Posts Tagged ‘Post Traumatic Stress Disorder’

What cannot be raped

December 5, 2014

RAPE: an act of plunder, violent seizure, or abuse; despoliation; violation: “the rape of the countryside”

I wanted to use this definition of “rape” for this post – because we all know that rape is so much more than “sexual intercourse through force.” Rape comes in many forms. Taking something that isn’t offered, violation of a person’s right to safety and privacy and the simple right to say NO, emotional and physical abuse. DESPOLIATION!

Despoliation – means to take something valuable by force. To spoil something.

I can tell you that my military career – something valuable – was taken by force. It was spoiled. “Professionals” want to run around and talk about trauma and talk about rape – but I think that this definition is so incredibly accurate! In fact, I believe that we need to replace all of the other definitions of “rape” with THIS definition. The definition above does away with several issues – 1) rape is about sex (NO – rape is about taking something by plunder, violent seizure or abuse) 2) Only women are raped (NO – anyone can have something plundered, seized, abused, spoiled or have their body violated) 3) Well – that is what happens when you put boys and girls together (NO – most of the world can be in a room together without anyone being violated!) I could go on and on with this – but this isn’t really the point of today’s post.

Most people know that I love my music! I have been having a couple of tough weeks. Severe nightmares, stuggling to get off the couch, being generally tearful, unhappy, agitated…ect. It also means that I really, really struggle to do anything at work! Happily, I can take a little time to get things ready for SAAM 2015 – so I can listen to some music – watch a few videos – just kind of think about what we might be able to use. I found something amazing today.

I am a grandmother who likes some of what Katy Perry sings. Yes, I admit it…I am a closet Katy Perry fan. Not all of her stuff – but who can’t love ROAR and FIREWORK. Those are two of my “go to” songs.

So I see this Katy Perry video on You Tube (just on the side where you can see just a picture – not the actual video) and I see a picture of Katy Perry in a Kevlar helmet and freakin camo face paint on and I am like – WTH! So I decide to take a risk and I click on it and the song is entitled Part of Me.

Basically – it is a video about a women who catches the boyfriend cheating on her, sees and Marine Corp bumper sticker and joins the Marines. However, the video struck me in a way that Katy Perry never planned. Hopefully the link works for you and you take the time to watch it.

I want to post the words to the chorus as well:

“This is the part of me
That you’re never gonna ever take away from me, no
This is the part of me
That you’re never gonna ever take away from me, no
Throw your sticks and your stones,
Throw your bombs and your blows
But you’re not gonna break my soul
This is the part of me
That you’re never gonna ever take away from me”

In the video – you see her doing all of those “military training” things that all of us did. (in some form or another) Then she is dancing in a uniform under the blue field of one of the huge stadium American flags singing the words in that chorus and I realized – she’s right!

Yes – they took my career through RAPE. Yes – they violated me, abused me, plundered my life, my career and they spoiled the life that I was proud of. But you know what…they CAN’T TAKE AWAY WHAT I DID! THEY CAN’T RAPE THAT!

They can’t “rape” what I accomplished. Basic training, AIT, my job, the awards and citations I earned – they can’t rape those. They can’t rape the memory of busting ass on the Confidence Course, or throwing grendades or firing expert on the M16 range. I did those thing – they can’t rape that. They can’t rape the values I tried to instill in my soldiers, they can’t rape the fact that there are a fair number of people who remember me as a good NCO. They can’t rape that.

No matter what was done to me – I always got back up. No matter how hard they hit – I got back up. Yes – my career went down in flames but I was fighting – I went down swinging – and you can’t rape that! That goes for every single one of you that are reading this – the very fact that you are reading this…that you are alive…that you get up in the morning and brush your teeth and live – they can’t rape that – YOU WIN!! Doesn’t mean we aren’t bloody from the battle (body, mind, soul and spirit) – but WE WON!! THEY LOST – YOU WON! It doesn’t always feel like that – but it is something we have to begin to believe about ourselves because one thing I can tell you is that every single time I look a fellow survivor in the eyes I don’t see a victim – I see a WINNER. If that is what others see in us – then we need to see that in ourselves. Maybe it is a one day at a time thing – cause I know I sure don’t feel like I have won much this week – but I made it!

Being a good soldier is a part of me they can’t rape – they can’t rape that – they can’t take that.
They can say all of the shit they want to say – but they can’t break my soul. They can’t break your soul. That doesn’t mean that they didn’t do some serious damage – but my soul is still my own.

I was a good soldier and they will never take that away from me and I will learn to be proud of that again – and you just can’t rape that!

Peace,

Joan

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Igniting the Fuse

July 19, 2013

Well, Friends…I do believe that I have totally lost my mind!  After much thought and a couple of conversations with people that I work with/for…I have decided to challenge the fact that the Peer Support position that I didn’t get hired for was filled only by men.  I decided to request a review of who was hired and why.

