Oh, Yes, Me, Too

The leaves finally began turning, not here, where I have rebuilt my life, but, rather, in the mountains linking North to South Carolina. Here, it’s still summer, with daily temps still well in the 80s. There’s no frost on the pumpkins here, just heavy, heavy dew. The trees look tired, droopy, desperate for a cold snap so they finally can rest, but still green. The dogwoods hint at the potential for turning crimson and some Japanese maples across the street toy with rouge on the tips of their miniature leaves, but it’s green, green, way too green for the middle of October. That’s why I mistook the restlessness for anxiety over the state of my health. That’s why I blamed the nightmares on the state of the nation.

It wasn’t until a walk around Pinnacle Lake in South Carolina’s upstate Table Rock State Park this past weekend that memories of past falls hit full force.

First came the sweet memories of walking around this same lake on our honeymoon nearly two years ago. It was a cold day in early January and my new husband and I basked in the silvery quiet of bare branches and frozen firmament. I usually lamented winter, disliking its bleak days and long nights and discounting its palette of greys and browns and whites. That was before I found David, the man clearly made to be my partner and for whom I was made to be partner. With no one else have I felt so safe, so loved, so cherished, and so blessed as I do with my husband.

It took me so long to be ready for a healthy relationship, took me so long to stop seeking damaged people because I felt damaged, which brings me to the memories that punched the air from my lungs this weekend.

On October 17, 1993, I was raped and held captive for five hours, after which I was locked in the mental ward of the nearby hospital for eighteen days because the doctors didn’t believe I had been raped. The pain is less today because I no longer feel damaged, and it’s also more acute because yet another rapist—make that two rapists—are in the news and their victims are the ones defending themselves, not the rapists.

You’d think 24 years would be long enough to change our culture so we wouldn’t still blame the victims, wouldn’t still assume she “asked for it” or “wanted it.” You’d think a quarter of a century would advance us enough to realize no one asks to be assaulted; no one wants to be raped, and no one thrills at being hunted. You’d think enough research has been done, enough reports publicized to ensure everyone knows rapists do what they do for the thrill of dominating and destroying someone, not because they were overcome with passion and desire. Rapists are criminals. Rapists are criminals who believe they have the right to dominate, to coerce, to take whatever and whoever they want whenever they want without repercussions.

You’d think by now we as a nation and as a people would turn our collective disgust toward anyone who brags about grabbing women’s pussies, who brags that with his position of power “you can do anything you want” to women, but no, we elect him president.

You’d think by now we as a nation and as a people would ferret out and cut short the career of anyone who routinely exploited, harassed, and assaulted women, but no, we give that man (those men) awards and tons of money.

DSC02434We still treat women like objects and men like the owners of those objects. We expect women to be flattered by any man’s advances and we expect women to secretly want to be dominated and taken advantage of.  If we deem the woman to be beautiful, she was asking for it. If we think the woman is not beautiful, well, then, she couldn’t possibly have been raped or assaulted because what man would want a woman like her? That’s the argument one rapist used and we put him in charge of our nation, made him responsible for our safety and security. That’s insane.

I was wearing a black turtleneck sweater and old jeans when I was raped at the age of 26. I wasn’t built and I wasn’t beautiful. I was small, which made me a great target.

It was a man I knew, someone I’d met for dinner a few times. He seemed off in a way I couldn’t quite describe but I listened to a friend who said I was being too picky and looking for excuses. I said I didn’t want to see him again but she said I should give him one more chance. What a fool she was and what a bigger fool I was. Even so, one person’s foolishness is not license for someone else to perpetrate a crime. We don’t blame people for being mugged–what did you expect carrying money in your wallet?–or  carjacked–if you drive a car like that, you’re asking to have it stolen.

Every year since then, the turning leaves have triggered feelings of helplessness. The changing slant of the sun’s afternoon rays have reminded me every October of the day I ignored my intuition and nearly paid with my life. Every year, the smell of fallen leaves and fall spices cause my heart to race and my lungs to tighten.

There were two perpetrators in my story: the rapist and the psychiatrist who committed me to the mental ward for 18 days. He said, and I still shake my head in amazement, “I don’t think you were attacked. I think things got out of hand and you feel guilty.” This same doctor also said I was too ill to switch doctors when I asked for a new doctor to treat me. He prescribed eight different drugs for me while I was locked up, drugs to sedate me, make me compliant. This same doctor also told me and my parents on the day I finally was discharged, “You’ll never be fully independent again. Maybe a low stress, part-time job and a supported living arrangement would work but that’s in the future.”

