Lesson Learned: How False Spirituality and Toxicity Ruined a Friendship


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By Shermeeka Mason

 

The issues started two weeks ago when my former housemate, Kelleigh, told me that I had to move out.  And I was given two weeks.

The reason, she explained, was that I became too comfortable, that she and her partners, Alan and James, were enabling me by letting me stay longer, and that I was prevented from reaching my highest potential.

At first, I thought about what she said, actually believing to some extent that Kelleigh may be right. The time period I was allotted was, of course, not enough, so I asked if I could stay until August 1st so I could at least get everything situated.  “But will you be able to pay,” she asked with slight concern.   My unemployment ran out at the beginning of June so I was unable to pay the $300 needed to pay for the room me and my cat Tobias shared (I thought my benefits would last until October—around the same time I was terminated).  Until then, I was told that I could stay for an extended time as long as I paid rent every month—which I did until the benefits dried up.

Now I was given a two-week notice to “reach my highest potential.”

With very little money to my name, this sudden change caused me unnecessary anxiety and depression that made me emotionally shut down for the two days (I usually do this to process anything negative going on).  My coping mechanism instigated further tension that resulted in me and Kelleigh distancing ourselves from one another.

It all came to a head when I found out from a lawyer friend of mine that, because I was not served eviction papers by a marshal, then Kelleigh and Alan were legally obligated to grant me thirty days to move out—not two weeks as originally requested.  When I told Kelleigh this, that was when her true nature and feelings about me revealed themselves.

“So you’d rather stay someplace where you’re not even wanted?” she asked aggressively.

“It doesn’t matter,” I replied, feeling my own agitation. “I still have thirty days according to New York State law.”

“If you’re not out by Friday, your stuff will be on the lawn.”

“You can’t do that either because it’s against the law.”

“This is my fucking house and I can do whatever I want.”

When I stood my ground, her voice became louder and her tone more aggressive. She eventually declared the conversation over with and I left her room.  I retreated to my room, my entire body shaking as I began dialing numbers absentmindedly just to talk to someone.  The verbal assault and the feeling of being unwanted pushed right back into my childhood.  All this because she was informed of state’s tenant laws?

I was sitting on my bed when she opened my door and starting accusing me of yelling at her.  When I denied doing so, Kelleigh screamed:

“SO NOW YOU’RE WANTING TO PLAY THE VICTIM??  I WANT YOU TO GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY HOUSE. YOU YELLED AT ME DOWNSTAIRS, YOU SLAM DOORS, YOU TALK SHIT ABOUT US ON FACEBOOK, YOU BANG ON THE WALLS–”

“No, I didn’t!”

“YES YOU DO!  I HEAR YOU ALL THE TIME DOING IT!  YOU’RE A VIOLENT BITCH!!”

She then slammed the door and pulled on the knob, preventing me from leaving.  “FUCK YOU!! I barked, banging on the door.  I’M NOT VIOLENT, BITCH!!!

Kelleigh quickly opened the door once again.  “SO NOW YOU’RE BANGING ON MY DOOR??  YOU SCARE THE LIVING SHIT OUT OF ME!!”  She then hurried to her own room and shut the door, leaving in tears and reaching out to friends and family on Facebook.

Fuck the thirty days, I thought while I frantically typed my vitriol S.O.S. call.  I wanted out and wanted out right then and there.  Whatever it took—job or no job.   A few minutes later, I heard a knock on my door.  I opened the door with a shaky hand and found myself nearly face to face with not one cop, but two.  Kelleigh told them that I lunged at her and because she’s blind, she feared for her safety.  What?  Last time I checked, she displayed very little fear while standing at my door calling me a violent bitch and hurling false accusations.  And now she’s playing the role the potential blind assault victim?

That alone was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

For the rest of the week, I was on guard and extremely standoffish.  If I did address Kelleigh or Alan, it had something to do with what I needed to take care of before I finally left.  Even as my friend Lilah and I loaded her car with my belongings, they displayed bouts of subtle disrespect—especially her husband Alan, who kept observing my every move while doing nothing to help.  When Alan did speak, he made comments like “At least you got the attic cleared out” or “How many more trips do you have?” in attempts to rush me out.

Tobias and I are currently living with my friend Phill and his cat daughter, Princess, until I get on my feet again. He’s a fellow Nichiren Buddhist who immediately opened his home to the both of us and I feel a difference emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Now that I’m settled for the most part, I can finally process the debauchery that was the last week.  In fact, ‘debauchery’ isn’t the appropriate term for this experience.  It was basically an example of an immense abuse of power involving socioeconomics, economic abuse, disability-shaming, mental illness, the misuse of positive psychology, and religious/emotional manipulation.

That’s a mouth full, right?  But bear with me and I’ll explain what I mean.

Before I moved into their home, Kelleigh and I had already connected as friends and spiritual beings. By “spiritual beings,” I’m referring to the fact that we share similar beliefs regarding mediumship, energy, and anything pertaining to the paranormal. I do not speak about that part of my life often, so it was a relief to share that aspect of myself with someone.  It was because of this that I also connected with her emotionally, disclosing to her my distrust of most people while crying on her shoulder.  So I moved in truly believing I had found a kindred spirit.

They all knew that I had no job and living on unemployment, but also me and my cat to stay in the spare room because we were all under the impressions that I would be gone within two weeks.  But when my housing plans fell through, Kelleigh comforted me by saying that it was ok because she appreciated a having a spiritual woman in the house—even if only a for short period.

Eventually I was given the opportunity to stay there as long as I paid rent because I couldn’t find a place.  She told me that was a member of the family and became enmeshed in their household culture as far as helping around the house.

Though I was grateful for their help, there were some red flags—especially in regards to finances. They had more of an income than I did, yet took the majority of my benefits for rent.  I was initially supposed to pay $400, but that was too much, considering the other expenses I had.  I even said that if $400 was the price, then I will have to find another location.

“Where are you going to go where you can stay for free?” she asked.  I told her that I could reach out the Care Management team at Trillium, but no other immediate option other than a shelter.

