Lately I have been so busy that I haven’t had much time to blog. However, the tragic loss of Robin Williams has led to me talk about his life – and his death.
Genius and Insanity are sometimes close bedfellows – so they say. I am sure I am not the only one on this blog that has been profoundly affected by his death. People on the news talk about his “demons” and other bloggers use this opportunity to bash his failure to get help. They say – He had all the money in the world; all he needed to do was get help! Depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation are NOT demons. Money, fame, power, love and family do NOT stop the sometimes terrible progression of depression.
Depression is a disease. Period. Final. Addiction is a co-morbid factor to a disease like Depression. You might as well ask – which came first…the chicken or the egg. Some people who deal with depression also deal with addiction. Sure, they may be different types of addiction, but it is still addiction. No, I have never done cocaine – but I have done alcohol. Although I have mostly stopped I do occasionally consume alcoholic beverages, mainly in a social manner, because I know that I can’t let myself drink too much. I can’t go there again. Of course, speaking of addiction – I stopped in the middle of this to have a cigarette. I hate smoking – and I love smoking…it eases the tension.
I have been devastated by his death because I felt a real connection to him. Not just his ability to do great film, television and standup – but because we had some things in common. His story of being bullied as a child and using comedy to make friends touches me so deeply. I was viciously bullied from kindergarten all the way through my senior year of high school. I sat at the lunch table alone for years. I played alone on the playground. Sure, I would have my one good friend who usually was in the same situation I was. Then they would change schools or move away and I would be alone again.
I wrote to deal with the loneliness and the desire to be anywhere but school. My brain wouldn’t allow me to keep still in class so I had a teacher that introduced me to the wonderful world of writing. When my work was done she would give me a “story starter,” a simple piece of paper with the first paragraph of a story that I could take and work on. I could spend days on a single story. What should have been finished in three or four paragraphs would take ten or twelve pages. She always took it and read it, made notes and wrote wonderful words about my talent or my imagination. She would make suggestions, corrections to spelling and grammar and the next one would be better. I thrived on writing.
In my 8th grade year, three of us wrote a little play called “Doctor Duck” and we won a spot in the school talent show. I was hooked – people laughed so hard! This boy I had a bad crush on (he was a senior) chucked me on the shoulder and said, “Nice job – you’re funny!” Talk about melting. The next year I won another spot doing an adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart.”
People who had never spoken to me suddenly wanted to ask me why I wasn’t in the school play. I wasn’t popular enough; you have to be really popular to get a spot in a very small school.
I discovered humor and improvisation. Did speech contests, wrote constantly about everything and continued to audition for the play. The lunchroom became my own little stage as people who usually laughed at me joined me for my lunchtime performance. I was still a target for the bullies – but at least I no longer ate lunch alone.
I took writing classes in high school. One time, a substitute teacher that I adored, gave me an F on a poem with a big note in red pen that said, “SEE ME.” She accused me of plagiarizing from Edgar Allen Poe. We went through every poem written by Poe when she turned around and changed it to an A. She apologized and was concerned because the poem was so dark she believed that it had to be Poe. I admit, I like the dark stuff, I always have. It allows the darkness to come out.
I went on to do Community Theater – including leading roles like Driving Miss Daisy. I loved the spotlight – I still do. My favorite place in the world is a packed elevator – they are, after all, a captive audience.
I admit I had a bit of a crush on Robin Williams; it was his piercing blue eyes. They were so deep and they sparkled; but every now and then, when the laughter ended, I could see the sadness in his eyes. I do the same thing. I will do a routine at work that will have my closest co-workers rolling on the floor. Just goofing around, talking about this or that, whatever strikes me as funny or can be turned funny. I am in no way as talented or as amazing as Robin Williams is – but I know the sadness when the laughter is over.
My favorite role of his was Dead Poet’s Society – I loved him as Mr. Keating. I think it is because he combined two of my favorite things; teaching and writing. In fact, the night he died I sat and watched some of it – just to hear his voice and feel his energy.
