Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Navigating Shit Creek

I went to the laundry room yesterday here at Mom's to do laundry.  I noticed a large digging machine in her back yard (a Bobcat to be exact). 

"Why is that digger in the backyard?"

"Because they are fixing the septic tank."



"But I need to do laundry.  And dishes.  And I need a shower."

"Well, the water will be shut off soon."

"But MOOOOM!!  What about Shit Creek??"

My mother is not very good with seeing the big picture.  She was completely forgetting that we have a wedding coming up this weekend, and we are moving out of her house finally.  In order to move, we have to have the back door accessible for the pickup.  The septic tank is directly behind the back door.  Where there was once concrete, there is now a large, dirty, muddy mess.  Moving our stuff out of the house will now be very challenging. 

Possibly the most disconcerting effect of this short-sighted digging in the backyard is the loss of our beloved "Shit Creek." 

Between six months and a year ago, my mother's very old septic tank decided it had enough of our shit and went on strike.  The resulting mess amounted to a large lagoon of sewage water in the lot behind the house, and a stream of sewer water going from our septic tank to the lagoon, above the ground.  My son, Colton, affectionately named it "Shit Creek."  We have had several months of laughs and jokes about shit creek at our house.  One night while visiting with my friends Amanda and Cory, it was decided that Colton should be the first person to navigate Shit Creek.  We had a boat picked out and everything.  The kids have a large plastic sailboat, which used to be a sandbox, then a wading pool.  It was moored by the tree next to Shit Creek.  I tried to talk Colton into making the maiden voyage down Shit Creek in the boat.  I told him he would be just like Lewis and Clark, and would be able to plant a flag or someting where Shit Creek meets Poopy Pond.  In several years, people will build a monument in his name and will visit it and tell their kids and grandkids about their trip on the Shit Creek Trail.  Cory, being a photographer and creative guy that he is, came up with several ideas for photo ops, my favorite being Colton and his brother, Tyler, on the bow of the boat doing a reenactment of the scene in Titanic were Jack says, "I'm the king of the world!"  Colton was not interested.

Colton is getting married this Saturday.  Cory agreed to do Colton's wedding and engagement pictures.  Part of the arrangement made for Cory to do Colton's pictures, was that Colton would navigate Shit Creek in the boat, and we could take pictures.  This gave birth to so many ideas. A pirate flag?  A viking outfit?  Should he recreate the picture of George Washington on the Potomac?  We were giddy with excitement and I imagined the night of Colton's wedding, getting pictures of him and his bride sailing away into happiness down Shit Creek.  We even had talks of holding the wedding on the banks of Shit Creek, but the bride to be vetoed this decision.  Something about a white dress and dirty sewage water did not strike her fancy. 

All of this excitement came to an end yesterday with the arrival of the digger. I watched in horror as they dug out around the septic tank, lowered the new one into the hole and covered it back up.  Shit Creek ran dry. 

As I was watching my dear brother putting the last pipe in place for the inaugural flushing of the toilet, I thought about how perfect this timing actually is.  For over a year now, our family has been "up Shit Creek without a paddle."  We have been stuck, mired, in this mess of poor decisions (mostly mine) and bad luck with seemingly no way to paddle out of it.  This week, we have finished most of the work on our house so that we can move, Tyler has a job, Mother has her new septic tank, Colton moved into his own home and is getting married on Saturday, Mike's disability finally came through, and I have finally made peace with my new career as housewife/mom/babysitter.  I suppose it is only fitting that with the dawn of the changes in our lives, Shit Creek should go by the wayside.  I guess we no longer need it. 

I said my private goodbyes last night and made the silent wish that our next year will not be spent navigating Shit Creek again. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Redefining Normal

October 14, 2013

I was in my office at the prison that afternoon.  It was count time, so the inmates were in their cells and the place was quiet.  My phone rang.  It was my husband.

"Uh, Robin, you need to go out to your car and check your phone." (cell phones are a no-no in prison)

"Why? What is going on?  Can't you tell me over the phone?" (all phone calls are recorded)

"Well...CNN is trying to get in touch with you."


My husband had a heart attck in May 2013.  He lost a lot of blood and had some problems with memory and cognition.  I thought the man must have lost about two pints of blood too many.  Why would CNN want to talk to me?  This must be a ploy to get me out of my office for some reason.  It made no sense to me.

"CNN?  What?  Have you lost your mind?"

"Just go check your phone Robin.  This is big.  Really big."

"Why does CNN want to talk to me?"

"It's about the rape case.  This is huge stuff, Robin.  Anonymous is involved.  Just go check your phone."

Thinking I was on a wild goose chase, I grabbed my keys and told our clerk I was going to step out of the institution for a bit.  I made the long walk to my car completely confused as to what was going on.  I'm a nobody.  A mom from Missouri with five kids, a boring life and I rarely even watched the news, let alone made appearances.

I got to my car in the parking lot and turned on my phone.  As the phone booted up, I was getting notification upon notification about missed calls and voice mails.  Oh jeez, what had I done?  The phone numbers on the call log were from everywhere.  Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, New Jersey, they were all there.  I called my husband back.

"Ok, what is going on?  Really?"

"The article about the girls case has gotten national attention.  All of the news groups are trying to talk to you about it.  Anonymous is now involved and they released a statement saying they were going to go after the Nodaway County officials because of their handling of the case.  This is a big story."

I probably sat alone in my car for 15 minutes with my jaw resting on the steering wheel.  I didn't know what to think, feel, or do.  I hadn't told Paige that I had ever done an interview because I didn't expect anything to come of it.  I was also still in disbelief about what I was hearing.

As those of you who are regular readers of my blog know, my daughter, Paige, and her best friend, Daisy, were sexually assaulted in January 2011.  The case was a frustrating mess.  The charges against the boys involved were dropped, with the exception of the juvenile in the case, who pleaded guilty.  One of the boys was the grandson of a former Missouri State Representative and we were told and believed that political favors had been called in between the Prosecuting Attorney and the grandfather.  For almost two years, Daisy's mother, Melinda, and I had been fighting with the State of Missouri to rectify the situation to no avail.  We had come to a point in our lives where we were trying to move on and gain acceptance of what was and what would never be.

In March of 2013, I was contacted by a reporter for the Kansas City Star newspaper.  He was a young guy, very nice, but seemed inexperienced and a bit naive.  He asked to interview me about the case.  At this point, Paige was not involved with anything having to do with the case.  She was hibernating in her room every day and was not able to even go to school because of PTSD.  She was done talking about what happened, understandably.  I agreed to the interview with the reporter with the condition that he not use my name or Paige's name in the article.  He agreed to those conditions and we met at a local restaurant for an interview.  The interview lasted a couple of hours.  We had talked to media before, briefly, when the charges were dropped in the case.  For the most part, no media outlets wanted anything to do with our story.  We had reached out asking for help and everyone was either too intimidated by the circumstances, or they were not interested in talking with us.  Life goes on and we were searching for some type of normalcy in our lives.  Based on previous experiences, I had no hope or thought that this interview would be any different than the others.  This young reporter would do the story, the paper may or may not publish it, and we will continue with life as it is.

I found out the following day that I was wrong on all accounts.

I got to work on the morning of October 13 and was told by a co-worker that our article came out in the paper that day.  Apparently, the captain shack at the prison was all abuzz about the article.  Only a few people knew that the 13 year old mentioned in that article was my daughter.  I called the captain shack and told the captain on duty that day about the connection and asked him to try to curb the chatter.  He agreed.

After I looked through my phone and listened to voice mails from reporters from various news agencies asking for a comment, I went back into the prison to my office in total disbelief.  I found a sergeant with whom I was friends and I went into her office and shut the door.  I rambled on about CNN and Anonymous and WHAT THE HELL was I going to do?  I wasn't ready for this.  After speaking to my sergeant friend, I went to my boss.  He had no idea what I was talking about, no idea who Anonymous is and looked at me like I'd just told him that an alien spaceship had landed in my backyard. 

Driving home from work that night, I called Melinda.  Her son answered the phone and said she was in the dressing room and couldn't come to the phone.  I assumed she was clothes shopping.  When I got home that night, the TV was turned to CNN and Melinda and Daisy were on the screen.  It all felt so surreal to me.  I went to the bathroom and while I was emptying my bladder, a producer for the Anderson Cooper 360 show called me.  Who in the hell talks to Anderson Cooper's producer while on the toilet??  Me, that's who.  And there the strangeness began.

That night I went into Paige's room to break the news to her that I had done an interview with the KC Star and that things were blowing up in the media.  I told her she could choose whether we came out in public with our names or not.  She sat on the edge of the bed and with this pale, big-eyed look asked me simply, "Do people believe us?"  I said, "Yes, they do.  Lots of them."  She thought for a minute and said, "Ok, let's do it."