We finally agreed on $300 a month—or $75 a week.  Though it was still a little steep, it was better than being on the street and it included everything. But I soon began falling behind on other expenses such as my cell phone bill and storage fee.  Despite me sharing this concern, Kelleigh and Alan still expected to pay the amount agreed.

Speaking of concerns, there were also a few times when Kelleigh criticized my use of mental health services.  She stated more than once that, though completely blind, she managed to maintain her independence without the services.  Therefore, she didn’t understand why I couldn’t do the same, wondering what I would do for myself once mental health services were no longer an option for me.

I became defensive immediately, explaining to her that this was my first time ever focusing on my mental health and trauma since graduating from college!  Noticing my distress, Kelleigh told me that she and I were “the same person” because “we are both emotional people.”  I want to point out that she made this comment a few times whenever I was upset about something she said or did.  In retrospect, this was classic gaslighting, a form of emotional manipulation utilized by abusers to make their victims question their own reality.

But I refused to internalize her words, knowing that they only reason why I became pissed: she compared her reality, her experiences, and emotion irregulation to mine when they were dissimilar.

For one, Kelleigh not only collects disability, but has two employed partners supporting her and the household financially.  She has enough income to pay a mortgage, care for a menagerie of pets, and buy spiritual books online.  I, on the other hand, was homeless and heavily relying on unemployment benefits to rent a room and care for Tobias—while searching for employment.  And until recently, I was not prescribed adequate medication for my mental illness and Inattentive ADD so I was dealing with suicide ideations, chronic depression, anxiety, and PTSD symptoms—in addition to not possessing the wherewithal to maintain focus and motivation.  I’m the complete opposite when on the right meds and I know this about myself.

So by making such comparisons, my fellow “spiritual being” was erroneously implying that I heavily rely on services as if they were a crutch. Even if that was the case, my receiving assistance—and what that entailed—was really no concern of hers as I was taking the initiatives necessary to better myself.  Therefore, Kelleigh’s assessment of me using social services I needed was inappropriate, extremely shaming, and psychologically violent.

Her need to give unsolicited pseudo-spiritual advice involving positive psychology soon put me on pause.  Two days after telling me I had to move, Kelleigh accused me of “having an attitude.”  “Either you can make the next two weeks miserable or it could be positive,” she said calmly in front of her silent partners.

“You gave me two weeks and I don’t know what’s going to happen to me,” I snapped.  “So if I have an attitude, it’s because I’m scared.  I’m trying not to go off, which is why I’ve been silent for the past two days.  Ok?”  I then went upstairs to my room, suddenly feeling sickened by what just occurred.

I stopped believing in positive psychology years ago because its main purpose is to completely dismiss individuals’ negative emotions.  Practiced by many metaphysical spiritualists, this school of thought is not only detrimental to those struggling with mental illness and emotional issues, but there is no scientific evidence supporting its validity.  Not to mention that positive psychology is NEVER about the individual dealing with negative thinking, but ALWAYS about someone else’s discomfort.  And in this case, this “choice” pertaining to my emotional state was about Kelleigh and her partners’ discomfort with confrontation.

So telling me to “be positive” when I was being disposed of was nothing more than her slapping me in the face while praying for me.  This alone is why I’m officially distrusting of those practicing metaphysical spirituality, for Kelleigh was the third practictioner to show their true nature once realizing that they have no control over me.

Long story short, I am glad to have distance myself from such a toxic situation.   For the being, Tobias and I are living in a safe place until I find employment that will support me, my furry ball of a son, and my dreams of being a full-time writer and public speaker.  But living with Kelleigh, Alan, and James also revealed to me how I am too nice to individuals who are all too willing to dispose of me.  I experienced this with people I’ve dated, worked with, and befriended.  I wasted so much energy and time striving to prove myself to those who don’t deserve anything involving me.  So regardless of how hurtful and abusive the living arrangement was, I now know that from this moment on, I will give time and energy to not only care for myself and spirit, but support those who show me genuine love and support.

 

Author Bio:  Shermeeka M.L. Mason is a self-published author, blogger, and volunteer radio show host.  She recently published the political science-fiction novel, The One Taken from the Sea of Stars under the pen name Octavia Davis.  She is also the creator of and contributor for two blogs, The Possible World and The Chuck Taylor Buddhist (both available on WordPress.com).  In addition to being an active author, Mason is currently one of the co-hosts of The Bonfire Talks on WAYO 104.3 FM.  In her spare time, she reads, performs with the Rochester Womens’ Community Chorus, binges on Facebook, and spends time with beloved cat-son, Tobias.

 

 

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When We Are Silent We Are Still Afraid, We Speak Up to Survive: An Interview with Julie


In the second installment of the “Your Voice is Beautiful” series, Earth First! activist and writer Loki interviews fellow comrade Julie Henry about her abusive relationship with Rod Coronado, well-known animal rights activist and environmentalist of Wolf Patrol.  To learn more about this interview or Earth First!, click here.  Thank you Loki and Julie for letting me share this piece in The Possible World.  Your story will help so many people.

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By Loki of Earth First!

Content Warning: Sexual Assault, Backlash, Victim Blaming

2015 is the year that rape culture, a buzz word that has been rattling around in my brain for over a decade, took on a whole new meaning. I watched story after story about rape or abuse unfold. Steubenville. Jimmy Saville. Bill Cosby. Jian Ghomeshi. Julian Assange. Most of those names mean something to all of the women and femmes I know. Many of us shared news articles, used hashtags, got sucked into furious Facebook flame wars. For once, the mainstream media seemed to be as saturated with stories of sexual assault as my personal world often is. In the midst of all this, I heard that people were coming forward and sharing stories about Rod Coronado’s violent, unsafe behavior. It felt like a familiar tale; I (and many other women and trans folks) had come forward in the early 2000s with our own experiences of being sexually assaulted or abused by fellow environmental activists. Time and time again, the reputations of men are protected at the expense of safety for women, trans, and gender-nonconforming people. All of this is still very present and real inside our own Earth First! circles, as we try to figure out how best to show up for survivors and make our movements better equipped to challenge abusive behavior.

