Tag Archives: abuse

How to Fix Your Face

I was eight when I first discover how to close the gap between my private and public face.

It started with cold, damp paper towels pressed against my eyes in the school bathroom. I sat on the toilet, face to the sky, letting the water pool along the swollen skin. It stung. By the time I can leave the stall, most signs of my panic attack had slipped into my normal features – save the swollen, cherry-colored downward crescent of my mouth. I quickly learned how to escape from rooms while drawing the least attention possible as I ran away – to bathrooms, to empty classrooms, to my mother who had to rearrange her life and work in the school office for my health.

From there, it became an art. I prided myself in putting everything back together – in rearranging my face to hide the roaring distress – in settling the surface of the water and allowing the piranhas, with their snapping jaws and glassy eyes, their freedom beneath the stillness.

But fuck if it doesn’t get harder. Maybe it’s that the wounds got worse, the damage more visible.

A bad hookup led to covering bruises, hiding burst blood vessels along and inside my eyes. It looked like someone had thrown paint in my corneas. When I caught others looking, despite the hours I had spent with ice packs over my eyes, I tried to smile. I can’t remember if my lip was split or if something else made my mouth ache. No one asked about the red-tinged bruises lining my throat. But I remembered them every time I swallowed.

I covered the raised, patchy mess of my face with plain Greek yogurt. I left metal spoons in my freezer, then pressed them against my eyelids. I wish I could say I had seen stars – instead I saw nothing.

When I opened my eyes, the room struggled to take shape before me.


I’m older now.

My private face has shifted almost entirely inward – the river has frozen over just enough to allow safe passage. I swallow panic and it is sharp against my tongue. But sometimes I find myself locked in a bathroom stall, chin tilted skyward, cleaning the saltwater from my cheeks – reducing the swelling with paper towels as cold as I can handle. I feel so small in these moments… as if I’ve stepped out of time and I’m eight again, somehow equally privy to the horrors to come and surprised when they arise.

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Let the Monsters Die

I think we’re allowed to let the monsters die
and yeah, I know, it stung when you pried your limbs
from between its teeth – there are
bruises on your joints that still ache years later

might never stop
and you’ll carry that pain
wearing it like a name tag,
like a reason.

remember
you climbed out of the beast on your own
it might remember your taste but it can’t
bite down and
feel your skin against its tongue anymore

it is too old to chase after you
its teeth are rotting, sliding between chapped
lips onto the ground – unruly headstones – still peppered with
memories of you,

and you lived.

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The Ex

Here’s what I want to say:

The last time I was in Minnesota, I was shoulder deep in an abusive relationship. I remember sneaking off to take my ex’s phone calls, knowing how angry he’d be if I didn’t answer every one. When I made him angry, he’d either threaten to kill himself or tell me it was my fault, that I didn’t understand how much he loved me and blame me for hurting him. Looking back, it was terrifying. I remember being in the car with my best friend as lake after lake yawned, open and deep, alongside the highway. She told me I didn’t deserve to be treated so cruelly – told me she’d love me and support me, but I needed to leave him.

I knew she was right. My best friends are always right and each had their own reason to hate my ex. But his hold on me was so strong that I couldn’t see around it, couldn’t fathom how much water I was swallowing. All I could do was watch the lakes scream by, desperately wishing to sink beneath them. It was the only way I could see myself escaping. That September, the Ex came into town on his way to live with another woman. He dragged me to a tattoo shop where he wanted to get matching ink. When I refused, he got a tattoo for the woman with whom he was romantically entangled instead. That night, he took me back to his hotel room and demanded that I drink with him. I didn’t feel comfortable saying no, so I drank. Hours later, the word ‘no’ was still lodged in my windpipe. I laid down in the shower and cried, nauseous and confused, as he changed the sheets. I heard him call the other woman and tell her how much he loved her, how much he wished she was with him right then.

It’s been over six months since I last spoke to my ex. When I called him to tell him he was no longer welcome in my life, I wept but I did not apologize. I explained how abusive he had been, how crazy he made me feel, how cruelly he had treated me – and he agreed, before begging me to stay. He told me he would kill himself if I stopped talking to him. I told him I hoped he would reconsider that, but I needed to go.

And I left.