I have ignited the fuse on my PTSI with a blow torch!  The last time I challenged anyone in a similar way…I lost my entire military career.

You ever just get so angry that we, as women veterans and/or MST survivors, are just plain invisible.  I sometimes get the feeling that the faster we go away the happier everyone else will be.  Of course – this isn’t meant to make male veterans feel bad…after all – way too many of you are MST Survivors, too.  You are truly our brothers.

However…when it comes to being a female veteran I sometimes feel that we are treated as somehow “less” than our male peers.  Like we are girls playing “dress up” and not Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airman and Guardians.  It sometimes blows me away at how they sometimes justify (not just VA…but many other agencies) not hiring a female veteran to do something because “they have access to a female XXX, so they do have equal access.”  They just don’t get it! 

I like to put it this way…if I were to say…”I want a women gynecologist.” and they say…”We don’t have a woman gynecologist…but we can get you a female proctologist.” doesn’t make it the “same thing.”  It is the same thing with mental health care…a psychologist is not a peer support specialist and a peer support specialist is not a psychologist.  Two different jobs!

As far as the whole Veteran vs. Civilian thing…I have an opinion on that as well (don’t I always.)  My VA Psychiatrist and my VA Psychologist are both civilians.  They are terrific providers who both truly care and they have been helpful…but there is one difference.  There is no ‘cheddar cheese.’

Apple pie is an amazing dessert!  I like mine with a really thin slice of cheddar cheese and whip cream.  It is still really good with just whip cream…but that little piece of cheddar is missed.  Veteran providers in mental health and health care are the little slice of cheddar cheese.  We are the ones who truly know what it feels like to wear the uniform.  I sometimes feel that I have to explain myself or the situation…but a fellow veteran…they get it!

I would like to use an example from this week.  I had a conversation with someone, a fellow veteran, and he complained that he was hungry.  I said – I got a can of C-Rats.  He said, Sounds great.  I said…It is “ham and hockers.”  He said – No way…disgusting.

That conversation was totally lost on any civilian that doesn’t know what a C-Rat is or what a Ham and Hockers are.  For those of you out there who are really young…ham and hockers are ham and lima beans.  Only Cockroaches and Ham and Lima Beans are going to survive a nuclear holocaust.

Now I am too young to have actually eaten c-rats…we had first generation MRE’s…back in the day when everything was dehydrated and the most common field sick call was “too many potato patties!”

So – I have decided to fight this.  Not so that I can have the job…but so that I can bring better awareness to the desperate need for women veterans to have women veterans as peer support specialists.  Additionally – the need for ANY MST survivor to have the gender preference option in peer support.

Please keep me in your warm thoughts and prayers…because this whole thing has me scared to death!

Dominoes

May 29, 2013

Hello Friends,

The news just keeps rolling in.  Military personnel in high positions being removed from their positions, being reassigned  or resigning due to accusations of assault.  The root of the problem and just how high it goes is now being discussed among the general public.  “Military Sexual Trauma” is no longer an obscure term whispered with shame among the survivors. 

All in all – it is “good” news…as much as sexual/physical violence can be determined “good.”  The subject matter is horrible – the fact that these individuals are falling like dominoes is “good.”  The fact that people are talking about it is good.  The fact that the victims and survivors may no longer have to feel shame is good. 

I was listening to a radio commercial the other night and the announcer said, “are you one of those people who want something done….or are you one of those people who are willing to do something to change things?”

We, the survivors, are the voice of change.  Everyone who shares their story, publishes their blog, speaks out – even anonymously – is the voice of change!  We are the one’s “doing something” to make the world a better place – and to all of my fellow survivors…I thank you for your courage!  You are the light and the hope for a world without military sexual trauma!

Even the anonymous voices, like myself and Brigid, are important voices.  I have found that, in the real world, I can talk about MST and about the terrible things people experience and never tell that person that I am a survivor.  In fact, in some ways it is more powerful….because they aren’t wanting to hear the gory details or feeling pity.  Don’t pity me!  I survived and I am leading a full and happy life…I don’t want anyone’s pity…I want change!  I want justice for those who are being victimized!

Someone said to me this morning – “Well, you never have a bad morning…do you?”  Yup – she was being snotty.  She is someone who struggles with things and she prefers to live in her perceived “victimhood” than to make a choice to live another way.   I would share her life story and her trauma’s here – because she shares them with everyone else – but I will forgo that woeful tale.   A couple of years ago I did a presentation that she attended on Sensitive Practices and Public Law 103 in regards to MST treatment and compensation.  She ran around the area telling everyone that she was going to get an automatic 30% because she thinks she had MST.  I have never met an MST survivor who could go up to co-workers happy and sing-songing that she was going to get free money from the government.  Worried for her I pulled her aside and explained that it was a long, hard and stressful process and that I would be there for her.  I asked her if she needed help meeting the burden of proof…her response was, “I need to prove it?”  Yes, you will need to prove it and I started talking about methods to gain the proof. 

