statistic

day 14: choosing to care | a real actress

Saturday, 3/19/2016

This is the post I never wanted to write. The one that when I first realized where it was going made me think, “oh my gosh, I’m a statistic.” But maybe, since it’s the one I’m most afraid of, it’s the one that most needs to be written. You see, this post will be an “a ha!” moment for some people that knew me growing up. Some may even know who is referenced in this writing. It’s not so scary to write about an attacker I, nor my readers, know. It’s a lot harder to write about a predator that I, and some readers, do.

This post cracks open the door to a conversation about revictimization. It reveals that April 26, 2014 was not my first experience with sexual assault.

That was one of the first 10 questions the police asked me in that hospital room - "have you ever been the victim of sexual violence before?” For some reason, having to answer, “yes,” filled me with the greatest sense of shame. Multiple studies conducted by The National Sexual Violence Resource Center “suggest that sexual victimization in childhood or adolescence increases the likelihood of sexual victimization in adulthood between 2 and 13.7 times.” A 2010 CDC report concluded the same. I don’t go into it much, but one day I will, because it’s a conversation that needs to be had, and there is SO much to it. 

 

So here goes… 

Today I cried in my Saturday acting class because I’m afraid to care. (oh yeah, welcome to the first, and potentially most cliche, post from someone you will now be able to clip into the world’s actor stereotype. Oy.) Crying over your art or career in front of other people is not an enjoyable experience. I remember when I first arrived for my freshman year at college, I was really afraid to cry in front of people. Boy was I forced to get over that fast.  

When I arrived to one of the most highly ranked acting conservatories in the country, I had never been in a play. If I’m being really honest - I didn’t actually like plays…or I didn’t think I did. I didn’t know anything about writers, or theatre history, and I certainly had no clue that there were different techniques to acting. Here I am sitting in orientation and our dean starts talking about how we will dive into the worlds of the Stanislavsky technique, the Adler technique, and the Meisner technique…. Huh?! When the cute boy next to me leaned over and asked me if I wanted a toothpick, it was about the only sentence that sounded like English. 

The first week of classes when our teachers asked us what our favorite plays were, I had to embarrassingly admit (every single time) that I didn’t really know any plays, so I didn’t have one. (The only play I remember seeing up to that point was a high school production of “Our Town.”)

The first time I gave that answer, it just kinda fell out of my mouth. Word vomit tends to be a problem of mine. After I said it, I vaguely considered going back to my dorm that night and googling “best plays” and just picking a title for next time the question was asked. That idea was soon quashed when I heard the amount of follow-up questions involved to one’s favorite play answer. I was so embarrassed. Sitting in my first week of classes being talked to about art and craft and what it means to be an artist, and I was dumbfounded. I had certainly never identified as an artist. What had I done? Why had I come here when I was accepted into plenty of amazing musical theatre programs? I would have definitely been able to answer their questions. 

Seven months earlier, I got very sick [see day 12.] Over the course of nine days in the ICU I went from being a healthy 18 year old to a really not healthy 18 year old. My doctors became the authors of my life. They narrowed down the list of schools I’d been accepted to by distance to major medical center. I could not be more than 10 minutes away via ambulance. 

That left two schools. A week before decision day, I’d signed and sent off my papers to another program. A double major BM/BFA program. But one of the assistant deans at NCSA, would not stop calling my house and telling me to "just come visit." Sensing I could use a break from the monotony of school and an endless cycle of doctor’s appointments and tests, the headmaster of my high school and my mum suggested a visit to North Carolina. If nothing else, it would be a pretty three days.

My mum and I were standing in the drama office after a meeting with the assistant dean, and the drama school secretary, when she suddenly called from her office, “oh Becky, Gerald is driving over to performance place now - he can take you over there so that you can observe the senior’s acting class.” 

Now is as good a time as any to tell you that being observant is not my strong suit. Neither is talking to people that I don’t know.

This little, white-haired, older man, with a newspaper hat on, came shuffling out and motioned for me to join him. I gave my mum a hug goodbye and off I went. I was intrigued - I’d never seen a real acting class before and had no idea what it entailed. Also, I tend to think little old people are cute, so I was cool with him being my carpool leader.

As we climbed into his equally cute BMW, I decided the correct move was to make some small talk. 

B: “I’m Becky - I’m deciding whether or not to come here for acting school. Uh, classes. Uh to the drama school, I mean.” 

G: “ Oh that’s nice. I hear it’s a pretty good school.” 

                         awkward silence

B: “That’s good. Have you seen any of the shows here?” 

G: “A few, yes.” 

                         awkward silence 

B: “So you must like theatre then?” 

G: “I do.” 

B: “Have you ever done any theatre?” 

                         as he pulls into a parking space marked “DEAN OF DRAMA"

G: “Here and there. (chuckles to himself) Come on, we don’t want to be late!” 

