Saturday, November 30, 2013

When Heroes Break Our Hearts

In our daily lives, we all have people that we look up to, people we aspire to be, people we call our "heroes." I know a lot of us in this survivor community look at Mariska as our hero, or the SVU cast members, or members of the Joyful Heart Foundation (I once did, but don't anymore -- that's another post).

Yet also in our daily lives are the unsung heroes, our friends, peers, mentors, ones that don't get recognition but deserve all the credit in our lives. The people that we surround ourselves with, look up to, aspire to be, love with all our hearts. These are heroes too.

And the worst heartbreak comes when our own heroes betray us.

Survivor Heroes

The past year for me has been wrought with hardship. Along the way, I have met an incredible survivor community because of SVU, women that had survived horrible abuses yet had somehow managed to overcome them. They picked me up, taught me incredible things about the will to survive. One young girl that I came across confronted her attacker in open court -- and he was convicted. She is much younger than me, but in that moment I was overcome with tears of happiness for her -- a beautiful soul who had faced the worst adversity and had CONQUERED it. She became my hero, and gave me the courage to fight for my legal case. Although it failed, I owe my spirit of fight to this brave young girl.

Yet among this "sisterhood" of survivors comes a world of problems. Having a large community of survivors is incredibly important, because they can understand exactly what I am going through when many others cannot. However, because we are all at different stages of our healing, survivors can turn and become our worst enemies, break our hearts, and betray us in the worst possible way.

This has happened to me more times than I can count this year.

One such friend of mine I met online via SVU in the winter. She was a strong-willed woman, had overcome abuse and flourished into a woman with a passion to stop sexual assault. She was also younger than me, but I looked up to her. She became one of my best friends, was with me through all of my legal case. We laughed hysterically about everything -- SVU, Mariska, cats, and so much more. I could talk to her for hours upon end and it never got old. She was someone I loved dearly. She was my hero, because she gave without a second thought, loved without regret, and made the worst week of my life one of the bests, full of positive memories. She promised me that we'd be friends forever, that she'd never betray me like the other betrayals that I'd had (and there have been three major ones this year, some too painful to go into still).

But the betrayal came.

One day, POOF, she was gone. No explanation, except that she was going through a "tough time." I tried to reach out, to be there for her, to help her like she helped me, because I loved her dearly. And she pushed me farther away. She fired back at me when I attempted to reach out to her, and she threatened to end our friendship right then and there.

Um ... what?!

I had shown this girl so much love and appreciation, and then all of a sudden she threatened to end our friendship right then and there. She said that my one year friendship meant nothing compared to her other friendship with her friend of seven years. The friend that I had listened to her complain about how she doesn't appreciate anything, the one I tried to help her work through to communicate better with. Suddenly I was nothing compared to that.

She ended our friendship -- the sisterhood I thought I'd always have, one of the friendships that i cherished most in my life. POOF, gone.

The pain of losing a best friend is beyond what my words can express. And the issue lies in the survivor community. Even when someone appears to be put together and strong, when they have not dealt fully with their demons of their past, be wary. I'm not saying these survivors are bad people -- hell, I'm not nearly as put together as I seem sometimes! (although I'm getting there). As my mom says: "One thing in common does not a friendship make." Very Shakespeare-an, but so true.

Girls can cause some of the worst pain. They backstab, they lie, they betray, they turn on you. I find this especially heart-wrenchingly true in the survivor community. One issue that seems so small to an outsider can be magnified 100000000x in a survivor. And that creates an immense amount of issues, as seen in the fallout of this friendship that i cherished so much.

This girl was one of my heroes, and she turned on me so suddenly I was left nearly breathless. It breaks my heart. But there is one thing I learned: online friendships, especially among survivors, are a dangerous situation to trust. We put our lives out there, we give our stories and our souls to these "sisters" in the survivor community, and in an instant they can turn on us.

However, that does not mean true friendships among survivors do not exist.