In 2014 a crew of folks tried to call out Rod Coronado, a well-known animal and earth liberation activist. They felt he had been violent and threatening towards his ex-wife Chrysta. They had also heard stories of predatory behavior towards younger women. A movement-wide call-out seemed necessary because they believed he was a risk to women in the environmental movement. The Earth First! activists they reached out to about this in the summer of 2014 didn’t share this information with the wider community. A renewed effort was made later that year, and an email warning people about Rod began circulating in early 2015. Around that time, Julie, a “new guard” EF! activist, came forward with an experience of being sexually assaulted by Rod in November 2014. A few months later, Julie shared her experiences in a statement that was circulated over email and social media. Being open about her experiences was an act of solidarity with all the other women out there who have survived sexual or physical violence. She has received a mixture of support and vitriol, as have others who helped call Rod out.

In the spring of 2015, Julie approached the EF!J Collective about sharing her statement on theNewswire, but they didn’t follow through on her request. I approached Julie because I wanted to help her share her story with a wider audience. We asked the Journal Collective to revisit their previous decision to not share Julie’s experiences on the Newswire. They agreed to do so after hearing input from other survivors and allies in the community. Her interview should serve as a wake-up call to all of us to renew our commitment to challenging cultures of abuse in our own networks and organizations.

Loki: What led you to get involved in Earth First!?

Julie: Before I was an activist, I was a researcher. My background is in biology and environmental science, and I have a degree in wildlife biology and field biological techniques. After I graduated from college, I got an opportunity to do research for a wildlife agency in Vermont. I would spend weeks at a time in the field conducting environmental impact studies. On occasion, I would write environmental impact statements. To make a long story short, I soon became disillusioned with what I was doing, and I came to the realization that Fish and Wildlife is nothing more than a government hunting club on the side of the exploiters. Meanwhile I’m watching as oil companies and corporations are literally eating the planet and destroying what I thought I would be protecting. Fast-forward a bit, I quit and became an activist. 2009 to 2010 I spent in Southeast Asia doing undercover work on the black market wildlife trade. I would love to write an article on that some day. Fast-forward more, I’m back in the States. A year later I’m part of the Tar Sands Actions civil disobedience arrests in DC, which led me to meet more activists, and a year later I’m involved with the Tar Sands Blockade and EF!. Those are the cliff notes.

Why did you join Wolf Patrol?

I first heard about Wolf Patrol in the summer of 2014, and it came at a time in my life when I was looking to get involved in something again. I had just had a split from a partner and lost my community at the same time. I was vulnerable. I had never met Rod before, but Wolf Patrol felt like another chance to protect wildlife where I had failed in the past. I was really looking for a campaign to throw myself into.

The following is an excerpt from the statement you put out last year: “My boundaries became less and less respected and his touching became more … for his own gratification. There were nights I would wake up to my body being touched and fondled. There was no more checking in, but it was all on me to push him off and tell him no. I could tell he was becoming increasingly more irritated with me. My anxiety didn’t go unnoticed by one of the other Wolf Patrol members. And when she asked me what was going on, I confided in her. It got so bad that finally I took him aside and told him it had to stop. I told him what it was doing to me emotionally. Shortly after, his entire demeanor towards me changed. I should have realized then what was going on. Then a few nights later, it happened. My most triggering boundary, where all my trauma surrounds, was violated.” How did Rod react when you talked with him about the experiences mentioned in this statement?

It took me hours to work up the courage to confront him about it. I really had no idea how he would react. I was completely terrified, so when I finally did have my moment, all I could say was “Why? Why did you do that to me?” What’s strange is that he didn’t even act shocked that I had just accused him of raping me. He pretty much just dismissed it like it was funny to him. He told me that what I was telling him was “impossible.” As if I should have been honored. Then he told me that I was being too emotional and that he wasn’t going to talk to me until I calmed down. That I was being demanding of him by taking up his precious time to talk to him about this. Then he left. Left me alone with the only two other remaining team members to finish up the campaign in Montana, while he went home. Twelve hours later he called me to “discuss the matter,” which was really him telling me how I had wanted it, because he would never do anything that I didn’t want. And it was very clear from his tone that me talking about this anymore would not go well for me. Then he went on to tell me that he had decided that we didn’t have good chemistry. I was stunned. I don’t even remember how I responded, if I even responded at all. I wanted to say, “You think, you fucking asshole!?” But I didn’t. Then I felt the most acute loneliness and isolation in the acceptance that I wasn’t going to pursue this matter any more. I knew it would hurt more trying to seek accountability from someone who was so clearly telling me that he would never be accountable.

 

I can definitely understand why you felt silenced after Rod told you it would be best all around if you kept quiet. I know there’s also been some discussion about why you didn’t go to the police. Did pressing charges feel like an option for you?

Absolutely not. And I’m really glad you brought this up. What has really been hurtful and baffling is some of the responses I’ve gotten over how I reacted in the aftermath of this situation: “Rod is innocent until proven guilty in a court-of-law;” “If this really happened then why didn’t she go to the police?” Or, “You should really think twice about talking about such serious criminal actions without proof,” paraphrasing something from Rod himself. The baffling part is that the people who are criticizing me for not going to the police are people who have been in the movement actively fighting against police and state repression for decades. What would they be saying if I had gone to the police? So my question to them is this: Why do you throw survivors under the bus when movement insiders commit the horrific acts you claim to stand against? In a community where we as survivors are told not to go to the police, where we have a completely different version of “justice,” what do we have to do? What are you bringing to us as an alternative? I’m not supposed to go to the police, but there’s also no safe alternative that I have. I can’t even speak up without knowing I will be attacked. No, I absolutely did not consider going to the police. Of course the whole police/state repression issue was the last thing on my mind immediately after. I had an even greater fear. My team. What would they say? What would they do? I was in the wilderness, alone with these people. I didn’t trust the police, I didn’t trust the community of hunters who had been threatening us, and I didn’t trust my team. By not going to the police, I felt like I was protecting myself from a whole circus of shame. I wasn’t ready to lose control over my situation. By doing nothing I was at least still in control. No, going to the police was just not an option.