B: (incoherent words, sounds, and head nodding as I stumble out of the car and realize that I just asked one of the most revered pioneers of American theatre, if he’s ever done any theatre.)

I was MORTIFIED. In a state of mortification. Is that a word? I don’t know. But that’s where I was at. 

Thank the good Lord in heaven that Gerald has a sense of humor. Later that day, as I sat in his office, I was told that if I wanted to be an actress - a real actress - I needed to come to NCSA. If I went to one of the other schools I’d been accepted to, I’d be successful. I’d likely see many of my dreams come true - but if I wanted to last, to have longevity, he and the rest of the faculty of NCSA needed to teach me. It felt honest. And it was one of the only times in my life where telling someone that I wanted to be an actress didn’t embarrass me. For the first time since I could remember, the word didn’t fill me with some sense of shame. 

I’d spent the last 10 years performing in musical theatre. I'd taken I think I took two 1 hour acting classes once, and when I was twelve, I began to take private acting lessons. I wanted to be an actress - "a real actress” (hello, Moulin Rouge.) The artistic director at one of the theaters I worked at suggested to my parents that I take private lessons with one of his company members who I had performed with, and taken group lessons from, many times over the previous two years. 

My pre-teen years were a trying time for my family and caused me to put up some seriously fortified walls. It was almost as if he knew that - like he had x-ray vision and could see that behind my tough exterior, I was crumbling into a million pieces, and my vulnerability was just waiting to be exploited. I had a callback for the role of Abigail in "the Crucible” at another theatre, so my mum scheduled a private lesson for me to go over the material I’d been given. I was so excited. I’d never auditioned at an equity regional theatre before. I didn’t totally know what that meant, but I knew it meant something. I remember walking into the building for my initial audition and being in awe of how big it was. How professional it all seemed. How real. When I got a callback, I couldn’t believe it - it was the first time I ever felt like a real actress. 

After my lesson, I never wanted to feel like that again.

My teacher explained to me that we would do an exercise that they often do at callbacks - especially for roles as serious and complex as this one. The director would want to see my chemistry with the actor cast in the role of John Proctor. I froze. Confusion and disbelief took over and then all of a sudden I found myself doing some ninja moves to break free before it got any farther and run to the bathroom. Maybe that was something that real actresses in plays did to prepare. But I didn’t want to. He was my teacher and he was trying to help. I must have misunderstood… Maybe being a real actress just wasn’t for me. So I didn’t say anything to anyone, and the cycle of intermittent abuse continued. 

I don’t really remember my callback, only that it wasn’t very good and I didn’t get the part. I do remember wanting it to be over as soon as possible. I never auditioned for a play after that.  

Sexual assault of a child is dark. In fact, I believe it is one of the darkest, lowest, and most depraved forms of sin and evil that exists. There’s no way to paint it as a pretty picture. To try to do so would be almost criminal. But I needed to be at NCSA. I needed to learn all the things that the faculty there would teach me and I needed the personal growth it would provide.

As we’ve established, I believe in signs - and nobody else had used the words real actress to me in five years. Seven years later, I can tell you that this was God at work in my life. If those words hadn’t been used, I don’t know if I would have gone. Only God can do that. Only God can take the darkest of the dark, and allow a little light in. I did a lot of healing at NCSA - I don’t think I ever would have found my voice if I hadn’t attended that school. If I hadn’t found my voice, if I hadn’t learned to bravely access the truest parts of myself, and put them on display, I likely wouldn’t have this blog. What Satan intended for evil, God used for good. 

Right then and there, I rescinded my paperwork from the other school and signed new paperwork to confirm that I would like to attend NCSA in the fall. 

I had all these ideas about how my life would look when I graduated from NCSA and arrived in New York. Not a one of them came to be. To say my confidence was knocked is the understatement of a lifetime. Six-ish months after moving to NYC (and three months prior to my attack,) I was introduced to my now acting teacher, Vance. He’s walked with me through the past 2 1/2 years with a lot of grace, patience, and encouragement. He’s been privy to lots of tears (NCSA broke the no crying habit,) frustrations, deep conversations, stops and starts, and back and forths about quitting. He’s been tough on me, but with an underlying spirit of gentleness that I will probably never be able to repay. And his acting class is bomb. 

But lately, I’ve felt so stuck. My work has been blah. And that’s almost worse than bad. I would rather you be able to say, “that’s the shittiest shit I’ve ever seen” than “well that was okay.” 

Okay = blah

blah = hell 

He has waited for me to realize this on my own. And today I realized it. And then, in his ever-annoying way, he made me expound upon my feelings to the entire class. Acting school may have taught me how to identify and talk about my feelings, but it doesn’t mean I like doing it any more than I did when I was 18. 

