Too Scared to do What I Want

Today, I something pretty huge happened. You see, I’m traveling in Europe and attending a conference.  At the conference, another attendee offered to take a group of people on a walking tour of this city (they know the city well) the day after the conference – just “come up to me after the session and we can exchange contact information” if you want to go.

I started shaking. I really wanted to go – it sounds like a really fun way of seeing the city, and doing it with someone who actually knows the city is even more exciting. It’ll give me a chance to see things and talk to some of the attendees at the conference who, no doubt, are interested in many of the same things I am interested in. And it’s hard to meet up with people.

But I was shaking.

Would I recognize this person in 10 minutes? Almost certainly, no.

Would I be able to go up to them and tell them I’m interested? Again, no way.

But I really wanted to.

Yet I was terrified.

When you’re an autistic kid, particularly if you don’t fit into the clique of other boys at all, life is pretty horrifying – and that leaves scars. It leaves a scar that makes it hard to go up to people and say, “Yes, I WANT SOMETHING!”  You learn that your interests are wrong, that you aren’t cool enough to hang around with other people, and, if by some miracle they let you come along, that’s only because they plan on doing something awful to you away from the prying eyes of an adult. Maybe they’ll steal your money. Or hit you with something. Or violate your body. Or hide, waiting for you to show up and find nobody there, while they laugh at the dumb boy. Or leave you somewhere. Or tell you that they are doing something illegal – and convince you to join in it, only to find out it’s a setup for which you take the blame because the “good kids” turn you in.  But whatever happens isn’t going to be that something you want.

But I’m nearly 40. These things won’t happen. The people making this offer want people like me to come, or they wouldn’t have offered. I know all of this.

But I’m shaking. I’m terrified.

And I’m not going to recognize this person after the session anyhow.  I can’t just go around to 300 attendees and say “Hey, are you the person that talked about X?” And I certainly can’t ask anyone to point them out to me – then I have to overcome this twice.

It makes you want to cry. Why can’t I have the smallest amount of confidence?

Because I’m terrified. It’s not logical, it’s deep in the heart.

This time, the person making the offer was distinctive enough looking that somehow I was able to find them – they look (to me) just like their partner (same gender, same age, same basic body type, same hair color), so I have a 50/50 shot. And I risked it.

I was shaking.

What kept coming to me was a quote, from a different context, about activism: “Speak your mind–even when your voice shakes.”

I can do that when someone else needs me to. Mess with my family and you’ll find that out – there is nobody I can’t go up to and set straight when they’ve wronged someone I love. Or when someone I love just would be happy if I did.

But asking for something about me–that’s different. That’s hard. And it’s not something I need, I’m not advocating for rights. I am just saying, “Yes, Joel wants something.” But isn’t this, too, advocacy? Aren’t I a person worthy of happiness and joy, and needing someone to speak?

I was terrified.

Somehow, when I found that person.  And I gently tried–and failed to get their attention.  I wasn’t positive of their name, so I didn’t want to use the name, but I couldn’t get their attention either.

I was shaking.

I just about gave up.

Someone else saw me and said to the person I was trying to talk to, “Hey, someone’s trying to get your attention!”

More shaking. More terror.

But I did it. I spoke, with my shaking voice. “Are you the person organizing the walking tour?”

Terror.

Shaking.

“Yes, are you wanting to go?”

Terror.

Shaking.

But I somehow found the voice to say yes.

Tomorrow, when I meet up for the tour, will be another bit of stress and terror. I have to find someone tomorrow, in a building I’ve never been to before (another thing that terrifies me).  I’m terrified.

But I’m also excited. And proud. And happy. Filled with anticipation of doing something I want to doBecause I want to do it. Not for someone else. Not pretending I am not interested, lest I be humiliated by finding out I wasn’t really allowed to do this. No, it’s wonderful!

So, tomorrow, that’s what I’m doing.

And I’m terrified.

And shaking.

But the shaking is just as much excitement as it is terror. And probably the cold temperature in this room.

Why Don’t Kids Report Bullying?

HRC posted a piece on why kids don’t report bullying to school employees.  The article’s a good read, based on fact, but it brought back why didn’t report bullying.

It was simple: reporting the bullying didn’t help.