It makes a lot of sense that you’d want to remain in control of the situation at that point. It sounds like you might have been in a really vulnerable position. What happened after you confronted Rod? Were you able to talk to other people in the campaign about your experiences with him?

Even before that night, I had confided in one of the girls in the campaign that Rod had been making me uncomfortable. He’d been pressuring me more and more, and when I didn’t give in, he’d either ignore me or treat me like I wasn’t valued anymore. So after I had confronted Rod and had him react the way he did, I was completely devastated and probably in a state of shock. I couldn’t have hidden the fact that I was not OK, even if I was greatest actor in the world. So I confided to the rest of the crew. At first I believed that they were supportive and had my back, but over the next few days, that all changed. Towards the end, the bullying had escalated to a point that I felt so unsafe that I called Rod to get me out of that situation. It was the biggest mind fuck I’d experienced yet. I now depended on him for my safety and well being. That’s when I really think certain parts of me shut down completely. Rod rescued me from them and I was relieved to see him. I went back to his house and spent the next few days there before I left to stay with friends in Kalamazoo. I went back to his house. I stayed in his bed. Sometimes I still hate myself for that.

That sounds like such a tough spot to be in, to have to rely on Rod because you felt bullied by someone else. I wish people would realize how often women or trans people have to make those kinds of decisions when they’re struggling to keep themselves safe and come to terms with the traumatic nature of what happened to them. Were your friends in Kalamazoo more supportive?

I didn’t tell them. By the time I was in Kalamazoo, I had convinced myself that it was my fault, that I deserved it, that I was garbage. What kind of a victim goes back to their abuser anyway? I was traumatized by the bullying and it felt less complicated to talk about that than it did the assault. I still had a lot of shame about it and had now been conditioned to keep my mouth shut. Even for a long time afterwards, I still wanted to organize with Wolf Patrol and was crushed when I was told I wasn’t welcome back. It’s actually hard thinking back to that time in Kalamazoo because I was trying so hard to be OK. My friends there were wonderful but I know I was clearly depressed. Even for months afterwards, I found myself breaking down multiple times a day. I tried to keep it under control. I do remember one specific incident when we were all painting a banner and I just suddenly became overwhelmed. I declared to everyone that I was excusing myself so I could fill up the tub and have a cry bath. (Never underestimate the power of a good cry bath.)

It sounds like it was hard to feel comfortable sharing your experiences. I know a lot of survivors struggle with that, because they are afraid of not being believed or of being judged for how they responded to the abuse. A lot of the survivor advocates I’ve spoken with talk about why it’s important to support and validate survivors who do come forward. They feel that doing this will create a culture where people feel safe sharing their experiences of abuse. Why did you feel it was important to tell more people about what happened?

Not only is there so much fear about not being believed but there’s so much shame associated with it. To make the decision to speak up, you know that all your sins from the past will be thrown back in your face. I had absolutely no plans to come forward, especially not publicly, but it wasn’t until a while later someone approached me and very bluntly asked me if something had happened, if Rod had done something to me. And I broke down. I was tired of keeping it a secret. I feel like I need to say this: I don’t think I ever would have told anyone, had she not directly asked me. And it frightens me to think about that. She encouraged me to reach out to a few former Wolf Patrol teammates who had left the campaign due to issues with Rod. I think she may have told them because it felt like they already knew, which to be honest, made it easier for me.

It was during a conference call with them (former Wolf Patrol team) that they asked if they could talk to others about what happened. I was hesitant for at least a week, knowing that once it was out, whatever amount of control I had would be over. That itself was terrifying. I knew I was going to be attacked if it was public, and I needed time to consider all the ramifications.

That week I came across an article about a woman who’d been assaulted and she never said anything. Then later a woman in her town had committed suicide, and in her letter she implicated the [same] person who had been assaulting her. I called them immediately after and told them, “Yes, you can share my story.” Silence helps no one. Silence protects abuse. I was helping no one by staying silent.

It sounds like you were afraid of the negative repercussions of speaking out, but you wanted to warn other women about Rod so that they wouldn’t have the same experiences as you. That feels like real bravery to me! I know that there has been backlash against you and people supporting you. Do you have any examples of that?

Besides being called a liar, crazy, psycho, I’ve been labeled a snitch, an informant, accused of using COINTELPRO tactics, and at one point Rod even accused me of being an agent directly working for lawmakers “targeting my work.” That one was actually kinda cute. There’s now a rumor going around that I recanted the whole story. There’s also an attorney who’s been actively creating a climate of fear and threatening others who wanted to talk about it. Not only was I being labeled all these things, but so was anyone who supported me.

Are you aware of other people who have had similar experiences with Rod? And have you been able to connect with any of them?

Chrysta (Rod’s ex-wife) is the only one. So far. And it was probably the most validating experience, not that I needed someone else to validate what had happened to me, but just having her reach out to me and tell me that she believes me. She’s really been an angel to me.

Many survivors talk about having to leave their communities or organizations after they’ve been assaulted because of the backlash they experience. In activist communities, this means that we are losing a lot of really powerful, outspoken activists after they are assaulted. In this sense, the abuse itself, and the backlash that these survivors (the majority of whom are women and/ or trans people) and their allies get in the aftermath is a form of repression. It deters them from staying involved, just like state harassment or violence deters some people from getting involved with or staying involved in grassroots activism. Has what happened with Rod impacted your ability to continue to organize with Earth First!?

One of the first consequences was being kicked out of Wolf Patrol, a campaign I really wanted to be a part of, because Rod wields so much power. But I’ve been more afraid to organize anywhere, because Rod has so many friends and supporters. I live with that as a constant fear. Certain Wolf Patrol members have been virulently, actively trying to destroy my reputation and it’s scary. It’s really really frightening.

Have there been any attempts to hold Rod accountable or do any kind of accountability process with him?