A few days ago, I boarded a flight to Minnesota. I’ve returned for a moment to the very lakes that I thought could free me from his clutches. I’ve returned to some of the women who held my hands and led me from the dark waters, who taught me to breathe on my own. I could not be more grateful. There are still days when I’m furious – at myself for staying and at him for hurting me – but there are more days when I’m happy, thankful, and whole.

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Some say fire, some say ice.

I do not know how to love any differently, but I almost wish I could.

First, light linguistics. Then, the way it all falls apart and comes together.

When my friends share their troubles, I am always the first person to offer my fists. “I’ll fight them,” I say, and most laugh but some pause. It doesn’t bother me – I don’t know if I’m joking either. I offer to fight at least three people a day. There’s a clear connection between love and violence, as if the damage I’m willing to dole out is somehow demonstrative of the depths to my love.

I’ve never understood that in myself. I try to wrap my brain around it, try to reframe it, but at the end of the day, I offer my fists as love more often than not.

Recently, life has forced my perception of love to the forefront. I have an urge to tidy my thoughts, tailor them to one of the following statements:
a) I love you so much I would burn this world to the ground for you.
b) I love you so much I would rebuild this entire world for you.

I can’t decide which is a healthier love to give or receive. I just can’t. Every time I lean into one, life pulls me toward the other. And maybe it doesn’t matter, maybe it’s just another jumble stuck in my head, but I can’t escape these thoughts. How do I want to love? How do I want someone to love me?

In quiet moments, I recognize that I don’t respond as well to love that threatens, that punishes, that growls from between clenched teeth. I can’t feel whole that way – and yet that’s the type of love that leaps from my stomach, all fists and knives and wide-eyed panic.

Some days I am soft – I am all slow touches, calming statements, validating conversations. But that course brings vulnerability, closely pursued by anxiety. True vulnerability feels akin to manipulation, as if the expression of my feelings could unfairly sway someone else. I fear the resulting resentment. And so I try to pack away the sweetness, the breadth, the depth of love. I pack it between clenched fists. I push it into combat boots and walk around town with a scowl when I’m alone.

This weekend marks the end of a beautiful journey in terms of love and I’m still afraid that I’ve ruined it somehow. I’m afraid that my emotions are too wild and heavy to hold and that, when I express them, I will drive away the very person I desperately want to keep close. I am petrified by the complexity of my heart, the way it starts and stops. It hurts, to feel everything so deep. It eats away at a person – even when it’s lovely, even when it’s beautiful. It hurts, but it matters and so I try not to wince.

It gnaws on my ribs, hungry, and I can’t beat it away. It echoes in my chest. I don’t know how to love any differently, I don’t know if it’s better to destroy the world for someone or to rebuild it for them, I don’t know, I don’t know. All I know is the dull ache beyond my lungs never stops, not fully, and I don’t know if it ever will.

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Queen of Sad Things

I’ll be the first to say it: my body of work is largely depressing, a sea of sad stories that stretch far beyond the horizon. It isn’t often easy to read, nor is it meant to be, because stories of bodily assault should never be easily tolerable. Their very nature insists on being difficult, tragic, scarring.

As a species, we tend to deal with trauma in a few specific ways. We can let it engulf us. We can swallow it. Or we can cut off its head and parade down the streets, blood dripping on our shoes as we refuse to stay quiet.

There is no right way to do it. I have tried staying silent. I have tried being swallowed. Only now, in this age of unrest, do I feel comfortable demanding to be heard.

I was eight and her name was Andrea. I was eighteen and his name was Niko. I was twenty-one and their names were Audrey and something I didn’t quite catch.

I was in school. I went home with him. I was at a party and everyone else was drunk.

I went back. I went back. I burnt everything down.

And now I speak – no, I shout. I scream. But why?

First and foremost, I write for myself. I write to process what has happened, to glean meaning from the wreckage, to find peace in the aftermath. Writing is a wonderful and healthy alternative to being dead, so I write. Additionally, these events have shaped the manner in which I interact with the world. To ignore them is tantamount to erasing my past and, without this context, you will not understand how incredible my existence is today.

I share my writing for four reasons.