Her response – “Well, it was just five guys in a parking lot yelling cat calls at me…but it scared me.  I don’t have any proof – but I could really use the money.”

At that point I just about lost it.  I thought of the survivors that I know…whose lives have been shattered, who have lost their careers, many dishonorable discharged.  I thought about all of us with damage to our internal organs – or losing organs – because of our trauma. 

The money doesn’t change much in our lives.  In fact, for many of us it feels more like a slap in the face.  I know that when I first got mine my husband was understandably excited…we really needed a new roof.  All I could think of is how I earned that money…”on my back”…so to speak.  The money felt dirty – like the government was telling me what the Army had told me…that I was some kind of a whore.  Thankfully – I have found ways to overcome those feelings…but it took some time.  Watching those guys put the new roof on the house felt nasty.  That is why I always advocate to people to find something special that you really, really want and use some of the money to purchase it.  It doesn’t even have to be anything big – just something that brings you joy.  That way you can change your perception of the money…it worked great for me!  In fact, it worked so good that the last time I had to see SGT Jerk I rode my motorcycle out there.  Instead of feeling edgy and threatened I just reminded myself that in the end he didn’t win…I won! 

I don’t “win” because I have something I want or because I occasionally buy myself a new dress that I really like (something I couldn’t do after they ended my career because of the financial situation.)  I won because I choose to be the winner!

If I could share anything with my fellow survivors it would be that “Happiness is a choice.”  Choose joy!  Choose life!  Choose to be a force for change in the world.  It isn’t easy…sometimes it forces you to push and pull yourself away from dark holes and into the light of day.  There are days that all I want to do is bury my head in the covers and curl up with a cat and pounds of chocolate – heck…there are days that I do that 🙂  But they are rare.

Choosing to be happy is the greatest revenge of all – you see…when I was raped, when I was beaten, when I was assaulted…I had no choice.  They took away my right to choose, my right to decide, my right to say NO.  By God – I took it back!  It doesn’t cure anything – the PTSI, the depression, the panic, the fear…but it does make it easier to live with for me.

I know that all of the recent news is triggering for some – but try to be positive…try to think of it as good.  The dominoes are falling…and when they all fall down they will lead to something better at the end.  My hope is that they will lead to a world without MST.

Peace,

Joan

Fixing Rape in the Military

May 16, 2013

Yes, Friends….here we go again!  This is a second case involving a Sexual Assault Preventation and Response unit NCO.  Apparently, he is accused of running a little prostitution ring and with having sexually assaulted a Private First Class. 

Can you hear us now!!!???  How many more do you have to see – how many more accusations? 

Everyone keeps talking about “how do we fix this?”  Well, I am going to share my thoughts on the “fix.”  No, it will not be easy – but nothing good is easy!  This year shows 26,000 new “club members.”  Leaving it alone is NOT an option!

1.  Replace “military” SAPRO with “prior-service” civilian contractors.  Prior service allows them to understand the military system.  Civilian contracting takes them out of the military’s sphere of control.  SAPRO should answer only to the Secretary of Defense. 

2.  All Civilian contractors working for SAPRO must be certified in peer support or social work.  They must have an understanding of trauma and recovery, as well as, training in the criminal justice system.  They also need medical training and they must be trained in rape crisis intervention!

3.  ALL physical examinations done after an assault MUST be done by a civilian facility if possible.  IF this cannot be done a SAPRO representative MUST be present and take possession of the rape kit.  NO rape kit should EVER be placed in military hands!

4.  Commanders and 1st Sergeants who fail to contact a  SAPRO representative IMMEDIATELY in a sexual assault or a reported rape will be removed from their post pending an investigation.  This goes for ALL leadership.  If the Commander reports it and the Battalion Commander doesn’t follow through – then the Battalion Commander is held responsible and removed.  If it is the Squad Leader – that goes for them, too.  ZERO TOLERANCE mean ZERO TOLERANCE!  If my career comes down to “him/her or me” believe me…I am reporting “him/her.”  (remembering that rape can be committed by either gender)

5.  All military sexual trauma cases should be turned over to civilian authority.  Both the accuser and the accused should have an attorney – civilian – and both should have a military attorney to act as an advisor. 

6.  Oops – I almost forgot about the Special Victims Units.  Also – Civilian contractors with prior military experience who are trained to work with assault victims.  They need to be contacted before the SAPRO rep.  They take over with the victim…the MP’s can deal with the accused.  This allows for a “second look” and both groups to work together.  If the accused is innocent – then that will be proven.  However, false reporting of “rape” is very rare.  Especially knowing that it will currently end the career of the victim!

Let the law be the law – the police be the police and the judges be the judge – don’t allow Commanders or NCO’s to affect what is happening.  Remove BOTH parties from the unit. 