All I have is secondhand information. I want to make something very clear, because there’s been a lot of different stories: When asked if I wanted to pursue an accountability process with Rod, I said no, because number one, he’s not going to be held accountable. I believe he will continue to deny it, and I’m not going to put anyone through the abuse. Nobody’s got time for that shit! So I made it clear that I wasn’t actively seeking a process, because his first response was to make me believe it was my fault. He’s also extremely manipulative.

Are there any final thoughts you wanted to share?

Yes. Sexual assault and harassment have been something I’ve dealt with most of my life. I’m sure this is something that many womyn can relate to. It became normalized. I handled it by trying to ignore it and move on. But this is not a single horrible event womyn suffer once in their lifetime. It’s an epidemic. Something I started to notice after speaking up about what Rod did to me is that men hate rape. Let me rephrase that: Men hate the word “rape.” It takes the onus off of survivors and points the finger directly at who is responsible. Men who commit rape. Rapists.

The problem with our culture is that people—men, and even some womyn—believe that rape is a very specific crime. Rape is only rape when a survivor is abducted against their will, by a stranger in the dark. It can’t be rape if they knew their rapist. It can’t be rape if the survivor had consensual sex any other time in her life. These lies are damaging, but they stem from misogyny and patriarchy that still leads our culture. These lies take someone who is already traumatized and dumps the shame and guilt on them when it belongs to the one who committed the crime. To everyone who has supported me (and there have been many): a huge thank you! I could not have ever done this without you! To those who would rather I not have spoken out publicly, I’ll make you a deal. Get off of your computer and do something to stop these crimes from happening to womyn. Call men out when you see sexist behavior. Call your friends out when they participate in it. Make it socially unacceptable for men to abuse and oppress us. If you do that for me, then I won’t have to. Until then, I won’t be silenced. To anyone who has ever been hurt by Rod or men like him, you have a voice. Abuse and oppression thrive on silence. People like Rod thrive on silence. Fuck them. Fuck him. Speak your truth.

Please visit youcaring.com/support-for-julie for more informationon how you can support Julie.

Loki is an artist-storyteller and PhD student currently residing in unceded Coast Salish Territories. They have a background in forest defense and feminist/queer community organizing. A central focus of their research and praxis is the history of anti-oppression and safer space organizing within forest defense in the early 2000s. Contact them via their website or twitter at lokiera.wordpress.com or twitter.com/kjandersons

Survival in Practice


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By Dr. Sekile Nzinga-Johnson

 

I’m typically a chatty Cathy…except for when I’m in pain.

When I was in labor with my children, I was sooooooo quiet. Labor was painful and somehow I intuitively turned inward to survive it. During my first labor and delivery, I remember my grandmother being very worried about me not using medical intervention. She and her bible sat in the corner. She was present and prayerful and I was grateful for her.

Cedric was right beside me and I recall when the pain got so intense I looked at him and said “I don’t think I can do it!!” He looked back at me and said, “Yes, you can”. I turned inward and I did.  I pushed out a 7 lb 15 oz baby boy. It was then that realized that I could survive what was quite surely one of the greatest physical pains that a body can tolerate. I set the terms, no pain killers, a Ghanian fertility doll as a focal point and loved ones present to help me get through. But ultimately, it was me who had to get that baby out of me and had to deal with the pain associated with childbirth.

It was no joke but I felt like a bad ass after.

During labor, it was my silence that was most necessary. I had learned the Lamaze breathing/panting (ineffective) technique, but I just wanted peace and quiet so I could listen to my body and survive the pain. With each childbirth, I refined my desire for intentional silence during labor. I learned Hypno birthing and incorporated affirmations that helped me believe that I could birth my baby. This practice is necessary only because we have been taught to fear our bodies and the child birthing process as well as deny our strength. The hypnotic state was really a deep relaxation and meditative process. It required inward reflection and visualizing a place of peace. Even the verbal prompts Cedric had practiced to help me go deeper into a hypnotic/relaxed state were distracting in the labor process because of my deep desire for silence and turning inward. I needed peace and quiet to survive that pain. No nurses coming in and out poking and prodding, no lights on, no massages. Just me getting through that shit.

Leave me alone.

I birthed an 8 lb 7 oz baby boy that day with very little pushing thanks to a very self-determined little one.  By the time the 3rd labor came along, I was skilled at childbirth and also at knowing which conditions were ideal for me. Silence and solitude during labor! I wanted my support system there, which now included Cedric and the boys. I had the boys with a family friend while I was in labor but they were the 1st ones to hold and see their little sister after she was born. Unfortunately, my midwife did not get the memo about my need for peace and quiet and got on my damned nerves the whole time. She could not accept that I was in charge of my birthing process and kept trying to offer suggestions. Irritated the fuck out of me.

What I have realized is that when I am in pain, deep pain, I hurt too much to explain myself to others. Cedric was my advocate but we could not regain control of the labor and delivery process. I felt disempowered. I recall that process as my worse birthing experience simply because I felt imposed upon and I was not allowed to just lie there and meditate til that baby was ready to come out. She wanted me to shift positions and just kept talking. I needed to just survive the ugly beauty of my pain in peace. Thankfully, a 8 lb 6 oz baby girl blessed me with another quick labor and put me out of my noise induced misery.

I find myself in pain a lot lately. My current pain is not physical–it is psychic, emotional, psychological and spiritual. It still hurts and it’s hard to explain its fullness to others. I tend to retreat into myself during these times. It’s simply too tiring and painful to try to help others get why and how a happily married, mother of 3 beautiful children with a bunch of sister-friends who owns a home, smiles a lot, and is a professor is dealing with anxiety and life long depression. My support team is ready to help—friends call, family members pray, Cedric does the heavy lifting at home and is the affirming spouse that I need in my life. I am grateful.