We spent the rest of that week doing media appearances.  One day we spent from 10 a.m. until Midnight interviewing.  Inside Edition called us at 9 p.m. and said they were sending a news truck up and wanted to interview us.  We were on CNN talking to Erin Burnett, Fox news, NBC, ABC, and Paige and I did an interview for Al-Jazeera network via Skype.  Things were moving so quickly, I didn't even have time to process what was happening.  Paige and I learned how to look at the camera and answer intensely personal questions posed by someone who wasn't even in the room with us.  The Dr. Phil show called and wanted us to come out ASAP to be on the show.  His producer was relentless.  I finally asked if the boys' families would be on the show as well and was told they would.  We declined the interview based on that news, and they continued to pursue us.  We accepted an interview with 20/20 and got ready to fly out to New York that weekend. 

We were living paycheck to paycheck with nothing to spare.  A few of our friends pitched in and gave Paige and I some spending money to take and money to cover the cost of checking our baggage at the airport.  The night before we left, I was packing to go and my phone was either ringing or sounding a notification constantly.  I hadn't taken the time to really think about what we were doing.  We just accepted almost every interview offer we had because we didn't really know any better.  Never having worked with the media or been in a position of momentary "fame,"  this was all foreign.  That night I finally gave myself permission to shut my phone off and sleep. 

The trip to New York was interesting.  It was the first time Paige had ever flown.  She held my hand during take off and when we landed at LaGuardia.  We had drivers take us to the airport and pick us up at the airport and shuttle us to our hotel, which was right on Times Square, next door to the musical, "Chicago."  One week prior to this, we were just Robin and Paige.  Nobody knew who we are and we never even considered the idea that we would soon be all over international news and in an upscale hotel on Times Square.  We really didn't ask for the attention and weren't sure what to think of it.  We didn't have time to think. 

In New York, our companion from 20/20 took us all around Times Square.  We loved it.  We ate authentic Indian food, shopped in the stores, and saw Times Square at night, fascinated by the culture of the city.  We stopped at a street vendor who was selling "I <3 20="" a="" about="" absolutely="" actually="" agreed="" all.="" an="" and="" anything="" at="" back="" be="" because="" cheap="" constant="" day.="" day="" details="" did="" don="" emotional="" family="" flew="" for="" forget="" gathered="" get="" go="" got="" had="" hadn="" handling="" her.="" here.="" home.="" home="" horrible="" hotel="" how="" huge="" i="" interview="" interviews.="" isn="" it.="" it="" just="" later="" life="" looking="" meltdown.="" merchandise.="" more="" nbsp="" new="" next="" night="" no="" not="" notice="" of="" on="" ou="" our="" p="" paige="" questioning="" recounting="" room="" said="" same="" say.="" see="" she="" some="" something="" souvenirs="" t="" taken="" taking="" that="" the="" there="" thing="" this="" time="" to="" toll="" total="" trip="" up="" us="" wanted="" was="" we="" well.="" were="" with="" would="" york.="" york="" you="">
Of course we all took a lot of criticism for talking to the media so openly.  We quickly found out who our friends were and ones we thought were friends before were jumping ship like fleas off a dog.  When we started turning down interviews, the interest in us waned and life returned to some semblance of normal.  I turned down an interview with People Magazine and we were still saying "no" to Dr. Phil almost daily.  I got back to work the next week and the inmates were all telling me how they saw me on TV and that I was "famous."  Co-workers were giving me the play by play of what their friends and family were saying about the case, asking about the people we had met and our experiences.  The week after we returned from New York, I lost my job in a rather dramatic way and ended up on a mental health unit at a local hospital.  That story is fodder for another blog entry at a later date, but you get the idea.  I had hit fork in the road and there was no turning back. 

Now a year later, life has returned to a new sort of normal.  Paige is finally back in school and we no longer have reporters calling or knocking on the door on a regular basis.  We recently spent time with a documentary film company who is looking to feature the girls in a documentary project.  It seems like a good project and worthy of our time, but I must say that being in front of the camera again is disturbing.  At some point after a big event like this case, you just want to be yourself again.  Paige wants to be Paige, a junior in high school with a boyfriend and homework.  I just want to be Robin.  Not Paige's mom, not the angry mother on the TV, just Robin.  People still contact Paige and me from time to time and tell us how Paige's story has inspired so many girls to tell their own stories about sexual assault.  I have been told numerous times how brave I must be and how proud of Paige I must be.  I am very proud of Paige.  As far as bravery or strength goes, I guess that's in the eye of the beholder.  Most of the people saying that were not around for our meltdowns or screaming matches or crying fits.  Being considered a role model or an inspiration to others is heavy business and I am always astonished when people know my name or contact me because they heard the story.

Our lives will never be the same as they were before the media blitz.  Melinda and I have heard crazy stories about how we have been offered book deals and movie deals and how we are making a lot of money off the girls story.  These things are not true.  All we want is for our girls' stories to be remembered.  We don't want this all to be in vain.  If we helped one person make peace with something in their own lives, it was worth it to me.  We did meet some really awesome people I now consider my friends and had the honor of people telling us their own stories.  After this past year and many changes, we are still figuring out and redefining normal.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Writing a letter

I know I just posted  blog entry already this week, but when ideas pop up, it's time to write.

I have had this song on my mind lately and can't shake it.  It is "Letter to Me" by Brad Paisley.  The song is about him going back in time and writing himself a letter at 17, telling himself all of the things he needs to know about his future which is unfolding.  The song always leaves me teary-eyed and feeling nostalgic. Since the song has been playing on a loop in my head, I have been thinking about things I would say to myself in a letter if I could go back in time.  My priority would be to reassure myself that everything is going to turn out fine, during those times of intense suffering and pain.  I saw a sign recently which said something like, "My record for surviving bad days so far is 100%."  Sometimes that deep dark hole seems so lonely and insurmountable.  I would make easing my own pain a priority.

At 17 I didn't have a clue what life was all about, or what I had in store for me.  There aren't a lot of things I would change, but I would definitely like to have more insight during some situations.  I didn't know that I would have five children, two marriages and a masters degree in social work.  I had no idea that money did not come easy and raising a family was hard work.  My life at this point is so far away from how I envisioned it as a teenager.  It's not all bad and I wouldn't trade most of it for anything. 

If I could write a letter to me when I was 17, one of the first things I would tell myself is:  have fun.  Stop being so uptight.  Be yourself.  Nobody cares what your hair looks like when you walk across the gym floor from the parking lot to your first class. 

The boys who seem to be nerds or beneath your social status are actually really cool guys who do really cool things with their lives after graduation.  Don't worry about your reputation.  You don't have one.  Tell Mike C the real reason why you had to tell him you couldn't go to prom with him.  He will understand.  Go to prom with Tim M.  He dies after graduation and you will always feel bad for saying no.  Prom does not equal a relationship. 

Hug Tori every single time you see her.  Life changes so quickly and she won't always be just a phone call away.  Just be there for her.  That MIP ticket she got will NOT ruin her life and her mother won't hate you forever.  When you drive into that random barn during the rain storm with Tori, Ernie and David, stop worrying about someone finding you.  It doesn't happen and you all will have more fun if you will just stop looking over your shoulder. 

Your friends in high school will still be around when you are an adult out of school.  Cherish those friendships and don't take them for granted.  These are the people who know who you really are and share some very fond memories with you.  Don't lose track of the other people in your class.  When you are middle-aged, you will miss them all and wish you knew where they were. 

Tell Derek Cooper that you love him.  When he comes by to see you after his brain surgery, spend some more time with him.  When he sees you at Pizza Hut and opens the door for you, hug him.  Talk to him for a minute.  That will be the last time you see him alive.

Do not let that Campbell boy drive home from Bethany that night when you guys go to the bar.  He dies in the arms of one of your best friends that night and your lives change forever.

You are not responsible for anyone else's feelings or emotional well-being.  If they put you in that position, RUN.  People are going to feel what they feel and do what they do and it has absolutely nothing with you, how much you love them, or how much time you spend with them.  You can't make someone stable or make them love themselves.  This includes your mother.

Go easy on Tyler.  He can't help a lot of what he does or says.  At night when he can't sleep, don't get mad, just hold him. You will feel so much better and so will he.  Encourage his interests more.  Play a game with him even if you aren't interested.  He's going to be your rock sometimes and he needs to know that you will be his too.

Pay more attention to Colton.  Your relationship with him is tenuous and it can go either way.  Take more pictures of him.  Hug him more often.  He feels lost and left out.  When Paige comes to you with bruises and red marks saying Colton hit her, she's lying.  Colton is going to do ok. Don't leave your facebook page open for him to post statuses about you pooping your pants.