7.  Return to segregated Basic Training.  I know that sounds weird – but it removes the male/female interaction that distracts from the initial training.  I have spoken with several females that went through co-ed basic and they were “pushed aside” to train the “real soldiers.”  I was trained in an all female company – although we did have male cadre and drill sergeants.  The females had a real opportunity to bond and to be trained.  We received the same training and we learned how to do things in a way that could overcome our physical differences from the men.  I was very lucky – our male drill sergeants were truly the best of the best!  Using this system means that you are integrating “soldiers” into AIT – not a bunch of high school kids!

It all seems so “hard” but it really doesn’t have to be!  Yes – things are going to be harder in a combat zone…the war makes life very different.  But there are people who seem to say, “This is what happens when you put men and women together.”  That is just bull!  I work with men all day long.  I spend more time with the men I work with than I do with my own husband…we all do.  However, no one is running around here raping their co-workers!  I work with both an MD and an RN who have “authority” over me and who are men – and both of them are complete professionals.  I am never afraid to be alone in a room with one of them and none of them are pushing me against desks and trying to grope me!  They don’t make sexually inappropriate statements, they don’t have porn hanging in their offices, they don’t behave in disgusting ways. 

Why is it that we don’t need to segregate the civilian workforce by gender to prevent rape?

I will tell you why – most of us are “professionals.”  Not everyone is…of course…but, by in large,  we treat one another with respect.  If an accusation is made – there are people to handle it – and they do handle it.  My boss can’t go to the police or to the “judge” and overturn an accusation, they can’t stop the process and they can’t fire me if I make a complaint.  They don’t want to pay the consequences of a lawsuit.  However, the military doesn’t seem to mind because there are no “consequences.”

It is long past time to do something to stop this!  Yes, it will be painful.  Yes, it will be a powerful change for the military.  NO – it will not reduce military readiness!  If anything, it will improve readiness because we won’t have to worry about rape in the ranks!  It will help the military recruit and retain good people.

The military is supposed to be a “professional organization” – let’s start acting like it!

Joan

The Interview

May 6, 2013

Hello, Friends,

I am stopping in to ask a huge favor! I am in need of your prayers, positive thoughts and happy energy! After years of being “stuck” in my current job…I have an opportunity for a big interview…BIG – I mean really B…I…G!

For the last year I have been exploring the Peer Support certification and receiving formal training for a lot of the work I already do with my VSO and here at EitW. Many of you know that this blog began as a way to digest my own therapy…make sense of my own trauma and as a place to spew into the WWW everything I am feeling or thinking.

As time has gone on…and as more people have taken to reading this blog – we have reached out to others as a kind of a “support group.” We are not alone. Our experiences are different – but we have a choice…we can live or we can die. I don’t necessarily mean a physical form of death…but that happens, too….but a psychological death where the bastards win. I have chosen to live.

In just a few days I will be interviewing for a job, at my same employer, that will allow me to continue doing what I love doing…helping others to find their way out of the darkness. I would be doing Peer Support on a full-time paid basis! My tail is wagging! My tongue is hanging out drooling!!!! There are no words to describe how bad I want this job! I want this job so bad I am prepared to fall down on my knees and beg!

I am good at helping people – that is what I have been told. I love to encourage people and to lift them up. I was a “bullied child.” Constantly, every day – someone would bully me. I was pushed, punched, slapped – I was sexually violated. That hurt – but what really hurt were the words. “You are stupid, worthless, a nerd, a dog a squirrel. You aren’t good enough. You aren’t smart enough. You are a failure. You bring it on yourself – ya know…you squirrel. You’re fugly, ugly, four-eyed freak.” Even writing them sends a chill down my back…I can hear them – those taunts still ring in my ears. Sometimes…it still affects me. When I feel isolated from a group, or different – I can feel the little girl in me curl up and try to hide in the corner.

I had a few close friends. Not many. I had a couple of great teachers I really liked – they liked me too! We spent time together. One of them got me through Chemistry class with a C…since I can’t do math that was a huge accomplishment!

I like to make people feel good with words. All of the people that I have met through this blog have been such an inspiration to me! They push the envelope, they reach out, they open their hearts. They have encouraged me to do the same. I was at a VSO event this weekend and this woman walked up to me and said, “you are Joan…right? I hear you help veterans – can you help me?” Of course – of course I can help. I will do anything to help.

This feels like my shot, my chance – the one thing that will make everything okay. I recently turned down a “dream job” with my church. The money was good enough…but I called my priest and said…”Father, I’m sorry. The job is perfect for me…but something is wrong! I don’t think I am supposed to leave the VA.” He laughed…and then he agreed with me. He thinks I would be perfect for the job – but he is concerned that it would require me leaving the VA – he thinks God has a purpose for me right where I am.

We both had the same concerns. We both had the same worries. You know I always say…there is no such thing as a coincidence!