I think that what is most devastating is that if depression can take a man like Robin Williams – it can take any of us. So I would say to you, please don’t give up! Words and ideas can change the world – your voice is powerful – so much more powerful than the depression that we live with. So to this end I would like to finish this with a poem by Walt Whitman that you will recognize from Dead Poet’s Society. It is from his Leaves of Grass collection. I believe that it is truly fitting at a time like this; it is a poem about depression about the struggle to live each day – to get up – to walk among people – to maintain faith.
Oh Me! Oh Life!
Oh me! O life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless traines of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish
than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the
struggle ever renew’d
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I
see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me
The question, O me! so sad, recurring–What good amid these,
O me, O life?
That you are here–that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.
Finally – if I may be so arrogant as to post my own verse in the same page as Walt Whitman – my little tribute to Robin.
Oh Captain, why have you gone,
The farce of your laughter,
The truth of your tears,
The darkness above your door.
The mask you wore,
It choose you.
The brilliance of mind,
And brokenness of heart.
A mask of comedy,
Tears of laughter.
Eyes of radiance,
A heart of tragedy.
Rest your soul now,
In the gentle hands of God
May your sleep be sweet,
And your heart’s song,
Will drown in tears no more.
Peace – and special prayers to Robin’s family.
I have been gone for sometime – life has been wonderful and busy and crazy all at the same time. My granddaughter is growing and her smiles and giggles remind me what is beautiful about life. I find myself fiercely determined to protect her in all things and nothing in the world brings me peace like picking her up and seeing her smile at Grandma. God has bless me.
However – I have to find time to speak about the latest from the VA. I have been reading, watching C-Span hearings and finding my heart breaking about the newest round of scandals from the VA. Some of it makes me so angry – so of it makes me weep. It was so avoidable.
If you are a regular reader of my blog – you know that I work for a VA Facility. I am proud to report that we were recently informed that – after the investigative team came through – they will not be coming back for follow up of the current concerns. We are good to go. Now I don’t know if that means we are perfect – because no one is perfect – but I can tell you that I have never seen paper lists – I have never seen patients denied care in MY office and I have never been a witness to any of the bullshit that has been reported in the news. I speak this honestly – because had I been a witness to it – I would have seriously raised hell. In fact – I recently bought myself a t-shirt that says…”I will NOT keep calm…I will raise hell and break shit!” I thought it was fitting.
Although this is good news – I continue to fight the stigma of MST in my facility and I actually had an event (with a staff member) that was enough to send me over the edge. So I had to register for FMLA and I am back in therapy. It is okay – sometimes we need to revisit the issues we bury in an attempt to feel normal. So I am currently in the process of hell-raising and I was recently informed that I have a “reputation” in our facility. Well – my answer is Fuck You..to those who have decided that I have a “reputation.” Because I know who they are – they are scumball mid-level leaders that don’t give a shit about Veterans!! All they worry about is protecting their little territories.
I can honestly say that I know how this was all happening in Phoenix, Houston, and other VA Facilities. The “get patients in within 14 days” was elevated to be some kind of a rule – instead of a goal. Therefore, we were instructed to make it look like the patient was seen within 14 days. In other words – if you called and asked me for a routine annual physical (you are not sick) and I asked when you wanted to be seen – your answer might be “anytime is good with me.” I may book you out 3 weeks…but it would show that you didn’t have a clinic wait. This was NOT something I made up – this is what we were instructed to do. However – I will clearly state that this was for routine physicals and never, ever for an ill patient. I have seen the providers that I work with double book or skip their lunch in order to get a sick patient in to see them same day. I work with some outstanding providers.
However – back to my reputation. My complaint of late has been that my rights as a patient have been violated because I am an employee. I had a Dermatology appointment and the male medical student expected me to remove my shirt in front of him without a gown or a chaperone. NOT HAPPENING. Therefore – I had to educated him. I was nice about it – and I also had to educated the female resident who came into the room. “What is MST?” I explained. Why should I explain? I am the fucking patient!! YOU should know! I did go to the patient advocate – who is a really terrific woman here – and she was equally upset.