Be more of a parent to Paige and less of a friend.  Paige is also going to be ok.  When she wants to spend the night at Daisy's, take her aside and have a strong talk with her about drinking, boys, and asking for help.  If she calls you to come get her, don't send Colton.  Wake up and go yourself.  When she asks for a cat, say NO.

Stop working so many hours.  At some point in your life, you will not have your job to fall back on, your friends will not be there, and your family will all be strangers because you haven't paid attention to them.  You will never make as much money as you think you need and less is more sometimes.  You're killing yourself to provide for your family and it's not necessary.  Chill out.  Bake a cake.  Take a day off. 

Be prepared for anything you do in your office to be public knowledge.

When you lose your job and you think your life is over, know that now, a year later, you will be happier than you have been in many years.  Don't go to the hospital.  You know what you need to do.  When you see your kids out playing in the leaves in the rain in November, play with them.  Don't waste a whole six months crying.  Things will work out and they aren't that bad.  Enjoy your time with your grandson.  He needs you. 

Have fun with your husband while his health is good.  Spend time with him.  Nourish your friendship.  Keep him as your best friend.  Throw out the alcohol the first time you see him with it.  Let him know you love him.  Don't leave him in charge of paying your mortgage payments.  Insist that he takes time off work when he needs to. 

Don't take medication to numb you.  You don't need that much medication to sleep and you don't need the addiction that follows.  Xanax is not your friend.  When that doctor puts you on it, run fast in the other direction.  Don't medicate yourself to the point of being unable to enjoy your family when you are home.  Your life isn't that bad and it can, and will, get worse.  Be prepared. You will survive.

Be nice to your mom, but understand her illness is not yours.  You can be a good daughter but still set boundaries.  It's ok to disagree with her.  She is not well and it may take you years to figure that out.  She loves you.  Remember that.

When you go to NYC, be sure to visit the 9/11 memorial regardless of time or expense.  You will regret not going.

The world is going to change and so are you.  Things are not as simple and fun as they seem at 17, but they aren't all that bad.  Stop trying to grow up so quickly.  The world will change you soon enough and you need to have fun while you are able.  You will be bringing children into perilous times and you need to be prepared to equip them to handle the world as it will be, but don't forget to enjoy raising them.  True happiness comes from those friends and family who stick with you through all of the things life may throw at you.  Never take those relationships for granted.  If your gut says not to trust someone, listen to that.  Your gut will never be wrong.  Don't waste your musical talents.  God gave them to you for a reason.

Finally, never doubt that God loves you.  There will be times ahead when you will question Him, doubt Him and curse Him, but he is always waiting there to pick you back up.  Go to church.  Get into that habit.  Most of all, make sure you instill these values into your children.  Give them the gift of unwavering faith in God and security of knowing  He is there no matter what.  You owe them that. 

While you are writing this letter, your grandson and your best friend's baby will be playing together and being adorable.  At 40, your life is not what you expected.  It is considerably more wonderful than you can imagine. 

Now, go play with those babies. They are growing up even while you are writing this letter.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Getting Where I'm Going

"If you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there."  I don't know who originally said that, or where it came from, but I used it often when doing substance abuse counseling.  I also think this could serve as my life motto; never knowing where I'm going and always taking the scenic route to nowhere.  Life decisions are never easy, and having some sort of plan is always helpful when making them.  Planning is not my strong suit.  I remember many times calling planning the "P word."  For many years, that has been literally and figuratively a four letter word to me.  Meandering through life taking in the scenery is my modus operandi. 

Last week I talked about "Emptying my Bag."  That seems somewhat counterintuitive; emptying my baggage before I plan my trip.  In a lot of ways, life is like a road trip. Traveling on foot with a backpack can become tiresome and the backpack becomes more cumbersome the longer it is worn.  If you try to travel carrying a backpack, two suitcases, three gym bags, a tent and your favorite rock collection, the load can become unbearable.  Progress is difficult and resentments toward the load pile up to make them even heavier.  Every trip we take, relationship we have, mistake we make, bridge we burn adds more and more weight.  Myself, not only do I insist on carrying all of that baggage, I refuse to drive my car, because that would be far too easy.  At some point in life, the weight of the baggage must be shed in order to make forward progress.

I'm not sure if it is the weather today, the changing of the seasons, or the pre-holiday funk creeping in on me.  Today is one of those days when every mistake I've ever made in my life keeps jumping out at me like a monster behind the scenes in a haunted house attraction.  "Look over here!  Remember me?  I'm that relationship you ruined!"  "Hey!  Don't forget me!  I'm every mistake you ever made as a mother.  Remember the times you yelled at your kids?  The parent/teacher conferences you missed because you were too 'busy'?" "Hi!  I'm all the awful stuff you ever said to your mother that you didn't mean."  I don't know if anyone else ever has those days or periods in their lives, but I do, far too often, and I have been in one lately.  I made stuffed bell peppers for supper last night.  My youngest son, Michael, was excited about supper, which was unusal.  He told me that he'd had stuffed peppers at a friend's house and he loved them.  He couldn't wait till supper was done.  About halfway through fixing supper, Michael came into the kitchen and saw what I was doing.

"What are those things in the pan?"

"Those are the peppers I'm going to stuff."

"Those aren't peppers."

"Yes they are.  I'm 40.  I've seen peppers, and those, sir, are peppers."

"But they aren't what K's mom made! I want stuffed peppers, Mom.  STUFFED PEPPERS!"

I still have no idea what I was doing wrong.  I asked if they were jalapeno peppers he had and he said no.  K's mom also fixed hash browns with hers.  I was doing it all wrong.

Then I wanted to cry.  What kind of a mother doesn't fix the right stuffed peppers?  How much of a failure am I?  Michael will never get into college with a mother like me.  He will be standing in line at a soup kitchen somewhere telling the others in line about how all he wanted was stuffed peppers and his mom refused to make them.  That was where his life went downhill.  Next came the bad grades, bad friends and the inevitable coke habit.  This can't end well. 

Like with any trip, It's impossible to get from point A to point B without some sort of effort between the start and finish lines.  The trip becomes even longer when you decide to hit points C-Z before coming back to B, which is what happens without the proper map or trip planning skills.  Here we have exhibit A:  My Life.  Point A to B in 15000 easy to follow steps.  Grab your rock collection and here we go. 

Now that I have lightened my load, so to speak, it's time to begin the planning stage.  At 40 years old, it seems ridiculous to me that I should just now be in the planning stage.  According to the script I had formulated in my head at the ripe old age of 9, I should be well on my way with point B in sight.  I should be cruising around with the top down, wind blowing through my hair with my husband, 2.5 kids and a couple of dogs in tow.  Perfect picture completed by the little stick figure family on the bumper of the convertible.  In reality, I have the convertible. That's where the similarities end.  My travels look more like a rusty old pickup with one working headlight, kicking up dust on a one lane dirt road , ten dirty kids in the truck bed and three dogs chasing the truck. 

In order to figure out how I will travel, draw my map, so to speak, I have to figure out my destination.  Fifteen years ago, I was sure it was becoming a social worker.  I quit my job and started school to do just that.  Once I met that goal, I wanted to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, which I did.  Then I wanted to work in forensics.  Another goal accomplished.  Now, I am sitting here figuring out where I want to go yet again.  Social Work was great while it lasted, but I'm not sure I want to follow that map at this point.  It's really funny how life works like that.  You pick a destination, make the trip, only to get there and find out it's not what you wanted anyway.

I have spent this past weekend stripping wallpaper.  This wallpaper was wicked stuff.  I believe it was stuck on the wall by the devil himself, using the strongest gorilla glue he could find.  Tedious work, removing wallpaper.  Lots of time for introspection and lots of time to rehash a blog entry in your head and decide you have no idea what you are going to write next.  I have no idea where I'm going at this point.  I know I am going to move back into my house and continue to work on rebuilding my family.  The decisions to be made next are regarding my career and finances.  I remember when the toughest decision I had to make was what to fix for supper.  For now, I will continue to plod along, taking one day at a time until I decide how I am getting where I'm going.  Or even decide where I'm going for that matter.  One thing I know for sure, I will be asking K's mother how she makes stuffed peppers so that I can save my son from that horrible coke habit he hasn't developed yet.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Emptying my bag

I was alone in the back seat of my mother's van.  The pills I had ingested were taking effect.  I had my phone in my hand and I was trying to text my friends to tell them that I was going to be gone for a few days and that my stepdad's driving was going to kill us.  I could feel myself slipping in and out of consciousness in that seat and it was the best feeling in the world. The troubling part was the time in-between bouts of consciousness.  There was nothing, only Darkness.  No dreams, memories, family members to greet me, nothing.   It was not anything like what I had seen on tv when someone described a near-death experience. 