Three weeks later I get an interview for a job that would allow me to do nothing but encourage and lift up my brothers and sisters who are living with mental illness. A chance to offer support to their families..I know what it is like to be a mother of a mentally ill son who has a drug problem. I know what it is like to be a homeless Veteran with three young children. To live in a domestic violence shelter. To fight with the system for benefits, for help, for support. I know what it means for just one person to believe in you. Just one.

It isn’t about money, or paychecks or benefits. That isn’t why I work at the VA. I’m not saying the VA is perfect – I can tell you a long list of bad experiences, horrible flaws, ugly days. It doesn’t even have to be the VA – I can tell you about horrible people and experiences in private medicine! Expensive medicine with bitchy, mouthy, hateful people working there.

I’m far from perfect – but I try to give every patient one thing…a smile and a kind word. That may be the only thing I have to offer in a day. Maybe something to laugh about. A moment of respect, a moment of understanding or just a squeeze to their hand to let them know that I care. Every place that serves customers is built on one thing and one thing only – the people that work there. You can have the most beautiful facilities, the best equipment and state of the art systems – but if the people spend their days sucking on sour pickles…it doesn’t mean anything. People will forget what you did and what you say – but they will never, ever forget how you make them feel.

I have had some really terrific success stories drawing blood. I know, clerking and drawing blood doesn’t sound like much – but it is where the rubber meets the road. A link in the chain for how people “feel” about the time they spend here. I told one gentleman, who served in Vietnam, that I felt that he was a “hero.” Three months later he came back with a beautiful letter for me. It said that no one had ever called him that, no one had ever thanked him for his service like that. He was driving one day and it just hit him and he bawled so hard he had to pull off the road. We stood in the clinic hall crying our eyes out. I have that letter and I will never, ever part with it.

Let’s face it – the one thing that all of us have in common, as MST Survivors, is the way the perpetrators made us feel. The way the military made us feel – like we are worthless, nothing, that we are the crazy ones! They all made us feel like we were dirt…rags…something to be used and kicked aside. Then – they told us we were crazy, we were nuts! I was diagnosed by a civilian shrink as a “borderline personality disorder with Cluster B traits.” Talk about nuts. Cluster B traits essentially mean that you are a “drama queen” and that everything revolves around you. Like I was paranoid and accusing others of things that didn’t happen.

You know what is funny – “borderline personality disorder with Cluster B traits” has many of the EXACT SAME SYMPTOMS of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Paranoia…check, worried that people are going to hurt you…check. It is partially defined as: extreme “black and white” thinking, instability in relationships, self-image, identity and behavior often leading to self-harm and impulsivity.

In other words – he was saying…”you know, you are bringing a lot of this on yourself.”

What did the VA therapist, psychiatrist and comp and pen people say about it…because I asked my therapist outright!!! She said – no, Joan…you are not borderline personality disorder with cluster B…you are a classic PTSD. Although it took me a really long time to describe myself as having PTSD.

That was quite the moment – I must say. The moment when I realized that it isn’t my fault. That I didn’t “ask for it” or “bring it on myself.” The moment that I realized that I was “normal” – as normal as anyone else that survived this shit. They were the screwed up ones. I’m okay – they are pieces of shit!

Wow – I hope the staff interviewing me doesn’t see this 🙂 Might be the end of the job interview :-)!!

Actually – I’m not afraid of them seeing any of what I have ever written. I care. I care about the Vets I serve. I care about making things in the world right. I may not be able to do much…but I can make it right for the few people I see in a day. Please keep me in your warm thoughts!

Peace,
Joan

What Doesn’t Kill Us Makes Us Stronger!!

January 20, 2013

Hello, Friends –

This is a brag post – because I have done something that I am very, very proud of! 

One of the struggles that many MST survivors struggle with is something called “Passive Acceptance.”  Because we had no control over the assault – we often feel that we have no control at all.  We may originally express what we want or what we need – but the moment that we feel resistance – we stop our request – we fold like a house of cards.  People who are aware that we will do this, although they may not know why, can pick up this and manipulate the situation.  We can be great advocates for someone else – but we can’t be strong for ourselves.

Several years ago I had a little Honda Rebel motorcycle.  She was just a 250 – but I loved her.  I loved riding her.  She was pretty, light, agile and I was comfortable on her.  Well – cash ran short – bills needed to be paid and so I sold her to pay bills.  No, my husband didn’t force me – but I now realize that I felt that I didn’t “deserve” something as nice as a motorcycle.  I wasn’t good enough.  When the man who bought her drove away I went in the house and cried.  I couldn’t watch it being taken away.

That was several years ago – and a lot of therapy ago!  I paid off my camper this week.  That was the deal I made with my husband.  The kids were still young and I decided, with my VA Compensation, that I wanted something special.  With my first check I bought a new roof and gutters.  Always responsible and putting other needs first.  But, I bought an old, used, beat up camper for myself.  I love her!