A very short time later – I had a run in with one of Brigid’s nurses. She is about to have a tumor removed from her brain (it is not cancer – but we are both scared to death – please…pray for her and for me.) I talked to her nurse about her MST status and about her wishes. She said – “that will be up to surgery.” I said, “Okay – I can contact the head surgical nurse.”
She said – “YOU WILL NOT DO THAT – YOU ARE OVERSTEPPING YOUR BOUNDS.”
Overstepping my bounds??? I don’t have boundaries when it comes to Brigid. I am her medical power of attorney. I will do what I have to do when I have to do it and how I have to do it to make sure that she receives the APPROPRIATE care related to both her physical and psychological needs. I will do it in a calm, professional manner until you FUCK WITH ME and then I will wreck your world!! And do not play the employee card with me – because I am a Veteran and a patient who just HAPPENS to work here.
Anyway – I will finish my rant now..because I am not allowed to throw shit and break things at work.
But I am truly broken hearted and suffering from the recent news coming out of the VA system. It tears at my very soul…
As you all know I am getting ready for Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April. Many of you who are fellow MST survivors and bloggers have given me permission to use your words and I am thankful. Your words, our words, will bring hope to other survivors and education to those who treat MST.
I have been reading and reading – your blogs that I have already read looking for the type of writings that people really need to hear. I find them over and over again. Even more so, I read your words and I feel your pain, our pain and our journey’s and our victories. Some of the words hurt so bad I have to stop for a while – come back later. I am not sharing our most intimate stories of our rapes…the truth about what happened to us is that all of our assaults are the same and all of our assaults are different. As my role of advocate has increased I have discovered that some people out there just want to hear about the rape – like they are getting some sort of sick pleasure out of it. I sometimes look at their faces and I wonder, “How many victims have you created?” So I don’t share the rape stories. I share the stories of courage, the stories of advocacy, the stories of how we are changing the world. As I am reading through the blogs I am seeing something that I already knew was there – but I hadn’t really seen before.
Jay started his blog and I found it one day. His words gave me such courage! I wrote to him and we began a real friendship in the virtual world. I then began this blog and I told Brigid that she had to do it too. That was the beginning of Enemy in the Wire. Then Myst found us and she began her own blog “One Sailors MST Recovery Blog.” There are too many out there to list – but most of them are on my blogroll. We are taking care of one another – where other systems have failed for whatever reason. We are our own Peer Support Community.
I have spoken about the need for Peer Support for MST Survivors before. It is because I have been rereading your blogs that I decided to take a crazy step. Some of which I can talk about and some of which I have to be very careful what I say…
A few days ago I made a “contact” because of something that I posted on a closed access MST site. This “contact” seems very, very nice and when I say connected I mean connected. This is a person who can make a real difference. If you have been watching the Senate Sub-Committee Hearings on MST and treatment you know that the Senate Sub-Committee is doing an awesome job…but in some ways they are talking to the Generals running the war. They are great Generals – they really, really care – but they are still the Generals.
As we know – the military works this way…(please excuse the Army terms…they are the only ones I know)
There is a War…the President calls the Joint Chiefs and says – “How is it going?” Joint Chiefs say – “Going fine Mr. President!”
The Joint Chiefs call the General…General says “Going Fine!”
General asks the Base Commander, Base Commander call the Battalion Commander, Battalion Commander calls the Company Commander – “Going great, Sir!” The Company Commander asks the Platoon Leaders – Platoon Leaders ask the Platoon Sergeants…same answer.
The Squad Leader out on the front line asks the PFC in his squad – “How is it going?” PFC says, “We are short on water, ammo is running low, we have two casualties and we have a broken vehicle.” (In the Army it is called the LACE report – liquid, ammo, casualties and equipment)
General comes down asks that same PFC how it is going, PFC says, “Going Great, Sir – I love the Army!!”