I remember pulling into the ER parking lot and my mom going into the hospital to tell them I was there.  I don't remember how I got from the car to the ER, but I remember telling my mom to go home, that I didn't need her there.  Surprisingly, she left.  Then, again, darkness.  Black.  Nothing.  I heard the doctor tell me that he was going to put oxygen on me and that I needed to breathe.  He told me I wasn't breathing and he was trying to coax me into consciousness.  The doctor faded out into the darkness as well.  The next time I opened my eyes, there was a social worker asking me questions.  I was angry with her and had no idea how to even answer the questions.  I don't remember what I said to her, but it must have been interesting, as the next morning I sneaked a peak at my assessment and saw I had been diagnosed with psychosis NOS.  She reported that I was hallucinating.  I don't remember any of that.

The next time I saw light and came out of the darkness for good was getting off the elevator on the mental health unit at the hospital.  At the nurse's station, one of my good friends and former co-workers greeted me and informed me that he would not be working in that unit while I was there, trying to make me feel more comfortable.  As a person with a masters degree in social work and years of experience working in the field of mental health who was now, herself, a patient in the "nut hut," feeling comfortable wasn't an option for me.

I spent the remainder of those early morning hours in a room designed for caring for people who were depressed and suicidal.  There were no cords or sharp objects, no television or radio, just a bed stripped down to the bare essentials, a small bookcase with a bible on a shelf, and a bathroom with a door that swung open and shut with no latch, lest I get in there and try to off myself with the toilet paper.

Four months prior to this night, I thought life was as bad as it could get.  I had lost my house to foreclosure and my husband to his alcoholic lifestyle.  I was single with five kids.  I spent my days tying knots in ropes trying to keep hanging on to my life and sanity.  I was working as a therapist for a company I hated.  My friends were non-existant or at least out of reach.  I had met a man I thought was going to solve all my problems, and he left for a job in another state.  The night I took the pills, I had just snooped in his email and found he had been emailing other women before he even got out of state.   I didn't initally intend to overdose, and I missed every single one of my own warning signs.  I gave most of my stuff to my daughter and friends.  Since I couldn't sleep in my king size bed or in my room, I gave my big bedroom to my two little ones. I took one of their twin mattresses and put it on the floor in the smallest bedroom we had and called it my bed. I had been taking medication for sleep and anxiety for years, but they no longer seemed to be helping.  My doctor started me on a new atypical antipsychotic to help with mood stabilization and it seemed to be making things worse. 

Trying to stop the tremors from the new meds and calm myself down to sleep, I took some anxiety meds.  I started out at a normal dose, then added a little more for good measure.  Then I took some pain killers I had on hand to help me sleep.  Sleep was still elusive, so I took another anti-anxiety pill.  They just did not seem to be working.  When I got to the point where I couldn't remember how many of what pills I had taken, I called my mom and told her I needed to go to the hospital.  I refused to go to our local ER and insisted on going to the ER at a hospital over an hour away, where they had a mental health unit.  I think I knew I had made a half-hearted suicide attempt and needed help.  Stumbling through the house trying to put shoes on, I felt the first twinge of fear about what was going to happen to me.

As is normal for most people after a botched suicide attempt, I felt really stupid the next day.  Many times while working on the mental health unit at another hospital, I listened to stories of people who had thought they had reached the end and attempted suicide only to wake up and feel like jackasses.  I was no exception.  In that moment, life seems to be impossible, the pain insurmountable, and getting out is the only viable choice.  Given a few hours, those feelings often pass, especially once locked in a mental health unit where shoelaces aren't even allowed due to the danger of someone hanging themselves with them. 

My mission on that first day on the unit was to convince the doctor I needed to go home.  I wasn't suicidal, it was all a misunderstanding and I didn't need to be there with the crazy people.  I was perfectly sane.  Taking too many pills is a perfectly normal reaction to my life at that point, and I needed to get home to remedicate myself.  After all, I knew they were going to cut me off the meds that "really worked," (aka the meds that made me numb) and put me on something stupid.  Didn't matter what they said, I knew myself better, knew what worked, had a top-notch psychiatrist out in the community, and was going to do as I damned well pleased anyway. 

I "met" my doctor that first day.  She was a psychiatrist at the place where I worked at the time, so that was totally embarassing.  I called in to work and told my boss that I was in the hospital but gave no more details except that I would not have access to a phone.  The scheming for release continued but my doctor would not budge.  She was convinced I was a danger to myself and told me that if I tried to leave, I would have a 96 hour hold in place to keep me there at least 96 hours.  I knew that any judge would approve that hold, given that I had almost died due to what appeared to be a planned overdose. 

I was aware of the game I needed to play in order to be set free: go to groups, stay out of bed, play nicely with others and put a smile on your face.  I happened to befriend another patient on the unit pretty quickly.  She looked "normal" like me.  Having worked in the field of mental health for 10 years, I understand the stigma of mental illness and learned not to judge people for being on a mental health unit.  Professionally, that was possible.  Personally, I did not want to be seen as one of THOSE people.  So, the "normal" friend was important for me to have.  She seemed depressed but was functional.  The unit was full of truly mentally ill people, people with schizophrenia who were hallucinating and delusional and people who were otherwise functionally impaired.  My new friend and I walked the halls together and talked and worked on jigsaw puzzles when we weren't in one of those "art therapy" groups where we learned how to express ourselves with markers and dull crayons.  I told her all about why I was there, the "accidental" overdose of pills and the subsequent loss of consciousness.

During a particularly intense jigsaw therapy session, my new friend informed me that she knew why I was there.  I said, "Of course you do.  I told you."

"No.  I know why you are really here.  I don't believe what you told me.  If you had taken all of those pills, you would be dead."
I delicately continued my search for a matching puzzle piece, trying to avoid eye contact, and asked her why she thought I was there. 

"You're here because THEY want you to be here.  You're here to spy on me and tell them what I'm doing.  It's not going to work, you know."

Well damn.  Double damn.  Now I am alone in a room with someone who is not so obviously delusional and believes I am spying on her.  We were in a corner of the room furthest from the door and not a staff person in sight. 

Shifting in my chair, I said, "No way.  I'm here because I am sick.  I am sick and I took pills to kill myself."

"I know you are lying."

"Well, I'm tired.  Just beat."  Using the adolescent yawn move employed by teenage boys in a movie theater to get closer to their dates, I slipped out of my chair, pushed it in to the table and headed for the door.  "Just really tired.  Have a good night!"

Whew, I made it out alive and unscathed physically.  I found the nearest nurse and pulled her into my room and informed her that lady is CRAZY.  I explained what happened to the nurse.  Sometime later, I heard yelling and sobbing coming from the woman's hospital room.  I heard discussion at the nurse's station about a "5/2/1" injection, which is 5 milligrams of Haldol, 2 of cogentin and 1 of ativan, typically used to calm down a patient who is escalating into hysteria or violence.  At supper that night, she looked disshevelled and had that chemically restrained look all too familiar to me from my days working an inpatient psych unit.  I was ready to go.

The next couple of days I spent again reassuring my doctor I was "good to go."  I put all my effort into looking happy and well-adjusted so I could go home.  I spent a lot of time on the phone convincing my friends and family I was fine.  I talked to my husband, who was living separately at the time.  I had to have someone to go home to.  The single mother life was killing me and quite honestly, I didn't trust myself at home alone with the kids, although I wouldn't admit that.  My nights were spent lying awake in bed suffering from withdrawals from the lack of anxiety and sleep medication I had become dependent upon.  I spent most of the night tossing and turning and making numerous trips to the nurse's station trying to get medication so I could sleep. 

After much reassuring and begging my doctor and my family to let me out, I was finally ready to go home.  The final factor in my release was the appearance of a former therapy client of mine on the mental health unit.  Appealing to my doctor using the "imagine being in my shoes as a mental health professional" tactic, I successfully won my ticket home.  The last obstacle to tackle was the family session with my husband and the social worker.  Of course I knew how to successfully manipulate that situation to my advantage, and I did.  I left with Mike to go home.

I don't think I had made it out of town yet when I had my anxiety medicine within the palm of my hand and subsequently sliding down my throat in a frantic gulp followed by soda.  I was having full-blown benzodiazepine withdrawals and only had a couple of pills left for the upcoming weekend.  I ended up going to the local ER that night and got a shot of valium because I was beginning to go into seizures from the withdrawals.  I gave the emergency staff the phone number of a friend of mine who was a psychiatrist so that he could order some medication for me, which he did. 

Life eventually got back to normal.  I went back to work where I would run into the doctor from the hospital on my way to the bathroom from time to time.  I know she recognized me, but never said anything to me.  That did not stop my embarassment and shame from engulfing me.  It was a constant reminder that I was not fine. 