But I have learned that sometimes I still have to–need to– turn inward to survive my life. Especially when I feel my survival and joy are at risk or are being threatened. It is how I have survived before when there was seemingly no one at my side (go ahead, insert your “but God” here). Turning inward is how I am still here. I need to time to think, to name my pain, and at times go numb to survive it. Turning inward feels safe in this moment. Being in silent solitude through pain also allows me to spiritually ground myself and to store my reserves so I can tackle life as it is dealt. Living in solitude means not having to explain why I stopped listening to someone in the middle of their sentence, or why I am not feeling happy at “happy” moments or why I am not interested in things that typically bring me joy like socializing and exercising and eases some of the pressure. It means not having to cry in public or navigate answering the dreaded question “how are you doing?”

Prayer, meditation, silence, and out of body robot mode—have helped me survive before, in beautiful times like during childbirth and in horrific times, like during child sexual abuse.  I won’t stay forever but this is where I am in this moment.

This is survival.

 

“Survival in Practice”  was reposted in The Possible World with Dr. Nzinga-Johnson’s permission.  Readers can find this piece and others on her Blogger.com blog, I usta be monique.

 

It Can Be Overcome: How I Cope with Depression


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By Steve Crowley

I’m going to try and keep this piece relatively short but I can’t make any promises. Once I open up and start writing about things like this, I’m not exactly sure what will come out or where it will lead. For starters, I’ve been dealing with depression and slight anxiety for as long as I can remember.

Coupled with that, I also have cerebral palsy. Mine isn’t as bad as a lot of other cases but I do walk with a significant limp and have difficultly performing certain tasks that most would have no trouble with. This might surprise some but if I had the choice of getting rid of the palsy or the depression, I would eliminate the depression, hands down.

The cerebral palsy is obviously visible. People can tell I’m dealing with something. They most likely don’t know what, but they know something isn’t as it should be. But more importantly to me, it’s the same day in and day out. It’s not like I woke up one morning and was like, “Shit, I can’t run a mile today because my leg is fucked up.” That’s always been the case and it always will be the case. I know what I can do with it and I know what I can’t do with it. Many things I do in my own way. Sure, I get some strange looks if I’m a crab walking down the side of a hill during a hike because it’s the easiest and most efficient way for me to get to point B. I couldn’t care in the least. It’s one way I deal with what’s been given to me.

The depression, on the other hand, is a totally different animal altogether. No one can see it, no one knows I’m dealing with it unless I say something (which I never do) and the worst part is that it can show up unexpectedly at any time. And on top of all that, there are varying severities of it as well. Some days I have very little energy (that’s the worst of it) and on others I want to keep to myself and not be around anyone. At the worst of times, I constantly think about taking my own life. But with a lot of conscious effort, those really bad days don’t come around so often any more. And that’s what I want to focus on in this piece: explaining some of the things I do to make my depression not as formidable as it once was.

For years I tried battling it the “traditional” way with counseling and medication with very limited results. Part of the problem was that, for whatever reason, my cerebral palsy leaves me with odd sensitivities to certain foods and most drugs—both the fun ones and the prescribed ones. So while some medications would make it even more difficult for me to walk, another might make it nearly impossible for me to get it up and to me not being able to walk and/or have sex is more depressing than having depression. The best results I had were when a drug would work great for six months and then be absolutely worthless after that. So needless to say I needed to find something other than prescription drugs to help me get through or prevent these low points.

After some time (and trial and error), I came across a combination of things that really help keep me happy, build self-esteem and fight off these funks. I know people aren’t robots or machines so everything that works for me won’t be the exact things that do the trick for someone else, but I still thought it could be beneficial to share them. For the sake of length and simplicity, I’m just going to list the items and give a brief description if I feel it’s necessary.

  • I’m kind to myself. I don’t beat myself up for making mistakes.
  • I’m kind to others. It doesn’t do anyone any good to judge others and put them down.
  • It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s helped me tremendously.
  • I like to help my friends whenever possible with no expectations of anything in return.
  • Continuously volunteering in my community has had an enormous, positive impact on my life
  • Eating healthy.
  • Not spending a lot of time on electronics (phone, TV, etc).
  • Spending time outdoors.
  • Deep conversations.
  • I try my best not to give a shit what others think of me.
  • Consuming very little alcohol and no other recreational drugs.
  • I try to quickly dispel any negative thoughts, and not dwell on them.
  • This one can be tricky but it’s might be the most important. I try to always be doing something that I love. I’m not crazy about my job, it brings me no joy whatsoever so I do projects here and there that do make me happy. I work on my writing, I brew beer and am trying to open a brewpub, I also want to open a place where kids can come and meditate, no matter their experience level.
  • Lastly, I’m always trying to make myself a better person. The key is I don’t put overwhelming pressure on myself to do so. I just give myself little, encouraging, mental nudges when I need them.

That might seem like a lot but it’s not as difficult as you might think. If I slack on a few of them, it’s not the end of the world. It’s when I’m doing almost none of those things that I find myself in trouble. I’ve followed this guideline for nearly two years now and have only had one bout of depression the entire time and that’s because I allowed it to happen.  I was drinking heavily almost every day. I wasn’t meditating, I was eating like garbage, my heart wasn’t in my volunteering, and all I was doing with my free time was watching TV and playing video games. That’s basically a recipe for sadness and self-loathing. But I slowly put the pieces together and got back on track.

The key is that you have to play with it. I didn’t come up with this list overnight; I had to look deep inside myself and really analyze practically every move that I made. The things that brought be down, I slowly cut out of my life and that unfortunately included some people I used to be close with. The things that brought me happiness, joy and raised my vibration, I slowly kept incorporating. I imagine you’ll have to do the same. There are many tools and support systems to help you with your fight against mental illness. As cliche as it may sound, you just have to keep your head up and know that you’re not alone.

It can be overcome.

Life Without Regrets


“Each of us is merely a small instrument; all of us, after accomplishing our mission, will disappear.” 

–Mother Teresa, humanitarian

 

This has been an extremely trying week.

On Wednesday, April 20, Joan Marie Laurer—also known the legendary female wrestler Chyna—has been found dead in her home. When a friend of mine announces her death on Facebook, I don’t even believe him initially.  In fact, we argue online until TMZ.com release a report confirming her death.