Well – I am the PFC that just told the “General” the truth today. Not to blame, accuse or to point a finger. I told the truth about how to fix what needs fixing. I am way…way…way…outside of my chain-of-command. I didn’t tell anybody about it, except you, because I figure that if there is no knowledge of the event – there is no responsibility for it. The only person they can blame is me – because I am the only person responsible for what was sent.
I took an oath. First I took an oath to be a soldier – later I took an oath to be an NCO.
“No one is more professional than I. I am a noncommissioned officer, a leader of Soldiers. As a noncommissioned officer, I realize that I am a member of a time honored corps, which is known as “The Backbone of the Army”. I am proud of the Corps of noncommissioned officers and will at all times conduct myself so as to bring credit upon the Corps, the military service and my country regardless of the situation in which I find myself. I will not use my grade or position to attain pleasure, profit, or personal safety.
Competence is my watchword. My two basic responsibilities will always be uppermost in my mind—accomplishment of my mission and the welfare of my Soldiers. I will strive to remain technically and tactically proficient. I am aware of my role as a noncommissioned officer. I will fulfill my responsibilities inherent in that role. All Soldiers are entitled to outstanding leadership; I will provide that leadership. I know my Soldiers and I will always place their needs above my own. I will communicate consistently with my Soldiers and never leave them uninformed. I will be fair and impartial when recommending both rewards and punishment.
Officers of my unit will have maximum time to accomplish their duties; they will not have to accomplish mine. I will earn their respect and confidence as well as that of my Soldiers. I will be loyal to those with whom I serve; seniors, peers, and subordinates alike. I will exercise initiative by taking appropriate action in the absence of orders. I will not compromise my integrity, nor my moral courage. I will not forget, nor will I allow my comrades to forget that we are professionals, noncommissioned officers, leaders!”
There are some things you will notice in there – for those who have never read the Army NCO Creed.
Accomplish the Mission – Take Care of the Soldiers.
Never use my rank for my personal gain
Loyal to those I serve
I will exercise initiative by taking appropriate action in the absence of orders.
That is what I did today. I took action that I feel is appropriate in the form of a situational report from the front lines. Someone has to tell the truth – for the benefit of us all. I didn’t say things that were bad – I just made suggestions to make something better – greater…more successful.
However, as we all know – sometimes things done with the greatest of intentions get an ass chewed by a rabid dog. I think it will be okay – but I have to admit that I am shaking inside. I’m afraid of what will happen next. I believe in a good outcome…but we all know how that sometimes goes.
My defense for my choice – my Oath has no expiration date. When I took that oath – I took it for life. Not just my life in the Army…but for the rest of my life.
We who are out there advocating, fighting, praying, searching, begging and demanding for justice. We are the ones in the trenches, bandaging the wounded, trying to stop the bleeding, trying to get help for them…the medics to the invisible and silent wounded. We are the ones who bear the battle.
My oath has no expiration date – I will speak truth – no matter what the cost.
Sexual Assault Awareness Month 2014 is approaching quickly and I am, once again, working on a project.
I am posting to ask for a favor from the MST Community…I need your words. I would like to schedule readings from various survivors at our event. However, I won’t use anything on your blog without your permission!! That just seems like a nasty violation of your privacy.
What I am looking for is not what happened to you…but what your life is like now and how your journey of recovery is going. Talk about what you need in healthcare – what makes you comfortable or terrible experiences you have had. These readings will be heard by VA Staff (you will be anonymous) and they are things the leadership needs to hear!!
Please know that I may have to edit for content. I apologize – but even as I am picking posts from my own blog – I am having to edit my own words. We all know that when Brigid or I get going we can cuss the keys off the keyboard – we have a right to use those words and say those things…and so do you. We have the right to be angry!!