Today – I take my oldest son, Creed, to the airport…he is moving away.  My middle son, Jude, lives with his dad and is talking about moving out from there and on his own.  My daughter is 16 – working and doing well in school.  It is my turn!

My husband promised that when my Camper was paid off I could start motorcycle shopping. He has been supportive in my search. I was shopping in the 1500 to 3000 dollar range – you don’t get much bike for that price…but I felt that I just wanted 2 wheels and an engine. Besides – I would have no “guilt” by letting my husband choose – because I often practice passive acceptance.

FUCK Passive Acceptance! I found a bike I wanted and I went alone to the dealership and I got it financed. I went home to tell my husband what I was planning, I formulated a conversation in my head, I guessed his objections and I formulated answers. I practiced. Why should I have to settle?

My dream ride is a Harley Davidson Softail Slim – but it is 17,000 dollars! I just can’t do that – I fear that I would see the “price” hanging off the bars and I would never enjoy it. After all – I am practicing standing up for myself – but I still have to be reasonable. My second choice was a HD Sportster Low. However, there was a used Dyna Wide Glide that I really liked as well.

I sat down with my husband and we had a long talk. I told him that I had some things to say that might sound hurtful – but they aren’t meant to hurt. I listened to his statments and to his objections. Even when his “objections” sounded reasonable – I stood firm with my feelings, my beliefs and my wants. Yes – I expressed my WANT. Want for no other reason but because I wanted it. (Toys are not something that my husband denies himself – but to his defense…he has never hurt the family finances to get his want and he works very hard – two jobs – and he never denies me anything.) In fact, it has been my husbands “demands” and insistence that I have learned that it is okay for me to buy myself nice clothes or new shoes. He has taught me it is okay to shop for myself somewhere besides the Goodwill or Salvation Army.

However, this is different. My husband owns a Yamaha V-Star – but I wanted a Harley. Anybody who knows bike culture knows the difference between metric bikes and HD.

The next day, after our conversation, I told him…we are going to the Harley dealer. He balked – but said okay. He didn’t like the way I fit on the Dyna and he hated the color and the way it looked. I liked it – but even the dealer said, “It isn’t a good physical fit and I think you will struggle.” I sat on the Slim again – had a “happy ending” and walked away from it. 17000 is a lot of money.

The dealer said, “I unwrapped that blue Sportster that you liked – let’s look at it again.” I sat on her, picked her up, had him balance the front forks so I could feel the riding position – how I reach the controls. I moved the kick stand up and down. We took her out in the sun so I could look at the paint and the color flake in her. I started her up. Then—-I BOUGHT HER!

Yes, I have bought myself a brand new 2013 HD Sportster Low in Big Blue with Blue Flake. I signed the papers. I looked at my husband and said, “Are you okay with this?” He said – “I think you made the right choice…yes…this is a good thing.”

On my way home in the car – because 15 degrees is too cold to ride – I started to cry. My husband asked me why?! I know he doesn’t really understand but I told him – I just did something I have never done. I bought something I wanted. I defended my right to have what I want. You and I had a long talk, listened to one another, came to a decision. I stood up for myself and my want. Not need, not have to have…but a pure WANT! We didn’t fight although we didn’t really totally agree.

My internal dialogue had to change to do this. The way I feel about myself. You can’t do something totally insane like this while your brain is saying, “You don’t deserve it, you are not good enough, you are selfish.” My head tells me that a lot – that I am just not good enough. My head tells me I don’t deserve things. My head tells me that I had better just settle for anything I get…even if it is scraps and garbage. I think that many of us fight this battle.

I am learning that my scars don’t define me – they show the journey I have taken. I am not cured of my PTSD – but let me tell you…I am on the path to living with the scars. In fact, I am learning to be proud of the scars – even if no one else can see them. I may have completed my formal therapy…but I am still in therapy – with myself..not with a counselor. Now – I can “therapy” on my bike. MY BIKE! The bike I work to earn. The bike I love. The bike I deserve. The bike I wanted.

I am worth it. I deserve it. I am good enough. That is what I want my fellow survivors to know. I want you to know that you are worth it, you deserve it, you are good enough. You can have what you want…it doesn’t have to be a bike. It can be that job, that degree, that “thing” that you want but don’t feel like you can ask for or that you can have. You are worth it!

Peace!

Joan

A Poor Definition

December 28, 2012

Hello, Friends.

I have found myself recently in several locations where I have to attempt to define “military sexual trauma.”  The official VA definition according to US Code is below:

It is “psychological trauma, which in the judgment of a VA mental health professional, resulted from a physical assault of a sexual nature, battery of a sexual nature, or sexual harassment which occurred while the Veteran was serving on active duty or active duty for training.” Sexual harassment is further defined as “repeated, unsolicited verbal or physical contact of a sexual nature which is threatening in character.”

Wow – talk about a mouth full!  Believe it or not – I was actually my unit’s EO person when I left the unit.  I know…the EO Rep being the one who was victimized is pretty crazy…to say the least.