  1. I didn’t know women could be perpetrators of assault. I did not know a woman could hurt me this badly. When I was first assaulted in a classroom at school, I didn’t even realize what had happened. I didn’t have the language for it. For years, I felt like I was a monster, like there was this consuming darkness in my lungs. I felt like it was my fault. When I was researching data for my thesis, I couldn’t find much about female sex offenders – and if I can’t find it, that means other victims can’t find it either. It is vital that other survivors hear me. Being able to articulate your experiences cannot happen without vocabulary, without language, and I am here to scream for them, too.
  2. I am not a ‘good’ survivor. It is important to be seen exactly as flawed and imperfect as I am in conjunction with my experiences – because the police asked me why I went to Niko’s house alone, because people told me I shouldn’t have gone to Audrey’s party, because people keep finding ways to tell me that the assaults were my fault. “you shouldn’t have… you could have… you didn’t…”

    No more. I am not a ‘good’ survivor. I didn’t follow the rules that people rubbed in my face afterward, and by no means does that translate to fault. I want survivors to know that. There’s nothing you can do that justifies sexual violence against you.
    It was never your fault.

  3. I want to be more transparent with my mental illness. There is so much stigma around people with PTSD – how we function, what we look like, what we’re capable of. We’re not all soldiers returning from war, but my diagnosis is just as valid as anyone’s. I want to reframe the conversation about mental illness. This past Tuesday, as I sat in a training room, the speaker told us how to deal with ‘brain sick’ patients. They spoke to us as if no one in the room could relate to a man dissociating in a lobby – as if we had never had nightmares we couldn’t shake. And I felt such shame in that moment, like my illness was always going to make me an Other, like I couldn’t belong here. They can’t tell that I’m sick, but only because they have a very clear idea of what sick should look like. I’m here to tell you that, unless you live with a mental illness, your perception of the mentally ill is probably incorrect. I want to change how we are seen – I want to change the limits people think we can reach –  I want to excel and grow and become successful enough to educate the masses: we are sick, but we are capable. Furthermore, I want other survivors to see that it really does get better.
    {I promise.}
  4. There are still assholes in my life who make rape jokes – who make PTSD jokes – who spread rumors about my sexual promiscuity to excuse their flippant disregard of my safety – who told me I deserved it – who basically make time to announce to the world that they are trash. I write to remind them that I am ill, that I am conquering, that I refuse to be quiet in the face of their cruelty. I write to stick in their brains. I write because the next time they open their mouths to say they totally raped a guy on a video game, the next time they expect me to laugh at a joke where I am the punchline, I want them to picture me as a child.

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    Picture this little girl crying herself to sleep – refusing to sleep alone until she was eighteen – throwing up in the dorm room showers for three hours afterward – entering a psychiatric hospital barely a month after turning nineteen – spending years wanting to die. I want them to see me. I want to be inescapable. I want them to feel guilty. If you picture and you choose to make that PTSD joke anyway, I hope you fucking choke.

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And now, a brief note for those who know me outside of my blog. Please do not ask me for details about the assaults. If I want to talk to you about these situations, I will initiate the conversation. Otherwise, let me be. Do not ask my other friends and family for details. If you’re worried about me after reading this post, please know that I am healthy and happy. My life is exceptionally beautiful right now. I am okay.

If you read this post and you recognized Andrea, Niko, or Audrey’s name, absolutely do NOT talk to them about me, do not ask them about me, do not share this post with them, and do not talk to our former coworkers about my assault. I did not include their last names for a reason. I do not want to speak to them, I do not want to speak to you about them, nor do I want to be spoken about to them or to anyone. My assault is not a circus act, it is not a gossiping point, it is a tragedy and they have taken enough from me. Please respect that. I take my safety very seriously and so should you. If you cannot, you will be cut out of my life so fast that you’ll get whiplash. If, however, you have also been assaulted (either by these individuals or someone else), and you want to talk survivor-to-survivor, then I am absolutely here for you.

As always, thank you for reading.

It really did get better. Really.

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On Writing (this blog)

Let’s be honest with each other.

I have a second blog — or rather, this is my second blog, the one I deemed safe for my family and more distant friends. It’s Facebook friendly. I write about assault but provide no details, I explain my brighter thought patterns, I am honest but vague. But if you’ve spent any time with me, you know that I have an annoying habit of saying everything. I’m not so much an open book as I am a magic mirror, rehashing and justifying and pleading as I try to make sense of these stories.