Also – if you are a reader of my blog you know that I work for the VA. I am a low level, bottom feeding healthcare tech but I do serve on and fight for the Military Sexual Trauma Survivors and the way that we treat them. We are making a difference! It is not uncommon for SAAM to be half recognized or ignored all together – but this year we will have a display up all month long!! Our words – our truths – they are making a difference. With any luck we will get the entire program authorized and that will include the dramatic readings “In Our Own Words.” Additionally – I am going to go way, way out on the limb. One of the programs I am trying to get approved for that day is the “Lunch and Learn with a Survivor.” Yes – that is right…I am going to stand up in front of my co-workers, my leadership and say…”I am a Survivor of Military Sexual Trauma – this is your chance…ask me anything.” I am hoping that I can bring more awareness to who we really are and what we really need. We aren’t a bunch of fucked up people who need someone to change our diapers and feed us with a spoon. We are some of the strongest people you will ever meet!! I can’t say that I have ever met an MST Survivor that was “weak.” If we were weak – we wouldn’t survive. Only the strong survive!
Any help you can give me would be great! I have already gotten permission from some – if you would like to send me an email with your blog or with readings that you have choosen – you know that I am at firstname.lastname@example.org I will be checking the inbox.
As a final thought – I would love to leave you with a Franciscan Blessing. This has become my favorite and I think that it really fits who we all are as survivors! We have the right to hate…but somehow we love. We have the right to be angry…but somehow we channel that anger into action. We have the right to say “I”…but we continue to act on the part of “We.” So this is for all of us…that we may live deeply!!
At easy answers, half-truths,
And superficial relationships
So that you may live
Deep within your heart.
At injustice, oppression,
And exploitation of people,
So that you may work for
Justice, freedom and peace.
To shed for those who suffer pain,
Rejection, hunger and war,
So that you may reach out your hand
To comfort them and
To turn their pain to joy
With enough foolishness
To believe that you can
Make a difference in the world,
So that you can do
What others claim cannot be done
To bring justice and kindness
To all our children and the poor.
Hello, Friends –
Sorry I have been out of the loop for a while. There have been a lot of things going on here. Please keep Brigid and her family in your prayers and thoughts.
I served with this guy in the National Guard. He was a bit of a Forrest Gump character, not the smartest guy, but he was a good soldier. Actually, if you take Forrest Gump and give him a lot of speed…that was TR.
TR had this trait of always wanting to help out his fellow soldier. He could run like no one I had ever seen! In fact, we all used to shake our heads at the PT Test. He would complete his two mile run…usually around the 11 min mark…and then turn around and start running back the other way. Someone would yell – “Hey, were are you going.” His response was always- “Mark my time…I’m going back for everyone else!!” He did, too. He would run back and bring groups or individuals back across the finish line and then go out for other people. He would encourage them, run with them, push them to pass their test. He was something to behold!!
I have been very frustrated lately – I have also been struggling with my depression. I feel like I keep running back trying to help others out – but the race is hard. The Survivors of MST, we all stick together – but those who can make real change…they refuse to see what is going on.
TR is the kind of person I want to be – the one who never leaves anyone behind. So often I feel that I am going it alone right now. Brigid is always by my side – but getting others to understand the urgency, the need – that is often very hard.
I have gone Congressional on the issue of Women’s Peer Support at VA Hospital facilities. I am now working with two local Congressman. It is so important that Female Veterans and all MST Survivors have access to peer support for MST and for Female issues. I have been trying to stress that the two groups are separate. I don’t believe that a Male Survivor would really want to speak to a Male Peer Support Specialist about rape and sexual assault. However, the leadership at my VA doesn’t seem to grasp how many of us there are and how much we need one another! I was hopeful that by breaking down the two issues – Women Veterans AND MST Survivors – that I might get somewhere. I was told that Male MST Survivors have access to Peer Support. Yes, they do – to Males who don’t have any experience with MST! Knowing one of the people they hired – I see him as more of a Perpetrator that as a Peer.