When I taught EO and Sexual Harrassment I tried to do it in a way that was fun and interesting.  No dry, boring slides for me!!  I believed that if there was an interesting dynamic – that there would be more willingness to listen.  I always started with a inappropriate joke – one that would upset the men and one that would upset the women.  Then we would discuss why they were “offended.”

There are really two types of sexual harrassment:  Quid pro Quo and Hostile Environment. 

Quid pro Quo is literally – this for that.  I see a whole lot of this in the military – and sometimes, because the victim “gained something in return” they don’t really feel that they were assaulted.  Sometimes it is sexual conduct in exchange for better duty, rank or things of a similar nature.  Sometimes it is sexual conduct just to survive!  Servicemembers pressured into sexual contact just so that they can live a normal life.  In some ways I refer to this as the “protective rapist.”  Because you “belong” to someone in the unit – usually of higher rank – you are no longer a target for guys looking for a hookup.  You are off limits.  However, being in an inappropriate relationship isn’t necessarily “rape.”  After all, we control our sexuality by our own choice. 

Hostile Environment is a different matter.  This is when the area that you are working in is completely and totally offensive to you for either your gender or your unwillingness to engage in sexual behavior.  This can be anything from the nude catalog on the wall in the platoon room (yes, males can experience this too – maybe they are offended by a group of women with naked men hanging in the workplace!)  Hostility towards your rank or your position and deliberate attacks on your or your job.  Poor NCOERs when you have done nothing to earn a poor rating.

Perhaps it is easiest to define what sexual harrassment/MST isn’t.  First of all – this is very individually specific at times.  So let’s look at one example.

You are out on a smoke break at the picnic table with members of your platoon.  One of the NCO’s starts telling a dirty joke.  You sit and listen and then complain because you were offended.  Is this sexual harrassment?

No – it’s not.  You could have gotten up and left.  There was nothing holding you there.  It may be an example of “hostile environment” if it reflects the deeper culture of the unit – but sometimes a joke is just a joke.

Let’s look at the same situation in another environment – like a platoon formation.  Now you are bound to stay and listen to the dirty joke.  You cannot leave.  This is that hostile environment that reflects the unit’s culture – if leadership believes it is acceptable to share offensive material to a captive audience.

That isn’t necessarily a male/female thing either.  It can be a religious preference of the person.  Their personally held beliefs cause them to find it offensive.

I have come to believe in the “comfort factor.”  If you are having “creeped out feelings” then you are probably heading into a bad situation.  Don’t be afraid to chronicle the things that are going on.  You will probably never find “justice” from the military – but those supporting documents will give you a leg up with proving your claim at the VA.

Don’t be afraid to speak out, either.  Even in uniform.  Not all leaders are pigs.  For the purpose of this post – I will say not all men are pigs.  Talk to them, quietly and out of the range of others.  They may not even realize they have been offensive! 

I had a similiar situation when I was EO.  Both the female subordinate and the male leader were friends of mine.  The male leader was actually a pretty good guy – he used to make jokes every now and again that he kept me around for “Hot coffee and clean tent floors.”  I was never offended by those jokes because it was a “private” joke – not spoken in front of strangers – and his behavior toward me never indicated that he saw me as less of a soldier than a man.  Well – I will be danged if he didn’t make the same joke to my female friend who had just gotten transferred into the platoon and it seriously offended her.  Of course it would – it was just bad timing and she had never really worked with him.

He truly wanted to make it right.  He apologized profusely to both her and her spouse who was also in the unit.  He explained that it was really meant to be funny and that he was really, really sorry.  It worked itself out.

Was that a “hostile environment?”  I think it was – from her point of view.  But it was not on purpose – it was just a careless word that was later regretted. 

I was so proud of her for stepping forward and making an issue of it.  She set her boundaries – that was good!  Luckily – this leader was a good one – and saw the mistake he had made and took responsibility.  They worked together fine after that.

Unfortunately – not every story ends like that.  It is really too bad.  Of course, this post has nothing to do with rape, but I hope it helps some readers better understand the problems.

More to come!

Joan

Assumptions

November 5, 2012

Hi All,

I wanted to share what happened last Friday. I called the main VA in Iowa City, to set up my follow-up appointment. The woman who answered the phone had absolutely no personality, and acted like she was very irritated she had to answer her phone. Tip one for this lady, if you don’t like answering the phone to schedule appointments, get another job. Duh!

Anyway, she proceeded in the gruff tone, this is the conversation we had:

VA: NAME?

Me: B****

VA: What’s his last 4?

Me: 1234

VA: Oh this isn’t working, was that V as in Vern, or D as in Dog?

Me: B as in BOY

VA: What’s his first name?

Me: (I gave my first name, which could be considered androgynous)

VA: His middle name?

