An apartment” 

Male cop A: “Where?” 

“I don’t know. Somewhere close. I walked here.” 

Male cop A: “With who?” 

“I don’t know him. He said she was there. But she wasn’t and when I tried to leave he - they, wouldn’t let me.” 

 Male cop B: “Ma’am what’s your name?” 

“Becky"

Male cop B: “How old are you?” 

“23.” 

As he’s about to say something else, Male cop A stops him. 

Male cop A: “Becky, is it?"

“Yes."

Male cop A: “Becky - you’re a 23 year old grown woman, slurring her words, with a hickey on her neck. Go home and take responsibility for your actions.” 

I hadn’t looked in a mirror. I didn’t know I had a hickey. It was like being punched in the stomach. In that moment, I felt like I was stripped bare and attacked all over again. I caught my breath, turned around, and left; completely ashamed. Male cop B looked at me with such pity in his eyes I wanted to vomit. Male cop A just gestured for me to leave while he shook his head and muttered something under his breath. If any part of this experience has been the most difficult to shake, it was his words. “Take responsibility for your actions."

I did go home. When I got there and my friend wasn’t there, I called the police again. I didn’t know what else to do.

Two officers showed up at my door - one female and one male. 

This time it was the female officer that met me with the gut punch: 

“Ma’am if what you’re saying is true, and your memory is so foggy, the only explanation for that would be that you were drugged. But if you were drugged, it would be impossible for you to hold a coherent conversation with me right now (which is actually not true dependent on which drug was used.) I think you probably just had too much to drink. Your friend will turn up and you’ll both laugh about this whole thing over dinner.” 

By the time the SVU detectives arrived to the hospital, I was more human - fluids and some sleep will do that to you. They asked me a million questions and they asked them over and over again. They repeated the same questions, asked me in a timeline order, then out of order, and circled back again. They wanted to know if I’d ever had a one night stand before. Had I ever reported sexual assault on another occasion? How much did I have to drink? Did I do drugs? Had I ever done drugs? Did I remember saying no? Was I sure I’d said no? What was I wearing? How long did I talk to the subject?

Listen, I know that due to a flawed judicial system that those officers do not control, they had to go about it this way. After all, this is, they explained to me in no uncertain terms, how it would go down in court.  

Because my recollection was so foggy, because I’d been drinking, because my past wasn’t perfect, because I went willingly, and because there were three people in that apartment and two would say everything that happened was consensual, my case would be difficult to prosecute - if they even found the guys. If my drug test came back and the drugs had already worked their way out of my system, it would be even harder, despite the fact that the rape kit showed signs of sexual assault and physical violence, and that they were able to obtain DNA. It could take up to a year to get to trial, and the defense would rip me apart because of my past (which isn’t truly that much to write home about.) I declined to move ahead. Somehow I wound up feeling like I’d done something wrong.

Hating the police is a popular attitude these days. “F**k the po-lice” and all that. I see videos of the police all the time that disgust me and make me sick to my stomach. I also know that the majority of the police are good. I often wonder if the many people who so vehemently hate the police have never actually had their own negative interaction with the them. 

An internal affairs investigation was supposed to be launched in regards to the officers that I encountered at the police precinct. The call never came. I could hate the police if I wanted to, and with good reason. And for a while I did.

But I decided a while ago that hating them served no one. They didn’t know I hated them - the only person who felt that horrible fire burning deep within me, was me. The only person forced to face the ramifications of that fire, was me. Also, as a Christian, I’m called to respect those in authority over me. Romans 13 is pretty clear on that. 

     Romans 13: New International Version (NIV)
Submission to Governing Authorities
 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good

But this is also where it gets tricky for me. Because according to the above, in my situation, the police didn’t do what they were called to do: serve for my good. Unfortunately, that doesn’t matter. I’m not responsible for their actions or consequences for those actions. I’m responsible for mine. Their failure to fulfill the call on their lives, can’t be used an excuse for me to be disobedient. 

Also, hating the police would be a waste of time and energy. What would it accomplish? 

Romans 13: The Message (MSG)
11-14 But make sure that you don’t get so absorbed and exhausted in taking care of all your day-by-day obligations that you lose track of the time and doze off, oblivious to God. The night is about over, dawn is about to break. Be up and awake to what God is doing! God is putting the finishing touches on the salvation work he began when we first believed. We can’t afford to waste a minute, must not squander these precious daylight hours in frivolity and indulgence, in sleeping around and dissipation, in bickering and grabbing everything in sight. Get out of bed and get dressed! 

That night did end. Dawn did break. And I’ve got bigger fish to fry than hating the police. I'm on earth for a limited time (let’s be real, we’ve all got our expiration date) with a purpose in mind. And I highly doubt that hating the police is that purpose. I don’t want to fritter away my time. 

In my big and grand dreams of what I ARISE could do as an activist organization, I have four initiatives that I would love to pioneer. Police response and protocol to situations involving sexual assault is at the top of that list. Instead of hating the police, I want to get to know them. I want to be a friend and a partner of the police. [“I get by with a little help from my friends…” and all that.]

I think there needs to be massive reform and re-education, and I want to be on the front lines of that movement. But in order to do so, I need to learn, and I can’t do that with bitterness in my heart. I want to learn and understand exactly what police officers are taught about sexual assault and how they are instructed to work in those situations. And then I want to help them be better. Just like I want my friends to help me be better. 

I mean can you imagine being a police officer? The stuff they must see every day? Especially in New York City. It’s no wonder that jadedness takes over sometimes. But that doesn’t mean it should. If officers, or just the general population for that matter, viewed the women who report sexual assault the way they would view their wives, sisters, daughters, or mothers, I think the general attitude would change. If there was education on the statistics, on just how common sexual assault and sexual violence is, maybe it wouldn’t be so quickly cast aside. If people weren't judged by their past, but viewed as survivors, the ability to listen and hear the truth could increase. If there was re-education in place to teach that rape is not just the lady grabbed in an ally at knifepoint, but also the girlfriend or wife that says no and is forced against her will, the girl who is drugged and seems to “willingly” leave with someone she doesn’t know, the drunk girl who passes out and is used while unconscious, and the consenting participant who changes her mind at the last second to no avail, not only might there be a real desire for change, but the actual response itself could shift. 

I know the statistics. I’ve quoted some of them on this blog. I know that it’s bigger than just re-education and reform. But we’ve got to start somewhere. Small change encourages big change.

That may seem naive, but nobody ever accomplished anything by not trying because it seemed naive. And nobody ever changed anything by focusing on hate.

I won’t hate the men and women who have bravely vowed to protect the citizens of this country and I won’t support people that do. I won’t respond to my own experience with the police by inciting negativity towards them. I won’t participate in discussions fueled by anger and hate. I won’t encourage people to act out against the police or disrespect their authority. I won’t do any of these things, because my experience with the police is a part of a greater, collective experience. And I won’t allow that experience to perpetuate any more negative experiences. 

But I will allow it to positively change the world. 

                            Dawn always breaks 

                            Dawn always breaks