I used to think of myself as damaged goods. Not today. Today I don’t think of myself either as goods or as damaged. The damaged one is the perpetrator and there is nothing good in taking someone’s body against her (or his) will.

I am a survivor and I am fed up with our rape culture, our culture that encourages men to behave badly, that tells men they are manly for behaving badly, that scrambles to protect the athlete whose life will be tarnished because some co-ed dared to say out loud to people in charge, “He assaulted me.” I’m sick of sexism dictating our treatment and maltreatment. I’m sick of us choosing money over people, electing and sanctifying amoral bullies who have no damn business walking the streets much less occupying the highest offices of our companies, our societies, and our government.

A real man is not a criminal. A real man doesn’t take; he gives. A real man doesn’t try to protect his coworker or teammate or student when his criminal behavior comes to light. A real man teaches his son that no means no, no matter what. He counsels his son, explaining the sanctity of the human body and guides him in cultivating respect for boundaries and limits and self-restraint.

A real man is my husband: kind, thoughtful, respectful, loving, asking and never taking. He appreciates me as a survivor and he supports me when I speak up as a survivor. He also speaks truth to other men, challenges them on their sexist, predatory behavior.

Ladies, a real woman never blames another woman for being raped or harassed or assaulted. A real woman, like a real man, knows we never “ask for it,” we never “deserve it,” we never “get what’s coming to us” when we are raped, harassed, pressured to trade our bodies for what should be given on merit.

Call it what it is: it’s rape, not passion, not getting carried away. It’s a felony, a violent crime.

And call me a survivor. Twenty-four years is a long time to carry the burden of someone else’s moral bankruptcy. I’m finally done with it.

Oh, and for the record, I blew the hell out of that quack doctor’s prognostication about independence and employability. As my mother used to say, “Someone calling you a chair doesn’t make you a chair. It’s what you call yourself that matters.”

P.S. I made the little figure in the picture. She was part of my art therapy after I was released from the hospital in November 1993.

 

 

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Wholly, Holy Gfree…Really!

The church my husband and I attend offers a gluten free option during communion; it was a major selling point when we were searching for a spiritual home. Sometimes the gluten free option was Van’s Everything Crackers and sometimes we received rice circles seemingly sized for dolls with self-titled story books.

The church is part of the United Church of Christ, a progressive Christian faith whose “overarching creed is love.”

This post, however, is not about church doctrine or what and why we believe. If you want to know more about the United Church of Christ, check out www.ucc.org.

This post is about the challenges of participating in any community of faith when celiac disease, gluten intolerance, or food allergies separate you from everyone else.

This is about watching the minister tear in half the loaf of bread while proclaiming, “This is my body!” and watching, not with sacred awe, but with horror as bread bits bounce across the table. Maybe they didn’t bounce into the bowl brimming with gfree crackers, I think, only to see glutinous globs on said crackers when the minister proffers the dish moments later.

This is about graciously changing crumb culture:  making clergy cognizant of how crumbs clinging to their fingers create crumby communion crackers, contaminate once celiac-safe crackers.

This is about how I only nibbled a corner of the cracker before covering the rest with a tissue, hoping no one would see me partially partake, and getting sick anyway.

This is about finding the courage to chat with the clergy about cross-contact, about wanting to show them simple steps for celiac-safe communion, and how, strangely shame-laden, I sweet-talked my spouse into speaking in my stead…something I regret.

This is about invitations to potluck gatherings, supper clubs, and even the coffee and tea social hour after service and being unable to participate because participating might be sickening, really sickening. The kind of sickening that comes from a coffee cup proffered by a cheery congregant whose same hands composed the cookie plate so now my coffee cup has cookie crumbs clinging to where I must clasp it.  Conundrum. Can the crumbs be cleansed from my cup or my clasp before I cover my mouth to cough? If not, curses! Those crumbs now course through me. I’m contaminated…glutened.

This is about God calling the clergy to call my husband and me to serve on the Board of Deacons. After we accepted our respective calls, I emailed our minister, asking if I could help the church become more inclusive for those of us on the fringes due to serious medical conditions related to food.

This is about our senior minister then celebrating the ordination of his blessed friend, who broke gfree bread for churchwide communion because he, too, has celiac. The newly ordained to his friend explained he cannot engage with glutinous grain: no loaf, wafer, or cracker. God loves timing a revelation.

This is about our leader rethinking what it means to be inclusive and welcoming after seeing his friend celebrate communion celiac-safely. I only planned to propose plastic to cover the gfree communion crackers to prevent crumby cross-contact. Our minister—by God—went much further. When he announced the 8:30 service would serve gluten free bread for communion, not just for the gluten sensitive but for everyone, my heart heated and my eyes misted.