Hold on to the friendships that you do have. Keep the people that are trustworthy close to you. Be wary. I'm extremely jaded and cynical now ... but not beyond repair. Nourish the true friendships that you do have, because true friends are hard to come by. And the best ones will never leave your side, no matter what.

When Heroes Abuse

I want to touch on a very difficult subject for me, the one that has nearly destroyed my life and all semblance of happiness this past year.

Like many other survivors, I have been the victim of more than one assault. The hardest ones I have been through may not have been the worst or most dangerous situations, but they nearly killed me because it was perpetrated by someone I cared about.

Sexual assault is a horrific crime. No sexual assault is worse than another -- they're all just different. But for me emotionally, the two that I experienced that were perpetrated by someone I knew affected me the most.

My most recent one was perpetrated by someone I deeply cared about. He was my mentor, in a profession I desired to enter. I had known him for over 2 years. He knew about my history, was always so kind to me with regards to my past. We laughed hysterically together, he taught me so much. He was also old enough to be my father.

  The day that it happened nearly destroyed me.

I lost all the happiness I had in my life. My soul was tarnished and blackened, my body wrought with pain. Not physical pain, although that did come soon after. But the deep, penetrating emotional pain of a betrayal so great, the worst violation possible, of mind, body, and soul. I blamed myself for many months, thinking, "I shouldn't have had that much to drink," or, "I shouldn't have gone to his apartment." I looked for any excuse to blame myself, "Maybe I didn't try hard enough," although pushing his hands away constantly and saying I needed to leave my clothes on would be a sign to stop, right?

But I tried to just tell myself it was nothing, that it was my fault. Because the truth that he was capable of violating me in that way was far more than I could handle, the pain of the realization that he was capable of doing something like this, when his job had him writing about sex crimes ... no, it couldn't be.

But it was.

I had to face that harsh reality. And it hit me. Hard.

For many months I finally was able to see what had happened for what it really was. That he didn't care about me. That he had groomed me for over year, had lied to me on every interaction, countless times. I finally broke free from his grasp over me, and I felt STRONG.

But all that changed with the investigation.

With one phone call to this man, I became trapped under his spell again. And that scared me. 6 months of not speaking to him, I had become strong willed and convicted, sure in my story, knowing he was a bad man. All that disappeared in a 15 minute phone call with the police listening.

The inherent issue lies in the desperate attempt to convince ourselves that it was a mistake. That he didn't mean it. That it was really our fault. Because blaming ourselves is SO much easier than looking the situation in the eye, head on, and saying, "Yes. This man, my hero, my mentor, RAPED me."

I became horrible confused yet again. I attempted confrotning him myself over the phone, thinking I'd get straight answers. Ha! He denied everything of course. I had been drunk, so there were parts I didn't remember, but the parts I do remember were clear -- I wanted him to stop. He denied everything.

I had tried to maintain a neutral stance with him, in case, God forbid, I had to work with him one day. I still cared about him, and it was hard to let that go.

Deep down, though, I had this impenetrable hatred towards him. A hatred so beyond comprehension, one that enveloped my soul in a fiery mass of anger.

I knew that I could never have an interaction with him again without this hatred popping up. But I had to end it on my own terms, not someone else's.

Sadly, that did not happen.

I received this email from him the other day:

Rachel, you and I have been friends for several years so I’ve tried to give you the benefit of the doubt about what you’ve been accusing me of since last January.  But after thinking about the phone calls we’ve had and your email a few weeks ago, I’ve finally realized your accusation isn’t just a mistake.  It’s a lie, plain and simple.  And there is no way for us to remain friends after that.   Bottom line: I'm done. 
  I lost it after that.

In another short paragraph, he had gotten into my head. "It's a lie, plain and simple."

All the conviction and strength that I had disappeared.

I was a mess, doubting everything that I had ever thought about this situation. Doubting myself, doubting my truth, doubting what I knew deep down was what happened.

But worst of all, the pain of the realization that this man did not give a SHIT about me.