I want to thank everyone out there doing the same work that I am doing. It keeps my heart warm to remember that there are many of us who are fighting the same fights, feeling the same feelings and trying to leave no one behind.
I have taken my own advice. For the last few months I have known that I have needed to tell my parents that I was sexually assaulted in the military. Just a few days ago I posted the lyrics to the song “Brave” right here on this blog. Yet I have not been able to take my own advice and have some courage when it comes to my own family.
Today my parents came over for Christmas dinner. I know – great timing – Merry Christmas! You kind of have to know my family to understand my reluctance. My Daddy – who has always been the light of my life, my rock, my support – served honorably in the United States Marine Corp. My Mom was very ill when I was a child. It certainly wasn’t her fault but she suffered from seizures with memory loss on account of an undiagnosed and untreated hypoglycemia. She was “kicked out” of her home at 14 and was on her own for years. My Mom is also deeply religious – but at times she exhibits bitterness. She never wanted me in the military. It was Daddy that signed the papers.
My military service is a great source of pride for my Daddy. He took me to my first National Guard drill and he was there for a long time talking to the NCO’s and to the 1SG. The company 1SG was awesome and he used to call my Dad “Gunny.” When my parents came to see me on active duty at Ft. Campbell they got to meet our hospital’s Sergeant Major. He shook my Dad’s hand and told him what a great asset I was to the facility and to the US Army and how proud he should be. My father’s shirt nearly split his chest puffed up so much! Years later when I was a Training NCO I arranged for him to stop by at an Annual Training to see the radios. (He was an RTO) The BN Commander – who was an amazing officer – made sure that my Dad felt welcome. So welcome, in fact, that my Dad made an unannounced stop two evenings later and sat talking to the Battalion Commander and his staff while they contacted me. I was out to dinner with a fellow female NCO. (OH SHIT! My Daddy is talking to the BN CO again!!)
My Daddy was so proud…so proud of me. I didn’t want him to know that anything bad had ever happened. I didn’t want to hurt him. I didn’t want my Mom to blame my Dad for what happened. She is good at blaming him for things.
Since I was the oldest and my Mom was ill – it often seemed it was Daddy and I against the whole world. I have a younger brother…but he was too young to be of much help. So Dad relied on me a lot and I was up to the task. We used to go out on “dates” and we always got into trouble. He took me to see Star Wars, we ate sushi and Japanese food together, he let me taste Saki for the first time. He got my ears pierced, without Mom’s permission, when I was nine. He picked me up hung over from my first underage drinking event. He didn’t punish me – except that he made me breakfast…runny eggs, nasty toast, and sausage gravy with slimy bacon. Made me eat every single bite and boy did I throw up!! Taught me a good lesson…hangovers hurt! He found me my dream car and pulled me out of school so I could go buy it. It would take me days to write about all of the wonderful memories and what a really great Dad he is!
Not that my Mom isn’t wonderful. I love her and she is a very special woman. However, even though I feel very close to her the relationship just isn’t the same. She knows it and will sometimes mention that I was always my father’s daughter.
Working in the kitchen I was listening to my MP3 player and, of course, the song Brave played. “Now is the time…now is the time…now is the time” just kept running through my head. I went to pick up my daughter and every song on the radio that played in the car was about having courage. Some of them I have posted on this blog, “Courageous” – “The Motions” by Matthew West – “Overcomer” by Mandisa. If I was looking for a sign that was it. Still – I tried to avoid it. “Okay,” I said, “I will finally tell them…but they had best be early because I can’t do it with my brother’s family here.” Sure enough – they showed up over an hour early!
It went like I thought it would go. I did it fast, like ripping off a Band-Aid, and with very little emotion. Except for positive emotions. I talked about how God calls us to our own missions – and even when bad things happen God can make them good things. Then I simply said, “Have you heard about MST on the news – women being sexually assaulted in the military? Well – I am one of them – I was sexually assaulted in the military.” Then I went back to the positive things. The good things that I am trying to do. I didn’t tell them about the blog. I think that there are too many details for them to handle. I showed them the front page of the Cedar Rapids Gazette from last year and I said – see…that is me!