This is about tears tumbling freely when he tore a piece from the same gfree loaf feeding everyone else and placed it into my hand. In that moment, I felt holy. I felt wholly a part and not apart. After years of feeling separate and not equal, it was Velveteen Rabbit redemption: I suddenly was real, a one-of-Us and not a Them.

This is about the countless times I’ve “participated” in gatherings by sitting at the end of the table, huddled over my brought-from-home container of gfree food while everyone else orders from the menu, or passes around plate after plate of potluck, laughing and sharing the same feast while remarking about how sad it must be to be me, deprived of the communal bounty.

This is about someone seeing, beyond me, that separate is not equal, that a sliver of starch beside sumptuous sourdough disserves the spirit of the Last Supper set by the One whose generosity surpasses any we mortals can muster.

Gfree…you…now…like me.

Amen.

Morality and Medical Issues, Part 2

Tuesday’s post challenged the notion, debunked by gobs of science, that illness and disability somehow are the results of moral failing. After I posted, I went running–it’s my primary treatment for fibromyalgia and for guarding against a host of other ailments–but I couldn’t escape a nagging feeling about the post.

A few blocks into the run it hit me: I feel guilty about being sick.

Again.

Still.

Damn.

I really do believe the God of my understanding isn’t doling out diseases and disabilities as punishment. I absolutely can’t get behind a god who zaps a beautiful baby/child/youth/adult/mother/father/sister/brother/friend/foe with ___ (insert name of a disease or a disability) because he or she or his or her kin didn’t read the bible enough/didn’t attend church enough/wasn’t pure enough/wasn’t repentant enough/ committed some litany of sins. I’d like to think God has better things to do than play whack-a-sinner, although whack-an-a*hole has a certain dark appeal, at least in the abstract. Continue reading Morality and Medical Issues, Part 2

Illness Is Not A Moral Failing

Screaming loudly from more than a corner of the quest to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act is this notion that moral, upstanding people take care of themselves and do not get sick; therefore, they do not need guaranteed health insurance or subsidized premiums to make insurance affordable. This line of thinking suggests we who have chronic illness somehow bring the malaise upon ourselves. We don’t lead clean, healthy lives; instead, we make bad choices which lead to our illnesses. If we put our money on organic food instead of smartphones, I’ve heard said, we’d be healthier. If we pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps and worked to become wealthy like regular Americans, rather than laying around bemoaning our ailments, we’d stop being a drain on the economy . . . and we wouldn’t need to see the doctor so often.

The trouble is, science doesn’t support this kind of thinking. Having a chronic autoimmune disease like celiac disease as I do, or Sjogren’s as my sister does, or ankylosing spondylitis as my other sister does, is more a fuction of genetics plus environmental risk factors than of moralilty. Continue reading Illness Is Not A Moral Failing

Gut Instinct: Finding Stealth Gluten

I’ve delayed writing this post because I wanted a big reveal. Last post I talked about the surprising news from the gastroenterologist that my serology showed evidence of ongoing gluten exposure. I’ve been reeling, trying to find the source. Where is the stealth gluten?

Where, oh where, is the stealth gluten?

After emailing several manufacturers to get reassurances on some beloved faves, and getting no reply from a few (I’m talking about you, Dial soap: just because you’re my husband’s fave doesn’t mean I can’t kick you to the curb), I put my new Nima sensor to work. Continue reading Gut Instinct: Finding Stealth Gluten

Gut Instinct: In Search of an Answer

My gut has been roiling for the past two months and not because of national politics. I got worried about the persistent pain and the degree to which my abdomen appeared to be swollen, so I made an appointment with a new gastroenterologist.

If you have gut issues, you probably understand how stressful it can be to go to the doctor. An MD is no guarantee the person you trust with your health is kind or even competent. As my mother used to say, there’s a top 1/3 and a bottom 1/3 in every medical school’s graduating class, as well as the top 1/3 and bottom 1/3 of medical schools themselves.

The gastroenterologist who diagnosed me with celiac disease in 2009 did so by mail. A week after the endoscopy I received a form in the mail with the following words scribbled on it: Evidence of celiac disease. Restart gluten free diet.

That’s it?

Continue reading Gut Instinct: In Search of an Answer

Complicit in Oppression: What I, a White Person, Must Do to Stop It

I have not written for this blog in the past year because I was busy being a newlywed. That silence ends today with a post that doesn’t talk about gluten. It talks about something even more sickening.