I went on a rampage after that, tearing up everything he had ever given me, anything associated with him, even the short blurb in a book that I had. I tore everything up and scattered it in my room.

It's amazing the power that these abusers can have over us. I blamed myself for this situation, because I went back to him so many times, when I could see the signs hitting me in the face that I needed to walk away, But I didn't want to believe the truth -- that he could do such a thing to me, when I cared about him so much.

The past few weeks have broken me. The fallout with the NYPD, the subsequent issues and betrayal of the SVU cast, the horrific harassment that ensued from some very sick girls via social media, the fallout with my best friend ... and then the final closing chapter with this man whom I cared about deeply.

It's cut me to the soul. It's nearly destroyed me.

The sad truth is, abusers come in all shapes and sizes. Very few are the creepy old men watching children on the playground. Or the stranger in the dark alley.

No.

These abusers are our friends, boyfriends, uncles, fathers, cousins, mentors, teachers, pastors, and priests. They are our loved one, our mentors, our heroes.

This man has forever changed my life. He nearly destroyed it, every shred of happiness and faith I had gone up in flames of fury.

But I'm still here.

Somehow, I've managed to survive.

And that is because of the heroes that haven't left my side.

It comes full circle.

The heroes that abuse are among us, the friends that betray are among us. But so are the true heroes of our lives.

And in honor of Thanksgiving, I am grateful for the true heroes in my life. The friendship that I have with an incredible woman that I will cherish forever. My amazing high school teachers, who have NEVER left my side since 2006. The few people that I can call no matter what and they will listen. Even the friends who can't understand what I'm going through, but can take me out and show me a good time. Those are the heroes among us, the ones that we need to cherish and keep us safe.

Sure, heroes can be actors on a TV show, or philanthropists, or famous activists. But I say the real heroes are the ones who never, ever betray us. The ones we fight with, but still love at the end of the day. The ones that can say, "You're pissing me off right now," but know will never leave your side.

Those are the ones that keep us alive.

And I thank the ones who have been with me through the worst times of my life, through this entire year of heartache and pain. I thank the ones who call me on my bullshit without creating drama. But especially the ones at the end of the day, who, no matter what happened, can say, "I love you," and I know they mean it.

And for that, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

When Heroes Fail, and the Importance of Olivia Benson

Unlike a lot of the hardcore SVU fans out there, I have only been watching SVU for 4 years. I wasn't one of the ones who sat down and watched every season in order from start to finish. I let the episodes come in a random order, which made watching it on TV that much more exciting.

The first time I watched SVU, I immediately fell in love with Olivia Benson, and then shortly after, Mariska Hargitay, who really models Benson in real life.

90% of the people I have talked to who love SVU -- many of them survivors themselves -- all say that they love Olivia because sometimes hearing her words on the show is exactly what they (as a survivor) need to hear.

I could not agree with this more.

After the first time I was sexually assaulted, I did not report to the police because the first time I tried, I was treated like crap. I didn't even attempt to go through the legal system because of how the responding officers treated me.

Yet in my aftermath, I found solace in Olivia's words.  In SVU. The incredible writing, combined with the beyond talented Mariska Hargitay, has created a virtual healing process for survivors in all parts of the world. Survivors who can't go through the legal system, or whose legal system failed them, find solace in Olivia getting justice for those who have no voice.

And not only that, the more I reach out into the SVU fandom, the more I see that Olivia Benson has inspired young women to want to become SVU detectives.

I need to emphasize this point.

Young women who watch SVU see Olivia Benson as a lioness, a fierce protector of victims, always believing them, guiding them through the healing process, providing a sense of comfort and solace and understanding that few survivors receive throughout the healing process. SVU viewers see this interaction on TV and are inspired to become detectives like Olivia Benson.

Olivia Benson is not real; but her inspiration is.

And the world needs that.

I want to share with you a little snippet of my own experience with the legal system (the full story will come soon but it's too fresh to go into).