Daddy is devastated – but I talked about working with our local Congressman on legislation that has been passed and new legislation that is going forward. I talked about the work that I do at the VA and that perked him up. He knows a small group of my patients and they tell him how much they like me and that I take good care of them. Mom was mom…exactly as I expected. Quiet in many ways, obviously sad, but with this look of “I knew it!” Later she even said – “I knew this would happen – I told you it would.” I grabbed each one of them privately though out the afternoon and I told Mom – “don’t blame Daddy – blame the person who committed the assault – or better yet…just let it go. Let it be..I have work to do.” I told Daddy that I was sorry – and not to let Mom blame him. He admitted he was worried about that. I told them both that if I had known then what I know now…I would have still joined the Army. I loved it! I miss it!
There will be more conversations with Mom as time goes along – to help her understand. I am bone of bone and flesh of the flesh of my Dad – what is born in the bone will come out in the flesh. I am truly my father’s daughter. She doesn’t understand this passion for the uniform, love of service, love of country. She doesn’t “get it” that being a member of the military and a Veteran are some of the most important parts of who I am and who I will become. I will need to help her along.
So – I did it…I told my parents the awful secret I have kept from them for many years. I feel “unchained” – like I can speak out and I no longer have to worry about my parents finding out on the 10 PM news. I also no longer have to worry about my Dad finding out at a VSO meeting…which was always a risk…because there are a handful of people at the State level that know that I am a Survivor.
As a final validation to the day – a Facebook friend posted that today was the anniversary of her assault. For the first time I was able to feel comfortable about responding publicly to her…I simply told her what I know to be true. “I understand what you are going through. The anniversary dates are the hardest – but it is the day you became a Survivor – and you are a beautiful, strong and confident woman!”
I am no longer in hiding. I will continue this blog as Joan – but now I can fight in person as myself. I can continue my battle for MST Survivor Benefits at my local VA and feel okay saying, “How do I know…because I am a Survivor!” They can’t beat that. It is impossible to look a Survivor in the face and discount what they have to say. Now I can be a better voice – a stronger voice.
I’m not saying this to encourage others to run out and tell – that is a Survivors own choice of time. Listen to your heart and you will know when to break your silence. It took a lot of years to get here for me. For me – I feel like it will be a special New Year and that 2014 will bring some exciting changes. I know they will be hard choices – because now that I have broken the silence – those that I choose to tell may always see me as that “raped girl.” What I am saying is that the time was right for me – and I am glad it is over.
I was chatting with a fellow Veteran today and it brought up so many memories. I just feel like I have to ramble for a while – so please forgive me.
On December 16, 1985 I joined the military. I started out in the Guard before going Active Duty. It has been 28 years…somehow I can’t believe it.
A few months ago my Dad made me a copy of my basic training picture and said – “put this up for the Vets to see at work…they will get a kick out of it.” Most people don’t even realize it is me! I was 17 1/2 years old – not even out of high school yet. I was only two or three weeks into basic training but I felt like a soldier. I remember trying to look stern and professional in my photo and my Drill SGT made me giggle. Just as I was done the photographer snapped the picture. Yup – I am smiling in my basic training picture – the picture says…I’m going to kill all the bad guys…right after I quit laughing.
I look into that little girl’s eyes and I wonder what she would say if she could have seen the future. I loved the Army…loved it with every fiber of my being. Basic training was so much fun! Yes, fun!! I was a good soldier being trained by great leaders. (I have said before that my Drill SGT’s were awesome!) I felt that for the first time I fit – right where I was. I wasn’t different than everyone else. I learned quickly and I was incredibly happy – really happy for the first time in my life. My eyes in the picture reflect that – I have this far off dreamy look of all of the great things I can do now that I am becoming a soldier.