This post sprouted from a conversation I followed on Facebook. The conversation was started by a beautiful woman I had the privilege of learning from when she was a student at the university that employed me (and also is our alma mater). I still learn from her, ten years later, as she challenges white people me to understand and confront our own racism and its crippling, killing effect on her and all people of color.

She said she doesn’t trust white people. A large number of her friends admitted their distrust, too, a distrust we white people have earned with our mercurial support for civil rights and equal rights. We show up when it suits us, and when we show up, we twist the whole thing to suit us. We want “credit” for supporting Black Lives Matter with our signs and bumper stickers but where were we in the demonstrations and marches against racist police brutality? We marched en masse for women but our pussy hats all were pink (didja think about the colors of women of color down there?)

Continue reading Complicit in Oppression: What I, a White Person, Must Do to Stop It

Accessorize Snow Wise

There are so many pretty ways to realize your theme for a wedding without causing yourself to cringe when you later look at the photos. I’d be cringing right now if I’d gone all out, say, with a wedding gown or even bridesmaids’ gowns embroidered with snowflakes. I did investigate options for about a day before deciding classic with a sprinkling of snowflakes was the much better way to go. Looking now at the pix, I am glad I did.

I can thank my my dearly departed mother, who had strong and wise opinions about how far to take a theme. I remember her planning a Halloween-themed birthday party for my sister one year when we were kids. She went all out on the decor but drew the line on serving guts in blood (spaghetti and sausage in tomato sauce). It’s all fun and games, she said, until a kid runs home crying about being forced to eat a bowl of guts and a piece of bone meal cake. Who wants to answer that call, my mother asked, especially if the little party-goer ended up barfing on the new sofa once she got home?

I never forgot that bit of advice and it’s served me well.

Continue reading Accessorize Snow Wise

A Little Flakey on the Decor

With Winter Wonderland as our wedding theme, and our wedding scheduled for January 3rd, we made things easy (and inexpensive) on ourselves with respect to decor and accessories. Planning the wedding during the Advent season meant both online and bricks and mortar retailers were all flaked out, and willing to discount, for the season.

The ridiculous popularity of the Disney movie Frozen contributed even more snowflake-themed products to the marketplace, both a boon and a bear. Sure, there were  more flakes available in September and October, but the aqua and purple hues didn’t quite  complement our wedding palette of midnight blue, silver, and grey, nor did the ubiquitous character visages. “I do and Olaf does, too,” just didn’t seem romantic…or age-appropriate. Talk about the need to let it go.

A word about snowflakes. The snowflake seemed the perfect symbol for our wedding. Each one is special, with its own design and its own purpose. One snowflake by itself is nothing much but when it joins with another snowflake its power and purpose are multiplied. Like the snowflake, we are stronger together than we are on our own, yet we retain our unique purpose and design within the relationship. We are snowflakes and even when it gets warm and we might melt, we simply change shape and flow on. It’s an imperfect simile but it worked better for us than guns and grosgrain. Continue reading A Little Flakey on the Decor

Let’s Makeup

When’s a good time to try new makeup? A) When the dermatologist tells you the ridiculously itchy, scarring rash on your elbows, knees, shoulders and shins is dermatitis herpetiformis, an autoimmune disease linked to celiac disease; B) when the gastroenterologist tells you the DH diagnosis is spot on because the biopsies of your small intestine plus the blood tests all say celiac disease; C) it’s the holidays; or D) you’re getting married.

I go with E) all of the above.

When dermatologist said I had DH, I had no idea how radically my life would change. When the GI doc handed me the celiac disease diagnosis–wait, he didn’t hand it to me or even tell me face to face. I got the happy news in a form letter sent by snail mail: “the results are consistent of a celiac disease diagnosis. Start the gluten free diet,” was all it said.

Given no guidance by the doctor, I dug up everything I could about the two diseases on the Internet. I ordered books from IMG_7865Amazon. I subscribed to magazines like Living Without, the Gluten Free Living, and Simply Gluten Free.

I learned that I had to change not only my diet, but also every pot, pan, utensil, and dish with which I cooked and ate.

After a month of constantly being glutened and having no idea how it happened, I realized I had to change all my health and beauty aids, too. Some posts and pamphlets I read said not to worry about your soap, shampoo, body lotion, facial moisturizers and even makeup, except for lipstick, because you don’t ingest them. Others said absolutely be fanatical about them because, honestly, how many times a day do you touch some part of your skin or hair without even thinking about it and how many times do those same fingers put something into or touch your mouth?

Plus, how do you keep the rinse water away from your mouth when you cleanse your face or wash your hair? I can’t.

If there’s a chance that even tiny bits of something could end up inside me, it has to be gluten free. End of GF soapboxing. Continue reading Let’s Makeup

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