Expounding went something like this: "I just think that what I did today was horrible. I don’t even want to watch it because it’s blah. All of my work is blah and I’m not sure why. And all of a sudden I care about my work again and that’s so annoying because up until recently I didn’t care and now I do and I want to be great and not lame and now I’m crying, why am I crying?" 

I have a real ability to make myself not care. And since my life didn’t pan out the way I thought, and bad things happened, I decided not to care. In fact, I refused to do so. And here we are on day 14 of this 52 day journey, and I realize I want to care again. And not only that, I do care again. I care about my life, I care about my art, I care about my family, I care about my friends, I care about my classmates, I care about my colleagues. I care about my mistakes. I care about my wins. Caring is scary because it means you can get hurt. But isn’t it better to get hurt than to be blah? Isn’t it better to try and epically fail than not try at all? Isn’t it better to love and get your heart broken than to never know love at all? 

That all sounds so lame. Very very lame. But it also sounds so true. 

Lame but true. That’s a trend that I don’t think will ever not be. 

When my expounding was done, I was met with encouragement and commiseration from my classmates and from Vance. Why I expected anything else? I don’t know. It could be that I’m slightly stubborn. 

And so I’ve decided to actively care. The only reason not to would be because I have given into fear. And as has been determined the past 13 days, that’s no longer an option. 

 

 

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. 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. - all my love, B  

Day 1 : pants-less

Sunday, 3/6/2016

Well, I woke up in denial about not being in Antigua. Utter denial. Pure denial. Like, I don’t think a greater denial exists in the world that what I was in. I mean - would you want to have gone from seven days of doing nothing but waking up, eating, laying on the beach, basking in the sun, being on or in the water, reading, talking with your parents (who also happen to be two of the people you’re closest to in the world) and sleeping? If your answer is yes - go ahead and keep that to yourself, because you’re a weirdo, because I was here: 

I am rarely happier than when I am at the beach and in the water. I was born in London and raised between there and Texas - mostly in Texas, but I swear my soul was born in the ocean and out of the sun (go ahead and mock me for however cheesy that sounds - I’m aware, with you, can take it, and also love it)

Bottom line: New York is hard for me.

It’s dirty, smells bad (versions of bad include: pee, body odor, and trash,) is crowded, expensive, often cold, people are mean (or crazy,) there’s no space, if you want to see the sky in most parts of the city you have to crane your neck up, you can’t walk around barefoot or easily put your feet on grass, fresh air doesn’t exist, you can always hear your neighbors, the catcalling is ob-nox-ious, it’s transient, getting out of the city takes an immense amount of effort - the list could go on, but if you (and I) remember correctly, one of the things on my Prep Day list was to not be needlessly negative, sooooooo…yeah…I think you get the gist.

Basically, I need…..wide open spaaaaaaces…. if you don’t know who the Dixie Chicks are, we legit cannot be friends and I don’t know if I even feel comfortable with you reading this blog. Kidding. But please go listen to them on Spotify - conveniently and thoughtfully linked for you here ASAP as it will only make your life better. 

To be frank, there are many days in New York where I feel like I’m suffocating. "But you were born in London" you say, "that’s a big city, you should be used to it." Yes. But in London YOU CAN SEE THE SKY. But I (semi) digress. 

I recently read a book that asked you to list the things that make you happy - things that you’re grateful for - which are often, and not coincidentally, one in the same. My list included, (I won’t list everything because 1. you probably don’t care (I wouldn’t either) and 2. who’s got time for that?) in this abridged but unchanged order:

the beach, sunlight and how warm it feels, wildflowers, art in all forms, football, Texas, family, best friends, driving, safety, love, adventure, travel, food, joy, yoga, elephants, babies, wine, reading, cheesy things, sports, sweating, going for runs in the rain, cozy sweaters, photos and videos.

So you can more than likely see that being back in New York isn’t exactly thrilling for me. But add to that that I had decided to embark on this 52 day journey challenge thing - and I just didn’t want to wake up. They say the first step is the hardest for a reason. Changing my life (which is the basic way to say what I hope the next 52 days bring) is going to be hard because it’s going to mean I have to change. And the stuff I want to change isn’t like changing a pair of pants. Wait - actually - yes, yes it is. It’s like trying to change in and out of your skinniest leather pants. 

You wind up pants-less, trying everything you can think of to get them back on, covered in a baby powder-lotion messy paste that you made when you tried to get out of your predicament, realizing you have no other option but to take the first awkward step… without pants...  It’s actually not that far off. I’m stripped to my core, covered in a mess I made myself after finding myself in a predicament that wasn’t my fault (how was Ross supposed to KNOW that the leather pants would be hell’s prison?) 

                                                                                                    Side-note: never did I think that I would tie a Friends episode into a metaphor for life... This may be a high point.