I'm not sure exactly why I decided to tell this story.  This was not the first nor the last episode of hospitalization for me.  After this particular stay in the hospital, I began to grasp that I was not in control of my mental illness, it was controlling me.  I also realized I was an addict, a fact I did not deal with for another three to four years.  This is actually my first public admission that I am an addict.  I believe I am probably at the point in my life where I am strong enough to deal with all of this garbage I have been carrying around with me.  The program director of one of the substance abuse treatment facilities where I worked had this great therapeutic tool I think about often.  We called it the "Shit Bag."  We would take clients into group therapy and give them a plastic bag and tie it around their waist.  We would then fill the bag up with a lot of lightweight objects, papers and such, to represent issues in their life they were carrying around with them.  They had to wear the bag and its contents for 24 hours.  They had to eat, sleep and shower with the bag attached.  They also had to journal about their experience while wearing the bag.  The bag inevitably became inexplicably heavy in those 24 hours.  Once they were freed from their tether, the clients discussed in group their understanding of how carrying that bag around was like the resentments, shame and pain we carry around with ourselves every day.  Perhaps this blog entry is about my untying my own shit bag. 

Thanks for helping me empty the bag.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Breaking the Silence

I am finally back to blogging after a lengthy hiatus.  It feels good to be back at the keyboard and I hope to be able to get the creative juices flowing again.  Thanks to those of you who are reading this and supporting my blog.  This has been a great outlet for me to get my thoughts and feelings out of my head where they become toxic if left unattended.
I had an idea for a blog a while back and I cast a net via Facebook for stories from survivors of sexual assault.  I was astounded by the candor of these ladies as they related their experiences to me.  I wanted to get their stories out there in their words.  Some of them had never told anyone what had happened to them until they shared it with me.  These are ladies I know, friends of mine.  It was humbling to me that they were willing to share their stories with me and my readers.  What also struck me was the sheer number of women in my circle of friends who have been victims of sexual assault.  Sexual assault is not something that happens to strangers in dark alleys in bad neighborhoods, at least not as a rule.  Sexual assault happens at parties, at friends; houses, on vacation, at family dinners.  It happens during the day, in the evening, and at night.  It happens to our brothers, sisters, mothers, daughters, cousins, friends.  To me, that is the most disturbing part of these stories; the fact that this could happen to anyone at anytime anywhere and very few people feel empowered to address it publicly or as the national epidemic that it is. 
According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website,, these are the staggering statistics about sexual assault:
  • 44% of victims are under age 18
  • 80% are under age 30
  • 60% of sexual assaults are not reported to police
  • 2/3 of assaults are perpetrated by someone known to the victim
And the final statistic, which is the most troublesome to me:
Before I delve into the telling of these stories, I want to warn all of you reading that there will be subject matter which could be considered an emotional "trigger" for you.  If you or someone you know have been sexually assaulted, please understand that by reading these stories, you may stir deeply and long-held emotions unintentionally.  If this is an issue for you, please contact a mental health professional and seek help.  You may visit the website:, for a listing of professionals in your area.
The following stories are told in the words of the survivors themselves.  I have edited them for length and removed identifying information to protect the identity of the survivors, with the exception of my story and the story of my daughter, Paige.  I considered removing the details of the assaults themselves, but I decided that it was important for the survivors to tell their own stories, as much of them as they choose.  **TRIGGER WARNING**
I did nothing about the rape.  I couldn't even accept it was rape.  I became a slut because I thought I was going to be forced anyway.  I was only 14.  I spent a lot of years being ridiculed about my sexual behavior.  There were three other times I was a victim of gang rapes.  I don't know if it would have been better to turn these people in or not but I made it through.  I have forgiven my attackers and pray that I never have to be a victim again.  I finally received closure  after I went to counseling and got everything out in the open.  Jesus helped me through it all even before I completely knew Him.
Sarah, 40
I was 19 when I was raped after passing out at a party.  I tried to tell a guy friend the next day, the first person I spoke to after it happened, and his response was, "Yeah, whatever." And that's probably why I didn't tell anyone until I was 38.
Melanie, 39
When I was 12, I looked 17 or 18.  That summer my family was on vacation.  It was paradise.  We were there for several weeks and got very comfortable with the staff and area.  There was a guy who worked at the front desk who was 29.  He told me constantly how I didn't look 12 - I looked 18 - like that made it ok for him to look at me the way he did.  One day he asked me casually if I'd like to come down and play cards with him while he worked his shift that evening.  I did.  He grabbed me and molested me.  He didn't rape me because someone came to the desk to get a replacement room key and I left, but I didn't tell anyone because I thought it was my fault.  I had gone there of my own free will, after all, nevermind that I was 12.  I just figured I would be in so much trouble.  I buried it so deeply that I never thought about it again until the 2nd live stream broadcast of the Steubenville protest, when dozens of rape victims were lined up in the freezing cold, waiting for their turn at the mike to tell their story of being assaulted and take off their masks.  I wondered why I was crying and shaking, and then I could picture myself standing there and telling everyone my story.  I could see the guy and feel (him).  It made me sick, but also cleared up so many things.  And I understand that it is not my fault.  My mom died when I was a teenager, and yes, she probably would have blamed me.  She would have told me and my sisters that I was responsible for ruining their vacation, but that wouldn't have made it true.  I know that.  Her issues cannot be my issues.  That's my story.
June, 50
At 19, I had a boyfriend.  One night at my mom's late at night with her in her bedroom, doors shut, he forced me into anal sex.  It happened on a Sunday, and by Monday back at college I couldn't go to class because of the serious damage done (I couldn't sit down).  I was bleeding still, in lots of pain, and didn't even cry out because I didn't want my mom to walk in and see him hurting me.  I tried to fight until the pain was so intense that I just laid there numb and out of my mind.  It lasted approximately thirty minutes, but it was the worst most memorable moment of my life I had thought.  However, by the time I went to the college nurse about it, she shamed me.  She challenged me about having sex, saying what did I expect, maybe I shouldn't have been sexually active with him, and then told me to use condoms and lubrication next time.  I never went to the police, never told his family.  Sadly, I felt that if the nurse was going to mock me, what would public and cops do?  I pray his daughter doesn't come to him with a similar experience someday, but sadly I will always wonder if there's a next time for me.  The statistics may say 1 in 3, but real life says sometimes 1 in 3 is really 3 in 1.
Jennifer, 35
I went to a party my freshman year and hung out and this was the only group of people that accepted me...well a guy cornered me in a bedroom and started to kiss me and I said no I don't want to and he proceeds to throw me on the bed rip my pants to my ankles and proceeds to do his business.  I tried to scream and that's when he put a pillow over my face.  Right before he finished I slipped out of his grasp and climbed out an open window.
Cindy, 18
When I was sexually assaulted I blamed myself a lot.  I still do.  I constantly drilled myself for drinking when it was my first time ever.  I made a bad choice that night.  One that will stay with me for the rest of my life.  That night something was robbed from me that I will never get back no matter how hard I try.  I really don't know what was taken from me.  I've never been a social person.  But I started never going out or speaking to anyone.  It took me everything just to get out of bed.  Most days I couldn't even do that. Out of everything that has happened, this was the worst.  I'm not the same person and I never will be.  I did made a mistake.  A mistake that I have to live with when I can barely live with myself anyways.
Paige, 15
Finally, I will end with my own story.
When I was four, I was at a family gathering.  I was molested by my teenage cousin.  I'm not sure how I ended up in the room alone with him, but it wasn't anything to be afraid of, he was family, right?  Although my memories of life as a four year old are blurry and jumbled, my memories of what happened in that room are quite vivid.  I prefer not to tell details, but let me assure you, I remember them.  Despite my education, training, and life experience dealing with survivors of sexual assault, and my understanding of the misplaced guilt survivors may feel, I sometimes continue to blame myself for what happened that day.  Somewhere in the dark recesses of my mind, my four year old self felt that I should not have been in the room alone with him; that somehow I led him to believe what he was doing was acceptable and wanted.  I didn't stop him.  I didn't say no.  My mom walked in and caught him.  I don't remember what she said to him.  I do remember that she said nothing to the rest of the family.  She said nothing to anyone but me.  She didn't exactly blame me, but she didn't blame him either.  She grilled me about what happened.  At times throughout my life, she would remind me about what happened, as if I could forget.  The thing that stuck with me the most besides the actual act, was my mother's silence.  I felt as though I must need to be ashamed and that somehow, some part of it was my fault.
From that time on, when someone would touch me a certain way, I would feel ill.  This carried on into my relationships, bringing with it the guilt I felt for what happened.  I was in a relationship when I was a teenager and it was very toxic.  I was pressured and shamed into having sex many times.  Although I did not say no, I never felt as though it was a choice.  I felt obligated and felt as though it was just easier to go along with it rather than argue most of the time.  I held that same attitude about sex throughout most of my life.  It was an obligation, something I had to do whether I wanted or not; it was never about intimacy or part of a healthy relationship.  This attitude ultimately cost me my job and my professional integrity by tarnishing my ability to make healthy choices with my body.  I have a rip-roaring case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  If someone touches me unexpectedly, I practically jump out of my own skin.
My decision to share these stories is based on my experiences while watching my daughter cope with what happened to her.  I had a couple of male friends contact me who had also been sexually assaulted, but they opted not to share their stories.  For men especially, it can be even more difficult to tell their stories.  They are the silent factor in all of these statistics and should not be forgotten.
My hope is that sharing all these stories will encourage others who have been sexually assaulted to understand that you are not alone.  It is not your fault.  There is nothing to be ashamed of, despite what society says.  Let's stop blaming the victim and break the silence. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