I have a very long story with the NYPD. I have met some incredible detectives, and some that should not have a gun or detective's shield. One such experience happened recently.

A female detective at the NYPD SVU precinct had a real beef with me. She had been rude to me on several occasions, in person and on the phone. I had been expecting a call from their precinct about the next move for my case but hadn't received it yet. I was about to go into yoga, so I called the precinct to inquire about my case and the next move. The FEMALE detective answered me: "your case is closed. Don't call here anymore."

I was stunned and said what the hell are you talking about, because a few hours ago my detective on my case told me they were going to make their next move. And she just kept repeating what she had said, really rude and bitchy: "Your case is closed. You can't call here anymore".  She wouldn't give me an explanation and just kept telling me to not call there anymore. 

Then the worst part is that she started telling me that this was all just a game to me, that they were just pawns in my little game and that nothing criminal happened so they can't do anything about it and I cant call them anymore. She said that I made the whole thing up because it was just a game to me, that nothing criminal happened. And she wouldn't give me an explanation as to why they closed the case so suddenly when two hours before that they were gonna make the next move. She isn't even assigned to my case and she bitched me out and saying that I made the whole thing up.  And that it was just all fun and games to me and they don't do that there. That she's sorry that he gave me an STD, but that nothing criminal happened. She said that I have to get closure somewhere else because there's nothing that they can do for me.

Let me re-iterate -- this was a female detective, at the real NYPD: Special Victims Unit. The unit that Olivia Benson is based off of. The unit whose sign on the door reads: "Home of the World's Greatest Detectives." Some of them are -- I truly had some wonderful people there, that were the real life Elliot Stabler. But where was Olivia?

Olivia does not exist.

At least, not in my reality of what I went through. That experience with that female detective tore me up so deeply words cannot even begin to describe. And the fact that she turned around and LIED to my mom (who called her) about saying those things to me ... she is one that should NOT be on the Special Victims Unit.

But this is where YOU come in. Yes you. The one reading this blog, the young woman/man who has been inspired by the TV show SVU to become a detective.

The world needs you.

Mariska said this perfectly in her National Press Conference speech back in March, but the sad reality is that most detectives are not trained to handle victims.

On SVU, the unit is perfect. Granted, they are wrought with the usual personal struggles: addiction, family issues, mom issues, anger management, etc. But not a single one of them handles victims with anger, blame, or criticism.

The sad reality is that this is not the norm.

My experience with that female detective is more the norm than the kindness the others showed me.

To those of you reading this blog, inspired by SVU to become a detective -- please follow your dreams. The legal system needs more Olivia Bensons. Survivors need and deserve that kind of treatment in any police department.

You have the power to change someone's life.

Maybe you think you're just one person, and you can't have that much of an influence on someone. But read this: you can.

Dream big. Create your reality. Live the life you've always wanted. If an SVU detective is your goal because Olivia Benson has inspired you -- go for that goal. There will dozens -- hundreds -- of survivors who will look you in the eye one day and thank you from the bottom of their hearts that you were there. That you became that lioness that Olivia has always been on the TV screen.

Olivia Benson is not real -- but she should be. And with peoples' dreams, she will become a reality.

My positive experiences have wanted me to give back and become a detective as well. But my negative experiences have both discouraged me for ever wanting to be near an SVU precinct again ... but have also instilled in me the need to really change the system. To be on the legal side of it and know exactly what the victim is going through. The positive experiences I had with other detectives were incredible, because they believed me and advocated for me, but they always ended like this: "...but it's easy for us to say, because we have never been in your shoes before."

I'm not saying that every survivor needs to become an SVU detective. But it having that personal empathy, or having the Olivia Benson spirit within you makes all the difference in the world for the victim.

If I had been treated like the way that female detective treated me from the getgo, I would've run as fast as I could in the other direction.

No one deserves to be treated like that.

It all starts with you. Make that dream your reality. Make Olivia Benson real. It will make all the difference.

"Be the change you wish to see in the world."