If that hasn’t been tragic enough, the iconic musician Prince has passed away in his studio in Minnesota the very next day.  According to the media, he has canceled two concerts due to being ill and is hospitalized for a medication over dose.  Those who spoke with him prior to his death state that he seems fine, so the news shocks his neighbors and depressed the entire world.

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Unlike many of the celebrities who have left us earlier this year, Chyna and Prince are considered relatively young by today’s standards (the former was 45 while the latter was 57). Both seemed somewhat healthy despite taking medication and have been active up to their last days.  On the flipside, both have been struggling with substance abuse issues that may have contributed to their deaths.

Regardless of how they occurred, these recent deaths now have me ruminating on mortality and my own life in general.  Due to my beliefs in past lives and reincarnation, I do not believe that we simply disappear after we leave the Earth plane. I believe that our spirits move on to either become our spirit guides or to live another life to learn additional lessons.  But our physical bodies and people’s memories of us will remain here on Earth as well as our contributions to the world—whatever that may be.

I will be lying if I told you that I don’t wonder whether my last days are approaching sooner than I hope.  Like any person, I could never view myself as a person who would die, putting myself in situations that make absolutely no fucking sense because I somehow knew that I have been destined to make it out in piece. I would even go so far as to believe that if I were to die, I would do so by my own hands (these thoughts would come at the height of my depression, which I haven’t felt these days).

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But I will thirty-five this year and, though I don’t fear death for the most part, I also understand that I (or someone I know) can die at any moment.  With this in mind, I ask myself this question:  if I am to leave this world today, what type of life do I wish to leave behind?  Or what type of woman do I wish to become while I’m living and breathing?  What will be my legacy in the here and now and what can I do to make the best of the life I have now?

I’m not referring to being remembered in terms of fame and fortune (though that would be awesome).  But what can I do to make a life so epic in my own eyes that on my deathbed I can look back, smile, and think “Now that was dope ass shit right there.”

To tell you the truth, Reader, I’m halfway there:  I have published my own political sci-fi novel, The One Taken from the Sea of Stars, host a radio show called The Bonfire Talks every Wednesday at 3:00 p.m. on WAYO 104.3 FM, write two blogs, and I’m now starting to see the fruits of my labor as far as getting my name out there. These are causes I could not even see myself making due to my lack of confidence. However, I know I’m not done yet and have so much to do as far as my personal and spiritual work.  This is one of the reasons why I’m seeing a therapist and stepping up my Nichiren Buddhist practice.

Since I’ve begun doing The Work, I am able to look at why I am the way I am thus far.  Why I have been struggling with mental illness for as long as I have.  There have been various reasons, but for as long as I can remember, I have either shied away from my true power or have hidden it away so that others could bask in the glow of theirs. I’ve wasted time and energy trying to save others, doing for others while running on empty mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.  I’ve given people my body and allowed them to chip away parts of my spirit.

And there have been times that I have harmed someone in order to get the validation that I am enough.  In other words, I have depleted uber amounts of time—most of the time unnecessarily.

So when I read about the deaths of both Chyna and Prince, I not only think about their contributions to this world, but the energy and time they’ve spent being themselves.  Which is something I’ve always wanted to do just so I can experience life beyond trauma and mental illness. Therefore, I’m making a personal pact with myself:  from this day forward, I will work to step into the glow of my own power and do everything I can to create and live the quality of life I envision for myself.  I will no longer hide my talents but mold and shape them for the sake of being better.

Regardless of my spiritual beliefs, I will make certain that this life is not a wasted one.  I know in my spirit that I am not meant to live a life full of regrets or mourning over my past or erroneous decisions.  I am meant to be happy and to experience the life I imagine myself having.

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It’s Not Worth It: Not Caring About What Others Think


Not caring about what other people think is the best choice you will ever make.

–unknown

 

For years, I’ve carried the burden of caring what others thought of me.

Caring causes me to compare myself and my very existence to my more successful friends, reading their statuses on Facebook and wonder why I seriously haven’t gotten it together enough to obtain stability.  I even suspect that people whom I have known since my earlier days in Rochester are now giving me the side eye because I’ve decided not to work and focus on me and my mental health issues.

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In terms of intelligence, I know that certain people I have friended during my graduate studies no longer talk to me on the regular—possibly because they feel I cannot hold a conversation. I find this to be unfortunate because I don’t have any other people of color to talk to about the issues of racism that affect me daily.

I often feel like I’m walking on eggshells around others because I don’t want to have that conversation about my career goals or personal feelings, fearing judgement if I share my true thoughts (If I seem standoffish and quiet, that’s one of the reasons why).  This fear of judgement also plays into my fears of failure and being forgotten, which is another blog entry altogether.

After receiving a rejection letter from a prominent publishing house, I have reached out to my friend, Pam.  I have met her two years ago when I was writing Star Trek fan fiction and she and I have been friends ever since.  After sending her private messages about how I am not the person I imagine myself to be, she calls me later on in the evening to see how I am doing.

“Pam, I feel that people are judging me because I decided not to work in order to work on my mental health issues.  I even had a friend unfriend me on Facebook for whatever rea—“

She stops me midsentence.  “Who are these people you keep talking about?  Man, fuck these people.  You have to do what’s right for you.  You can’t give a fuck about what other people think and if they are going to unfriend you because of your mental illness, then they were never your friend to begin with.”

After hearing those words, I sit quietly on my bed and wonder why I care so much about what others think of me to begin with.  The truth is that I hate losing friends as it’s actually hard for me to keep them for whatever reason.  In fact, the fear of losing someone bothers me more than anything else—especially if I cherish them dearly. But would feel even worse about myself when they stop rocking with me if they deem me a damn failure. This is the reason why I would often bust my ass in school, at home, at work hoping for a positive outcome.

But in terms of failure, by who standards am I measuring my success?  My overall significance?  The more I think about these questions, the more I come to the conclusion that I’ve been listening to people—family and professionals alike—who either haven’t recognized my efforts or haven’t been aware of the issues I have been pushing aside.  Either way, I am hurting myself trying to impress them so they will be proud of me because I’m fighting for their love and approval.