Being Divorced

I decided on the topic for this blog at the encouragement of a friend of mine.  We were discussing my relationship with my ex husband and my children from my first marriage.  I have five children, as you all know.  My oldest three, Tyler, Colton, and Paige, are products of my first marriage, although a lot of people do not know that.  My current husband came into our lives when Paige was almost two years old, so he has been around most of their lives.  Mike and I have two children together, Michael and Victoria.  When someone refers to them as Tyler, Colton and Paige's "half" siblings, it takes me a moment to register that thought.  To me, they are brothers and sisters and there is no "half" involved.  They have lived together all their lives and Mike has been a good father to all of my children for almost 14 years now.

My ex husband, David, and I, have a good relationship now.  Colton recently had his "senior night" at his final home basketball game. David and I walked out on the court with Colton as his parents.  During the game, Michael and I sat with David, his wife, and her mother to watch the game.  While watching the game, it occurred to me that this may seem like a weird arrangement.  I was talking to David's wife like old friends, discussing work stressors and the grandson.  We were passing the grandson, Ayden, among us at his whim, and he enjoyed every minute of it. 

David and I have not always had that relationship.  We were together for a little less than ten years.  I was 15 when we met.  We were just kids, both of us the products of major dysfunction and looking for ways to anger our parents.  David was a drug addict.  I had never been around drugs, ever.  I didn't know what pot looked like.  I had no idea what was out there.  I remember going to parties as teenagers and people calling David off to the side to "talk" to him.  Everyone knew I was against drugs and wouldn't stand to be with an addict, so they had well-choreographed routine to keep me from knowing what was going on during these "talks" outside my presence.  Drugs were not the only dysfunction in our relationship. 

I came from a family with a little bit of money.  We were not wealthy by any means, but my father had served 25 years in the USAF and had retired and subsequently died with a service related injury.  I benefited financially from this arrangement, and had my own money to spend on whatever I needed and wanted.  I had my own phone line, my own car, and money to do what I wanted.  In the days before cell phones, having your own phone line in your room was a big deal.  I also had built my own large bedroom in our basement and had the perfect set up for a teenager craving independence.  I remember coming home from school and immediately calling David.  Not because I wanted to, however, but because he had threatened me that if I didn't, he would commit suicide.  If I was so much as five minutes late with the phone call, I knew I would have to settle in for an entire night of emotional blackmail, accusations of "cheating" on him, and hours of begging him not to kill himself.  I was 15, and I absolutely believed he would kill himself if I didn't act the way I was "supposed" to.  At a young age, I made the decision that I would rather be unhappy with him alive than unhappy with the weight of his suicide on my shoulders.  Looking back, I realize I was in this crazy cycle of abuse and did not know I could step out of it at any point.  My mother remembers hearing me cry into my phone from my bedroom until the wee hours of the morning, begging David to forgive me for whatever imagined infraction I had committed, like talking to a male friend, or having homework that was more important than talking to him on the phone.  As an introduction to committed relationships, that really sucked.

Time went on and David and I graduated high school and moved into an apartment together.  I went on to college.  I forfeited a full-ride scholarship for my vocal skills because being in a relationship with David would not allow me to put adequate time into being in the award-winning college vocal program. I thought I was in love, and that was more important than college.  I ended up pregnant with Tyler and gave birth at 19, then dropped out of college because I didn't think I could handle a baby and school.  Looking back, I give myself a mental "face-palm" at that decision, since I got a bachelor's and master's degree having three young children at home.  David could not hold a job.  The record for the time we were together, was six months of employment.  He would quit, get fired, stop showing up, whatever, with every job he had.  We had no solid income and I lost my dad's money because I quit going to school.  We had our own house, and my mother did foot the very small house payment, and utilities. 

The abuse was not only emotional, but eventually worked into physical abuse.  Both of us were very quick to lash out physically at one another.  If he hit me, I hit back harder.  I got pregnant with Colton when Tyler was 8 months old.  I remember the despair I felt when I watched that home pregnancy test turn positive.  I felt as though my life was ending, as I was then officially stuck in this position. We finally got married when Colton was a year old.  A year later, along came Paige.  At this point, I was working at a local book distributor and making a little bit of money.  David was home with the children and I rationalized that he was a stay at home father and that was ok.  At three years old, Tyler taught my mother how to roll a joint.  I was still in denial of what was going on.  I heard that David was taking the kids to the drug house around the corner, but I ignored it.  At some point, I decided it was best for the kids if they stayed with my mother while I worked.  I still was not ready to give up on my marriage. I got married thinking it was the one thing that would "save" David.  I was wrong.

We finally split. We saw a marriage mediator and she put the situation in words I could understand..."emotional blackmail."  She used the term "abusive relationship" and I was shocked.  I wasn't constantly in fear for my life, no black eyes, no running screaming from the house.  I didn't understand how I got there and if this was really happening.  David and I agreed to meet to discuss things, in a public place.  The mediator stressed to me that I needed to drive myself to and from the meeting.  I was na├»ve and allowed David to pick me up for the meeting.  Instead of driving me to the fast food place, for our public meeting, he drove north on a winding, dangerous country road.  We were in his father's pickup and he was taking corners at 80 mph.  He said that if he couldn't have me, nobody could.  I begged him to stop.  I told him I loved him and we would work things out.  He eventually drove me back to work.  I kissed him then ran inside.  I told my supervisor what had happened and she just shook her head and said, "you guys are going to end up killing each other." I called my mother and she took me to see a counselor that day. The counselor didn't have time to see me for an appointment, but Mom explained the situation and he sat me down long enough to convince me to get a restraining order and stay out of that situation.  I finally did what I knew I had to do.

From there, things were pretty tough with David.  We had a messy separation and messy, drawn-out divorce.  During that time, I met Mike and fell in love.  There was no abuse there.  I could talk to whomever I wanted, he had a job, the possibilities were endless for me.  I quit my job, filed for divorce and enrolled in school during the same week in May 2000.  David ended up moving out of state and we had no contact for a couple of years.  Tyler was old enough to remember his dad and I had a rough time with him.  Thankfully, David's parents were still involved with the kids.  David eventually started coming around occasionally.  He was only given supervised visitation with the kids, and my mother supervised.  As years went on, David began to grow up.  He eventually moved back to my hometown with his parents.  I trusted his parents, so I allowed them to supervise the visitation with the kids.  He was still irresponsible and childish, but he was beginning to form a good relationship with the kids. 

Our discussions became more civil and eventually, we were able to talk.  He apologized for the hell that was our relationship, or at least part of it.  He never has fully taken responsibility for everything he did, but, I probably haven't either.  Tyler was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of nine.  After that came numerous hospitalizations and David and I began to talk more and more about Tyler and doing what was best for our children.  They were developing a good relationship with him.  David finally met his current wife.  She was much younger than he was and came from a rough home life.  I was not fond of the idea at first, as she was so young, but eventually, I saw how she treated my children.  She loved them.  I also saw that she was good for David.  He was growing up.  He didn't hit her or abuse her.  He was in and out of prison a couple of times for an old charge he had, but for the most part, he was getting his life turned around.  David's wife's sister used to stay at our house on occasion, to be with the kids.  We talked about what was going on with her and David's wife and I became something akin to friends. 

As time progressed, we were able to do more things together for our children.  Mike and David's wife were very understanding and always supported whatever was best for the children.  Paige had to have major surgery once and David, his wife, Mike and I all rode together to take Paige for surgery.  We took turns going into the recovery room. I knew at that point that things would be ok.

We have still have our disagreements at times and I will in no way insist that our relationship is all roses.  There is still a lot of hurt there.  I have PTSD from some of the things that happened with David and that is nothing to take lightly.  However, I saw the way he began to change, and become a father to his children.  I vowed never to keep the kids from him as long as they were safe, and I never have.  There have been times when Michael and Victoria wanted to go with the older kids when they visited their dad, and they have.  David and his wife have been very kind to Michael and Victoria. 