I guess I was raised in a different world by a different set of rules. I cut my teeth on John Wayne movies and on Memorial Day parades and 4th of July baseball games. I believed that soldiers were honorable people – that to be a good soldier I had to live and serve with honor. When that picture was taken my biggest fear was that I might let my Daddy down and not be a great soldier.
We had a LT in Basic that was out on a field training mission with us – a road march – and he asked me to go lower the crossing gate. I didn’t completely hear his instructions and I pushed the button too soon to lower the road gate. Everyone in the platoon started to run to cross the road and I will never forget what he said to me. He said, “PVT – you just made a lot of good soldiers run by not following instructions.” I learned that lesson well – I don’t know if he knew how bad those words hurt. They were meant to hurt and I deserved it…I failed to clarify the instructions and so I made a mistake that cost my platoon. I got the fact that it could apply later on – “fail to clarify and good soldiers die.”
I think in some ways I learned that lesson too well. As a “good” leader the LT taught me an important lesson – but it made me a target for the evil men that were waiting down the road.
I still struggle with that…good and evil. Staying silent to protect those that I don’t want to see hurt. My Daddy is one of them. I can’t tell you how many times I have wanted to tell my parents what happened to me – so that I could work more in the open – but I just haven’t been able to do it. My Mother will only blame my Daddy – my Daddy will blame himself.
The only people to blame are those that choose evil! The perpetrators and the rapists and the leadership that protects them. I guess that this is why I continue doing this blog in private: “Names have been changed to protect the innocent.”
I miss the Army some days. October 31, 2003 was my last day in uniform – so it was ten years ago that I took off that uniform for the last time. It is still in the rubbermaid container, rank on it…pen in the pocket…sleeves are still rolled. There is still deodorant marks inside the T-Shirt. I didn’t wash it – I just packed it.
That conversation today with the fellow Vet, fellow Medic, made me remember how much I loved my job and how much I hate the fact that it was taken from me. Now that my children are grown and gone I sometimes have this overwhelming desire to try to reenlist – go serve overseas – do what I wasn’t able to do. It sounds like I am bragging – but I am not meaning to – but I was one hell of a Medic! I have the certificates and the awards to prove it. I was a good NCO too! Not great and there is always more to learn – but I really, really cared about my soldiers. I never asked them to do anything I wouldn’t do and most of the time I was doing it with them. Didn’t matter if it was cleaning toilets or mopping floors or PMCS on a vehicle. I tried hard to know them, to keep my promises, to treat them with kindness and respect – I made sure I never sugar coat the suck factor..if the job was going to suck…I told them it was going to suck. I miss them – I also feel like I abandoned them…because without me to target – SGT Jerk would go looking for a new patsy. Last I heard is that he is retired now. That is good news – I no longer worry about what female he is going after.
10 years later I still wonder if I did the right thing, filing charges, making the complaint. If I had kept my silence I would have been retired by now – at least a National Guard retirement. I didn’t gain anything…in fact, in many ways the other females in my company lost…SGT Jerk became 1SG Jerk before his career ended. All I did was clear myself out of his way – just like many other female NCO’s before me.
Now I feel like I am in a whole other fight here at the VA…a fight for females and MST survivors to have equal care in the form of Peer Support. I spoke with the head of our Union today, because I have been passed over for two more jobs. I asked him – “Am I being punished for pushing the female Veterans issues?” He didn’t think that I was being black-balled – but it is hard to tell who to trust around this place. I had someone make a joke to me that I wasn’t getting promoted because I wasn’t “sleeping with the right people.” Then they proceeded to tell me how it is public knowledge that more than one woman has been promoted by that method. My skin crawled…it simply crawled. I nearly had to run off and throw up. (The women being referenced were non-military)
Some days I get tired of the fight. However, this year is almost over and I will be glad of it. Well – that is enough of my random rambling for you today – before I exhaust you with the senseless!