The only difference is that Ross called Joey - and I’ve been reluctant to call anyone. I may have admitted to some hard days here or there, but have I told anyone it’s been consistent hard days since August? Nope. Because that means accepting that I haven’t been honest with myself about the place I didn’t just magically arrive to out of the blue. It’s been a slow descent to a pit that has felt seemingly impossible to crawl out of. So I did some research and wasn't exactly thrilled with what I found.

If I’m honest, my first thought is - “oh good - one more lame statistic to fall into. First I’m a sexual assault victim and now I’m depressed.” (I’m not saying that’s a kind or valid thought, but I also pledged to honesty yesterday….dang those annoying pledges.) Prior to doing some research, I thought clinical depression was the term we only stamped on people who were always depressed and needed to take antidepressants forever due to a chemical imbalance in the brain. I was wrong.

Clinical depression is "marked by a depressed mood most of the day, particularly in the morning, and a loss of interest in normal activities and relationships  -- symptoms that are present every day for at least 2 weeks.” 20-25% of adults will suffer a bout of it in their lifetimes and women are at a higher risk (twice as many women experience this than men.) Two weeks, huh? Errrr try 5 months… Depression can be triggered by grief, social isolation, major life changes, personal conflict and any type of abuse. And it doesn’t always stick around forever. It can pass. 

Well, hallefreakinlujah. There’s a bright spot of hope.

Recommendations to treat clinical depression include, among other things, therapy. I was attacked in April 2014 and was in therapy until July of 2015. I struggled heavily with depression for the first four-ish months (with the fleeting thought of suicide coming once,) and then it more or less 'went away.’… there’s also a chance I willed it away and quit therapy that July because I just didn’t want to talk about it anymore. But the residual effects that I refused to deal with once those first fourth months were over, did not go away. They bubbled and boiled, always turned down at the last minute, until Thanksgiving 2015, when circumstances beyond my control finally turned the stove on HIGH. Every ignored and stifled piece of pain came bubbling up, blew the lid off the pot, and everything in me boiled over, creating a complete mess. The pot was empty and I had nothing left to give…and here we are. 

Tonight I went to church for the third time since abandoning it altogether last May. Showing up is hard. I more or less feel a silent rage when it comes to God and it feels hypocritical and fraudulent to sit in church when, if God was a person standing in front of me, I would probably punch said person in the face while screaming a few choice words… After all, nothing happens in heaven or on earth without His ok, right? So, where was He that night and why did he ‘ok’ this? 

Louie Giglio preached a sermon entitled 'The Comeback' and within the first five minutes of preaching he says, “God Almighty can turn the page of your life tonight and begin writing you a new story.” Well, ok. Day 1 of 52 days, and that seems pretty fitting. Not shockingly, I took that as another sign (I warned you in entry one about me and signs: see 52 Days.) I mean, write you a new story? And I’m writing about the 52 day journey? And today is day 1 which is basically page 1. And journeys are always stories to be told…I’m telling you - coincidences are not a real thing. 

He went on to talk about how we are so often shaped by what was and don’t lean enough into what we could be; that we have to stop re-reading the old chapters and walk in new life. Merp. Sometimes when you’re mad, hearing the truth is hard. Forget that - anytime you’re mad, hearing the truth is hard. Hard like, I go to a church where people ’shout down’ our pastor, (it’s not as terrifying as it sounds - stuff like - “That’s good, Louie!” or “Amen!” or “That’s real!”) and I just wanted to shout him down with, “Go away! Stop somehow weirdly seeing into my soul. It's annoying.” I restrained myself and through my severe annoyance, I felt a little truth slide through a crack of the barely open door of my heart and mind tonight. With it came the smallest amount of light. Maybe I should stop focusing on how mad I am at God. I’ve been doing a very solid job of making that clear… So now my question is, how do I actually deal with the old chapters without dwelling on them? No clue. 

But Louie (is it weird that I feel like I’m on a first name basis with a pastor after they speak a message I connect to? Probably, but it is what it is) suggested two things:

1. A desperate plea

2. ask God for the faith to actually believe for a new chapter. 

At the end of the service, another one of our pastors gave us the opportunity to raise our hands in prayer if we needed a renewal of the mind, and I (awkwardly and through tears) raised my hand. That was tough for me - for my pastors who once trusted me to be a leader in our church, to see that I’m in this place? It’s a pride thing (that I need to work on.) But you know what else? It was brave. And in that bravery, I felt a weight lift. It was trust. And it that trust, I felt my heart lighten just a little.

So I’ll start there even if it feels weird and I’m annoyed. Clearly, I don’t have any better ideas. My journal entry tonight finished with, 

“well on day 1, I cried out to Jesus for help and was honest for the first time about where my heart is at. what will day 2 bring?” - 

who knows? 

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.