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To gain the admiration of many, I have placed my mental health on the back burner in order to function in school and life.  I have placed my own trauma on hold to get involved in radical politics. Concerned friends have advised me to care for myself, but I have not listened because—in my mind—I still need to prove that I’m not the lost cause “most people” have written me off to be.  But I realize that actively ignoring my struggles (even though I experienced flashbacks and panic attacks on the low) has caused me more harm than good.  Caring about what other people think and attempting to mold myself into their image not only contributed to my depression, anxiety and PTSD but my suicidal ideations.  Wanting unconditional love and approval is one of the reasons why I would stay in toxic relationships to the point of being sexually and physically assaulted.

It has taken talking to my friend Pam and reflecting on my negative thinking logically to finally see people’s opinions of me for what they are—their fucking problem.  I don’t have to have the fancy job, the man, car, house or the big name in the political scene. What’s more important to ME is my overall sanity and happiness.  I deserve that.  I desire that and there’s nothing wrong with taking a break from the workforce or volunteer work to become healthy.  If people don’t understand that, that’s on them—not me.  And don’t you know that by not giving a fuck for the time being has actually alleviated my depressive episodes?  For the past few hours, I’ve felt like a beast, y’all!

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By the end of the day, this life—my life—is about giving myself the opportunity to heal from all that’s happened to me so I can be a whole.  Granted, I still want to be successful and even memorable. But I’m no longer willing to break my own spirit to gain the world’s approval.

It’s not worth it.

 

Going on Hiatus: What I’m Learning Through Celibacy


“I tend to agree that celibacy for a time is worth considering, for sex is dirty if all it means is winning a man, conquering a woman, beating someone out of something, abusing each other’s dignity in order to prove that I am a man, I am a woman.”

Toni Cade Bambara, author

 

Today I’m scrolling through my newsfeed on Facebook when something one of my friend’s posted catches my attention.

It’s a clip from My Mad Fat Diary, a British television series about a young girl named Rae who is released from a psychiatric ward.  I haven’t watched it recently, but I do consider it one of the best teen shows I’ve ever been introduced to.  It touches upon everything from Rae’s going through: self-harming, body issues, fitting into a society and a time period that doesn’t discuss certain issues openly (the show is set in the 90s—the year of Brownstreet and Oasis).

And then there’s her relationship with her boyfriend, Finn Nelson.

Well, speaking of him, he’s lying on Rae’s bed in the clip.  While Rae herself is mentally agonizing over whether Finn is even able to pleasure her sexually, he seems to do by massaging her clitoris with this thumb.  Not only is Rae’s surprised by the fact that he could pleasure her, but she describes the moment with a comedic, yet genuine innocence as dubs Finn a Sex Wizard.

After watching the clip, I think about it the majority of the day.  If anything, I think about Rae’s reaction to her boyfriend’s touch, her words, the look on her face as she imagines the universe as she enjoys as describes their experience with the act.  Correction:  her experience.  I witness her genuine connection with Finn—one that is proves to be important to her regardless of the nature of their interactions.

It’s also something that I wish I’ve been granted when I was her age.

At the age of five, my aunt Joyce introduces me to porn she somehow steals from my uncle Tony.  As she closes the door, I’d plop down on her bed and follow her every move when she slides the tape into the VCR.  Soon we would both watch these adults, these complete strangers do things to one another my young mind cannot comprehend.  I remember feeling the thrill of doing something secretive, forbidden despite the fear of being caught.  But we never are; by age eight, I begin watching Joyce and my cousin Chuckie having sex after I ask if I could.  By the age of ten, she would have sex with me because I too wish to do what those strangers in the videos have done.

I don’t know what I’m doing, to be honest.  I just know that it feels good and it’s the first time I am not beaten, ridiculed or yelled at for little to no reason.  It’s shameful, but it’s quiet.  And I feel something else: beautiful.  I’ve been called and perceived as ugly throughout my entire childhood and into my adult years.  So whenever I have sex, I feel that I can finally consider myself physically attractive enough to catch someone’s attention.

I chase that feeling for many years, engaging in unhealthy sexual relationships—sometimes using little to no protection.  I would meet complete strangers online or bring them back to my apartment to have sex. I’d travel long distances just to be with partners who would emotionally harm me in the long run.  I’d use sex in order to maintain “intimate” relationships with people I wish to actually be with and would become next to suicidal when things fall apart.  I’m not completely innocent in any of this.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve harassed, cursed out and even verbally assaulted someone I’ve been with—especially if they moved on to someone else.

The worst of my behavior has occurred in my early 20s.

Fast forward to 2016. I decide to become celibate after growing tired of the emotional and mental stress that comes with being sexual for all the wrong reasons.  I’ve tried it before in my 20s, but my fear of never having sex again prevents me from going longer than a month.  But after not seeing my sexual partner for about a month and constantly feeling as if I’m trying to mold him into the monogamist he could never be, I tell him that I don’t want to be with him—or anyone else—until further notice.

Since becoming celibate two months ago, I notice a trend:  the mere thought of having sex with another person causes me anxiety and depression. Even cuddling with someone is very much out of the question and the most I can do these days is a hug.  When I had been sexually active, I would use sex as a means to connect, feel disconnected from my body.  In my mind, it has never belonged to me, but to the person (or people) I am “with.”  But because I’m becoming more protective of my body, I find that I don’t trust my intentions or that of the other person when it comes to touching. When people hug me for long periods, I wonder if they are doing so to sexualize me or take possession of my body…of me.

At the same time, I feel and recognize the power of having a choice.  And my choice is to find out who I am without this need to connect through sexual contact.  It is only when I watch the clip featuring Rae and Finn that I’m further reminded that all I wish to do is experience love making with someone I love and on my own terms once I’ve healed from the sexual trauma.

I’m sharing all the gory details, Readers, not only for therapeutic reasons but because you too deserve and have the right to experience sex your way and at your own volition.  You have every right to not give someone access to your body, mind and your very core unless you feel comfortable—regardless of your gender and that of those who wish to have your time.