I wish I could tell you at what point, exactly, David and I were able to make peace with one another.  I wish I could give you some magical formula for coming together as parents for your children. Unfortunately, those things do not exist. I also wish I could tell you that I never have the urge to punch him in the throat.  Unfortunately, that urge still bubbles to the surface on occasion.  The only thing that has seemed to work for us is the unselfish, complete, unconditional love and acceptance of our children and supportive spouses who feel the same way.  My children deserved to have loving parents who wanted the best for them.  They now have four parents who work together to make sure they are loved and taken care of.  If I could bottle this up and sell it to divorced parents, I would.  I think that my children sometimes have no idea how lucky they are to have this in their lives. 

I know that there will always be tough times, but I  pray that we can continue working toward doing the best thing for our children.  I hope that my story helps other parents struggling with divorce and the products of divorce.  I will say that I know without a doubt, beside my children, the best thing to ever happen in my relationship with David came from being divorced.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Telling the Story (Part 2)

For the background story related to this blog entry, please see "Telling the Story (part 1)."  I am going to pick up where that entry led off, with the legal aspects of Paige and Daisy's case.  I also want to offer a list of points of advice for other parents who, unfortunately, may find themselves in my position one day. 

After Paige spoke to the juvenile officer regarding her assault and gave the details, we gave a sigh of relief.  I believe we were still in shock, disbelief, and feeling numb.  Paige woke up at night screaming. She started sleeping in her brother's room on her mattress on the floor so she didn't have to be alone.  I had to return to work.  I vaguely remember just going through the motions of each day, trying to keep my head above water. 

Not long after speaking to the juvenile officer regarding the assault, we got notice from the juvenile office that Paige had to speak to the juvenile officer for our county due to her "out of control behavior."  Since she had sneaked out of the house and drank, she had been referred to the juvenile office for punishment.  No matter that she was assaulted and traumatized beyond comprehension, she had to answer for her behavior.  I was livid.  I spent a week preparing for how I would handle this.  Paige cried and begged not to have to go. 

The day of the meeting with the juvenile officer, we sat outside her office waiting.  I remember Paige shaking and being scared and upset.  I was shaking too, but it was from pure, seething anger.  We went into the juvenile officer's office.  This particular JO had a reputation for being very tough and non-sympathetic.  I remember thinking maybe we would be better off with a man.  Once we sat down in her office, she showed us a large stack of papers lying face-down on her desk.  She picked up the stack and told Paige, "This is what was sent to me regarding your case."  I took a long, deep breath, trying to gear up for the fight ahead.  The JO then said, "I have not read it.  And I do not intend to."  With tears filling her eyes, the JO said, essentially, that it would be a violation of Paige's privacy for her to read the report and that she believed Paige had suffered a much worse punishment than anything she could do.  With tears actively flowing, she told Paige that although she could not discuss personal issues, she wanted to assure Paige that she had an idea of what Paige was going through.  She wanted to assure Paige that things get better and that she would not be defined by this incident.  We left the office relieved and in tears.  This was the first and only one of two times that we felt that anyone in authority understood what we were living through.  We briefly had hope.

Paige was later summoned to appear in juvenile court for the hearing of the juvenile who assaulted her.  We had a rape advocate from the YWCA in a neighboring town who had been talking with us.  She tried her best to help, but she was in over her head.  She had never had to deal with the nonsense we were experiencing.  At every turn, she was shaking her head in disbelief, as we all were.  The day of the hearing, Paige, myself, my husband, and my son, Colton, went to Nodaway County to the courthouse.  The rape advocate was waiting for us and informed Paige that she did not have to go to the courtroom unless they asked for her.  Paige waited in the car with the advocate while the other three of us went to court.  The juvenile boy pled guilty.  I can remember seeing him sitting with his attorney and parents in court.  His parents looked angry and upset.  He looked scared.  My son was fighting back tears and the urge to throw punches. 

The judge allowed me to make a victim impact statement on behalf of my daughter.  With all the courage I could muster, I stepped up and spoke directly to the judge, not looking at the boy who had assaulted Paige.  I recounted how Paige was suffering. I told how she was crying at night, waking up screaming, sleeping in her brother's room.  I informed the judge of the psychiatric hospitalization my daughter had required, the medicine and psychiatrist appointments vital to her survival.  I discussed my time off work, the financial and emotional struggle of the rest of the family.  When I was finished, I managed to walk back to my seat, shaking uncontrollably with anger, fear and devastation.  I remember the judge asking the boy if he agreed that he was guilty to his charges.  The boy said "yes."  The judge said, and I quote to the best of my memory, "So, you are telling me that you are guilty of having sex with an intoxicated young girl against her will?  You knew she was intoxicated and she said No and you still had sex with her?  Is THAT what you are telling me?"  The boy looked down at the table and mumbled, "yes."  The judge asked the juvenile officer present for his recommendation for sentence for the boy.  The JO, to whom Paige had recounted the entire, awful night, stated that he wanted probation for the boy.  I will never forget the sound of shock and contempt in the judge's voice when he looked at the boy and stated, "I can't in good conscience give you probation for this offense.  I am remanding you to the custody of Division of Youth Services until the age of 18 or until they determine you are finished with treatment."  I then remember seeing the boy's mother taking the boy by the hand and leading him angrily out of the courtroom.  I remember feeling a small pang of sorrow for the boy as I knew he was probably the product of something going on in his home.  That was the first and last time I laid eyes on my daughter's perpetrator.

We knew we had a long road ahead as Paige was the main witness for Daisy's case. Prior to the hearing for Paige's attacker, we had received notice that the felony charges had been dropped in Daisy's case.  Melinda and I kept in touch about the harassment she was enduring and the legal issues with Daisy's case.  We received a summons to appear in the misdemeanor case of "Endangering the Welfare of a Minor."  We talked with our rape advocate and she stated that it was probably not in the girls' best interest to proceed with testifying for the misdemeanor charge, as the girls were suffering and the legal system was doing such a poor job of protecting them.  We informed the prosecuting attorney, Robert Rice, that we were going to invoke our fifth amendment right regarding the misdemeanor charges.  To be clear, there was NEVER a deposition for the felony case.  This was the one and only time we invoked our 5th amendment right.  After we went on record at his office, invoking our 5th amendment rights, Robert Rice walked Paige and I out of his office to the hallway where Melinda and Daisy were waiting their turn.  Rice shook my hand and stated, "Of everyone involved in this case, I feel the worst for Paige.  I feel awful that she was dragged out to this party and this happened to her."  I can't image the expression on my face at that point.  I was in complete disbelief that he had said that, especially in front of Melinda and Daisy.  I had no idea this was only a precursor to what they would later endure. 

At some point in the next few weeks, Melinda and I discussed our decision and decided to go ahead and testify.  We spoke to Rice and revoked our 5th amendment right and stated we wanted to be deposed.  The day before our deposition, Melinda and Daisy went for their deposition.  I was at the hospital with Paige and received a call from Melinda.  She told me that the deposition did not go well, that she felt as though Rice was putting her and Daisy on trial.  She stated that Rice had asked a lot of questions about why Paige did this and that, and tried to blame Paige for several things.  I decided the deposition was not the right thing to do, so I called Rice's office from the hospital, to inform him that we were going to refuse to participate in the deposition.  His receptionist answered and stated that our deposition planned for the next day had been cancelled, the charges dropped.  She stated, "I think you need to know, Daisy and Melinda tried to throw Paige under the bus."  I was dumbfounded.  I told her that I already knew what had happened and that I didn't believe her.  She wanted to know exactly what Melinda had told me and I told her it was none of her business and hung up the phone.  At that point, I believe the gravity of what was unfolding had actually struck me. Hard.  I knew at that point, there would possibly never be any justice for our girls.  The rest is history. 

Paige's rapist was detained in a juvenile facility for approximately seven to ten days.  He was monitored by the juvenile justice system for a whopping seven months total.  To this date, there are no further consequences for him.  I do not believe that is what the judge had in mind when he sentenced the boy.  Seven months.  Seven months for changing our lives forever. 

Looking back at the way things unfolded for us, there are many things I should have done differently.  Hindsight is 20/20.  Hopefully my words will inform parents should they ever, God forbid, be in this situation.  The following is a list of things I would have done differently, and recommend for parents to keep in mind.

1.  Obtain an attorney immediately if you or your child are the victim of such a crime.  I never imagined as victims, we would need counsel.  Had we been aware of that, things may have turned out differently for all of us.  After the politics of the case came into play, not many local attorneys wanted anything to do with the case. 