But I wanted to have a space to reach out, if only slightly. To speak in a way that could be comfortably share with almost-strangers and people who have known me since I was small.

My other blog has way more swears and graphic details, more terribly honest stories and accounts of abuse and nights spent crying and days spent thoroughly rutted in depression. But I knew I didn’t want my family to be exposed to that, so instead I revived this one. ‘Krista Takes the World.’ And I think I will, but that’s not the point here. The point is, I created a space because my parents were sad that I wouldn’t share my writing with them and I love my parents. And I’m a sucker for praise because, let’s face it, I require attention to live.

But is it honest to write like this, so selectively, avoiding hot button topics and general themes so that my words are digestible for the public? Is it honest to write and delete posts every week just because I know I don’t want my family’s worried whispers to trail after me? Is it honest or is it cowardly to hide the stories that would put people on edge?

I’m still sorting that out. Especially since my blog became a weird component in me leaving my job — I’ve become painfully aware that, despite my intentions, my writing is up for grabs the moment I publish it. At the same time, I am not presenting my full story if I leave out my mental health issues, my illness, and my disability.

For the most part, you as a reader are here for one of two reasons: you either enjoy me as a person and want to see what my brain’s doing or you enjoy my writing and are pleasantly surprised that I’m also a person. In other words, most of you are here because you know me. If knowing more about me and the struggles I face somehow devalue me in your eyes, I’m not entirely sure I want to know you.

Anyway.

I’m mapping out what I want this space, my space, to become. I’ll continue writing the nitty-gritty elsewhere, but I’m striving to be more honest here too. If I write something that makes you nervous, or worried, or scared, please remember – I am a person first. Talking to me rather than about me shows that you’ve remember I’m a person, too. I share these stories both to remind everyone that we’re not alone in our struggles and to work through everything around me.

So yes, this PTSD-riddled major-depressive-disordered hard-of-hearing ball of anxiety will keep writing and sometimes (oftentimes) the stories will not be pretty. And that’s okay. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to write them, but I’ll try not to mind if you don’t read them. We’ll just keep existing parallel to each other, touching base however makes us both comfortable.

 

Oh, and one last note — even at my darkest, even with my most difficult struggles, I feel so thankful for my life as it is today. My god, this is legions beyond what I ever imagined I would have when I was growing up. This is good, my friends. This is more than I dreamed and I’m still reaching upward. We’re going to be okay.

 

 

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Bravery – or, Why I Called the Police this Morning

When I was in high school, I gave a presentation in my AP Lit class about suicide. I only remember the ending: “I would prefer if you didn’t tell your friends I wanted to die. But if you do, know that they will not believe it.”

And the class cheered, but they were torn about it. Some people just looked down at their desks, memorizing the lines in the wood to avoid wondering if anyone could guess that they were suicidal, too. Someone came up to me after the bell rang, when the water in my eyes had subsided, and thanked me for being brave.

I tried to explain that I wasn’t, but they refused to hear me.

We walked to lunch separately. My head buzzed as if the word ‘brave’ had split into bees within me, bumping and stinging my insides. I didn’t feel brave – I felt selfish. Telling stories is the only way I stay afloat and, yes, some people connect to them but ultimately I was just saving myself, right?

When I think of someone brave, I do not picture myself. I walk into conflict and discomfort with my shoulders sloped, head down but eyes up. Bravery doesn’t move in a broken body like mine, or at least that’s the narrative I’ve written for myself. Bravery is strong and bravery is able and anyone who’s seen me after a nine hour shift knows that my body can sustain neither of those attributes for long.

But maybe bravery looks different on different bodies, morphs to fit our skin even when we’re convinced we cannot wear it.

I don’t know if what I’m doing is brave. All I can say is that I’m exhausted by the alternative, the silence, the quiet in which predators do their best work. So this morning, just minutes ago, I called the police on an old acquaintance-turned-monster. Is this bravery? The refusal to allow his actions to go unnoticed? The limping into an arena that is primed for his benefit, his success, his freedom?

I don’t know.

I’m just so tired.

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