Me: CATHERINE

VA: Oh

Might I state there is no way anyone could ever guess I was a man on the phone, I most definately have a high-pitched, woman’s voice. She never went on to say she was sorry or anything, just seemed even more irritated that I was a woman. I did make the appointment, but did this whole thing just piss me off. I texted Joan and told her, she wasn’t too happy either. I didn’t read in the rule book, or the guides I got from the VA that ALL VETS ARE MEN. I swear, I put up with enough of that crap while I was in, I sure don’t need it now. And I am not all that thrilled to be going to the VA to begin with. I told my co-workers about her, and they were kind of pissed off too. I said with her personality, she was more like a grouchy old nun teaching school 30+ years ago.

Never assume anything. I am going to lodge a complaint when I have my next appt, maybe get her some sensitivity training or another job. I have figured out there are only a few times EVER that anyone is safe to assume the sex of the person the appointment is for. Setting up an OBGYN appointment, or a prostrate exam. Other than that, and you are at risk for making an ass out of yourself, which is what happens when we assume.

Change can’t come fast enough,

Brigid

The War On Terror

September 11, 2012

I remember the exact moment I heard about the Twin Towers. I was at work, and someone had heard about it on the radio. I thought it was awfully late to be playing an April Fool’s Day joke on us. Then more and more people started talking about it, so I turned on my radio, because I was sure they were all messing with me. It was like a really bad dream. Shock, disbelief, worry, fear. That is what we all felt. Then some of my co-workers went to the fitness room to watch it unfold on the only TV in the building. I couldn’t will myself to go, I didn’t want to see it. I wanted to crawl into a ball and hide under my desk. How could this happen?

Then I thought of my daughter, and called the school. I suddenly wanted to leave work, so I could go and get her, and wrap my arms around her and hold her until we all woke up from this horrific nightmare. The school informed me that several parents had called, some had come to pick up their children. But they encouraged me to let her stay. They promised me the children were all protected from this news, that they felt it was the parent’s right to tell them about this attack. But what they didn’t know was my little girl was in the library, and they were watching it on the TV there. They were just as confused and frightened as we were.

Then President Bush declared The War On Terror. Those words have been drilled into our brains for more than a decade since the anniversary of 9/11. The War On Terror. What is that really? For me, I fought in my own war on terror. The nightmares, the anxiety attacks, the depression, anger, hoplesness. I fight the war on terror daily in my mind. I was terrorized for more than a decade by several of my fellow soldiers, long before this ‘war on terror’. Why didn’t someone come to rescue me, and stop my terror?

I don’t want to take a single minute away from all of our wonderful  troops (non-predators) who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.  I never supported this war, but always supported our troops. Think of all the resources we spent on this ‘war’ and how many lives were lost. How many lives were ruined due to injuries/trauma? What did we gain by fighting this war? I don’t think we did. I think we lost more that we can calculate. The predators really were working overtime these last 11 years. So many MST cases, so many VA Claims.

I just wish President Bush would have ended the war on terror in the ranks. He could have, being the Commander-in-Chief. So could President Obama. What is it going to take?

Praying for change,

Brigid

Dying Young

June 27, 2012

Hello, Friends.

I think that many of us joined the military because we had a dream we wanted to fulfill.  That dream has many facets.  For some it was money for a college education, some it was a chance to do something greater than ourselves, or maybe just a chance to serve our country and give back.  For myself, I wanted to get out of Nowheresville, serve my country, give back and make my Daddy proud.  I saw service to country as an opportunity to do something that not a lot of America had the courage to do.  Only 7% of the current US Population serves, or has served, in the Armed Forces.  To break it down – that means only 7% of us have the courage to protect 100% of your asses!  Being a good soldier is all I ever wanted to be.

These are the lyrics to a little tune from the movie, Rock Star.  The song is sung by Steel Dragon – but I think that the words are written by anyone who has watched their dream die in the face of reality.  I don’t know – could this be the new anthem for the MST survivor?

We All Die Young – Steel Dragon

Risk my soul, test my life
For my bread
Spend my time lost in space
Am I dead?
Let the river flow
Through my callused hands
And take me from my own
The eyes of the damned

It makes my stomach turn
And it tears my flesh from the bone
How we turn a dream to stone

And we all die young
Yeah we all die young

Tell me I know
I lived so afraid
And still we cry alone
With words left unsaid

Yeh it makes my stomach turn
And it tears my flesh from bone to bone
How we turn a dream to stone

And we all die young

I suppose you don’t have to actually lose your life to give your life for your country.  I do live in fear and I leave a lot of things that should be said in the dark places.  Even on this blog – I don’t use my real name – don’t talk about where I live and protect my secret above all else.  I guess I really connect with this song, even though hard rock isn’t my style, I know what he means when he says, “It tears my flesh from bone.”  It doesn’t go away, either.  Every time I learn of a “new member of the club” it breaks my heart. 

Have a day of Peace and Joy!

Joan