2.  Do not expect law enforcement to do the right thing.  Keep copies of every single piece of paper, evidence, transcript, anything you have related to the case.  Put everything in writing.  Document phone calls, conversations, dates, times, anything related to what happened.  Record conversations.  Get records of police reports, hospital reports, anything anyone says.  Do not depend on law enforcement to keep these copies or provide them to anyone. 

3.  Get everything in writing.  If someone says they are going to do something, such as a prosecutor, get it written with a signature.  No behind the doors talks, no off the record discussions. 

4.  Seek your own medical treatment and always get a second opinion.  I believe Paige would have had a more thorough exam at a children's hospital where there were no local connections and there were staff specifically trained in examining children. 

5.  INSIST that any questioning of your child be done in the presence of your attorney, an advocate, or at a children's advocacy center with people trained in this area of practice.  Do not allow your child to be questioned alone. 

6.  Begin a written timeline of events as soon as you know a crime was committed.  It will prove invaluable later. 

7.  NEVER GIVE UP.  NEVER GIVE UP.  Do not take NO for an answer from authorities. 

8.  Trust your gut.  If you feel something is not on the up and up, it probably isn't. 

9.  NEVER blame your child for their part in the situation.  Keep an open line of communication with your child and let them know you are on their side no matter what. 

10.  Be prepared to be an advocate for your child.  You are responsible for his/her well-being.  Do not trust others to have their best interests in mind.  You know your child better than anyone else and they depend on you to do the right thing for them.  You may be the only one standing up for them. 

I pray to God that no other parent ever has to endure what Melinda and I have endured.  I know realistically, that too many parents and children will have to live this experience.  I hope that they are informed and ready to fight.  Not all situations end up like ours.  Not all law enforcement are on the side of the perpetrators.  Not all perpetrators have political connections.  However, it is always good to be overly cautious.  I cannot go back and do this over again, thank goodness.  The best thing that can come out of our situation is that every parent becomes educated about their rights and the rights of their child.  Do not let our suffering be in vain.  This is why I am telling the story.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Telling the Story (Part 1)

So, I took a week off blogging because inspiration had not hit me yet.  I realized that I haven't had contact with many people over the age of 18 lately, so I didn't have any thought-provoking revelations last week.

As I was thinking about writer's block, an idea came to me in the place where most people do their best thinking...the shower. I decided it is time for me to tell the details of my experience with Paige and Daisy's assaults.  My experience as a mother.  I have touched on it some in a couple of other posts, but this time I want to lay out the details.  The media, for the most part, have been fantastic at covering the story, however; they missed or confused some of the details.  Important details, at that. I don't blame them.  There was a lot of material to cover and the story became so convoluted with different media outlets reporting different aspects of what happened.  I decided to write about my experience with Paige's assault.

As a mother, I feel discussing this is important.  I feel that not only could this discussion inform other parents, it also honors what happened to Paige by getting the truth out there to the world.  If you are reading this as a parent, be warned it is not for the faint of heart.  I will assure you that Paige and our family have bounced back from this and are more resilient than we ever imagined.  The pain lessens by the day, although we will never forget what happened.

My memory of the day of the rape is blurry.  I had no idea at the time I would be expected to remember details of times, places, etc. Because of the unexpectedness and the trauma of the situation, not everything is clear in terms of details, but the emotions and thoughts I had at the time are still vivid.

Paige had gone to spend the night with her friend, Daisy.  Paige and Daisy had been friends for years, as our families were connected through three of our children who are around the same ages and play sports together. Daisy's dad was also our family doctor.  Daisy and Paige were good kids.  As parents, Melinda and I didn't worry a whole lot about them making poor decisions beyond what normal teenagers make.  I still believe the choices they made that night in January were within the "normal" range for girls their age at the time. 

I was asleep in my chair in my living room when I received a call from Paige in the early morning hours.  I don't remember the time, but I know it was still dark outside. Paige was hysterical, crying, and said that she wanted me to come and get her.  She said everyone was yelling and she didn't know why.  Of course I thought that was strange, but really thought maybe one of the kids was in trouble for something, or maybe Paige had misbehaved.  I assumed that I would get the details from Melinda later in the day.  I was too sleepy to drive, so I sent my son, Colton, to pick Paige up and fell back asleep.  Paige and Colton got home and Paige went directly to her room.  Still groggy, I again thought that I would wait until later in the day to find out the details of what happened.  I had just gotten up for the day when my phone rang.  It was Charlie, Daisy's oldest brother.  He said, "We need Paige to come back to Maryville.  Daisy was raped and the police need to talk to her." 

The best word to describe what I felt at that time was shock.  The word "rape" really didn't fully register with me.  I had no idea why Paige would be involved.  I went to Paige's room to wake her up and she was curled up in the corner of her bed, still wearing her clothes, and crying.  I told her what Charlie said and she sobbed even harder.  We left the house and stopped for gas.  I had Colton go with me again because I had no idea what was going on and thought I could use some help.  I went into a convenience store to pay for the gas, and when I came out, Paige and Colton were crying.  Paige just kept sobbing, "He raped her, Mom, he raped Daisy."  Still not understanding what was happening, I was very confused.  I asked her who and she said, "Matt.  He raped Daisy."  I did not know Matt so I had no idea what she was talking about.  Since she was so shaken, I decided not to press for details.  A little way down the road, a thought popped into my head.  Call it denial or self-preservation, but I tried to shake this thought.  No.  I was being silly.  Finally I asked Paige, "Did anyone hurt YOU?"  Still sobbing, she squeaked out the word, "yes."

What did I think?  What did I feel?  I really was too shocked to feel.  I went completely numb, emotionally and physically.  This couldn't have happened.  No way.  Not Paige, not Daisy.  I must be misunderstanding what she is saying.  The professional in me kicked in and I decided not to ask Paige any more details because I wanted her to tell the details to the police.  She was so inconsolable at that point, I couldn't stand to probe any further.  Colton was vacillating between tears and clenched-jaw anger.  His face was bright red.  His fists were clinched.  I was afraid for him as well. 

I decided to take Paige to the hospital in Maryville, rather than going to the police station.  Here is where I made my first mistake.  When we got to the hospital in Maryville, Paige was taken to a room and given a physical exam by a SANE nurse.  They had her undress and took her clothing and put it in a bag.  One of the details I remember vividly was watching the nurse bagging Paige's clothes and marking them "EVIDENCE."  Could this seriously be happening?  Those are my daughter's clothes.  Those are OURS.  They then proceeded to do her pelvic exam.  At 13, this was her first exam.  For adult women, this exam is uncomfortable and annoying at best.  For a 13 year old, traumatized girl, I could not imagine how she felt.  I cried.  That was my daughter and she was too young for that.  They were violating her. 

After the exam, Paige and I were separated and she was taken to a room to be questioned by a deputy.  I asked to go with her and was told that I could not.  Another deputy took me to a table in the hospital.  He had a list of names on a piece of paper.  He asked me if I knew any of the names.  I did not recognize any of them.  I still had no idea what had happened and why they were doing this to us.  All I could think about was Paige in the other room talking to a strange man, alone and frightened.  Again, being violated. 

The sheriff took me to another room and told me what they knew at this point.  The girls had sneaked out of the house, drank, and were assaulted at a boy's house.  I don't remember exactly what he said, my brain was in a fog.  I couldn't comprehend anything he was saying.  We were finally allowed to see Daisy and Melinda.  Daisy was still somewhat intoxicated.  The girls hugged each other and cried.  Melinda and I hugged and cried.  There were no words at that point.  I remember nothing else from there. 

At some point in the next couple of days, we received notice that Paige had to speak to the juvenile officer in Maryville and give him details of what happened.  The boy who assaulted Paige was a juvenile, so we had to talk to the juvenile authorities.  Paige and I went into the juvenile office early one morning to meet with the officer.  I remember seeing pictures on his wall that his children had drawn for him.  I saw pictures on his desk of his family.  I wondered what exactly his role was in all of this, how he would treat Paige.  He began asking questions.  This is the point where I heard details of the assault for the first time.  Paige recounted every painful disgusting detail of what had happened to her that night.  I remember feeling nauseated and panicked.  I kept looking at the door and fighting the urge to grab Paige and run out that door, go home, lock the house up, and never come out.

We rode home in silence that morning.  What do you say to a broken 13 year old who just had to tell a strange, grown man, details about a very personal experience?  I don't remember her crying.  I remember thinking to myself that she was still in shock.  I thought at that point, the worst was probably behind us.  I had no idea how wrong I was.

My next blog entry will recount the details of our dealings with the legal system with Paige's assault. I also intend to give some advice to parents about what to do if this happens to them, advice I wish I'd been given.

Hug your daughters.