I was kicked, hit, sexually assaulted, burned, choked, manipulated, humiliated, insulted, excluded, scapegoated, and teased for 13 years of public school.  13 years.

The other kids figured out quickly two things. First, they figured out that I was different. I didn’t act like the other kids. I don’t remember all the names, but I know in my early elementary years, “retard” was a favorite. And in my high school years, “faggot” was a favorite. But it didn’t particularly remember what the name or label was, or whether they were accurate or not. An unathletic, tiny, weak, autistic kid is an easy target. I was an easy target.

I never will be able to express what the humiliation felt like every day of my school career. I just wanted to disappear. I just wanted to be ignored. Anything would have been better than the humiliation.

Even in early grades, I learned I was the problem. I heard that not just from other kids, but from the school itself. I was the problem. I was the kid that didn’t know when to be quiet in class. I was the kid that would get distracted and look out the window. I was the kid that would leave class for no apparent reason (not being able to cope wasn’t a good reason, after all).

I spent two weeks in isolation in elementary school for telling the truth to a principle – that I didn’t vandalize a bathroom. The kid who “witnessed” this destruction (who later I realized probably did it) was thanked for his truthfulness. I was put in a small room with no humans for two weeks. It took me 20 years to simply be able to pee in a public bathroom after that. I wasn’t believed. That was typical.

In Junior High, a teacher watched a 9th grader who was much bigger than the 7th grader I was (well, they were all bigger than me in Junior High – I started Junior High in the .1 percentile of weight) literally lifting and throwing me to take my place in the lunch line. The response? We were both given detention. For fighting. (as an aside, I finally did grow in the 9th grade – and am average height today – something that boggled the heck out of my poor parents trying to keep clothes on me my 9th grade year!)

I remember other times where was the problem when I was bullied. I remember the PE teacher I ran to, fearing the kids chasing me would kill me. I was told to be a man. Again, I was the problem. I remember being sent to a behavior program during the sumer because I was causing too much trouble in class (yes, they sent a bunch of bullies to the same program; you can guess how that worked out for me, although the worst injury I received their was inflicted by a staff member – and, no, I didn’t bother to tell an adult). I remember day in and day out of abuse.

When I reported it? I was the problem. If only I behaved differently. At one point, I was actually told to laugh differently if I didn’t want to be bullied. Even the rare expression of joy was a problem to be corrected.

Most often, the response was to tell me how I could have kept the kids from bullying me. I could have stood up for myself. I could have walked away. I could have told an adult (uh…that’s what I did when I got told this…). I could have…well, it doesn’t really matter. Only rarely were the bullies dealt with – and when they were, they got no more than a token punishment. And who was the bully? Damn near every other kid. And some teachers. I was always in trouble. When the bully got in trouble, it was a “good kid” that did one minor mistake. I get two weeks in the hole for telling the truth about not throwing toilet paper around a bathroom. They get a detention for giving me a black eye.

You learn quickly not to report it when you live through this day after day. I’d guess I reported maybe one of a thousand incidents. Yes, thousand. There must have been tens of thousands of incidents during my school career. Sure, most were minor – minor insults, light pinches, subtle humiliations. But even minor, when you have thousands of these events happening every year to you, it wears you down pretty quickly.

I’d like to say that I was uniquely bullied in school. I do suspect the degree of bullying I received was well beyond the comprehension of most adults (including my parents). I know my parents were shocked when, as an adult, I told them I didn’t vandalize the bathroom in school. They were sure I did it. They believe me now, but it took 20 years to be believed by anyone.

I did tell adults. They just did nothing about it.

And I told in ways other than voice.

I missed over two months of school every year from about 4th grade through 11th grade (in 12th grade, I finally found an adult that would rescue me by allowing me to skip classes when I wanted – unsurprisingly that’s the only year I had a decent GPA).

I failed about half my classes in 8th grade through 11th grade (I not only passed everything in 12th grade, but got a 4.0 GPA; the difference? Being able to escape my classmates).  What kind of kid can earn a 4.0 GPA in 12th grade but fails most of his required classes in 11th grade? It’s simple: an abused kid, where there was at least a partial solution in 12th grade.

Any PE teacher could have watched how the kids picked people for their team. It would have been darn clear that something was going on there. And, no, it’s not that I wasn’t a skilled athlete.

Anyone could have been a hero. Way too few were.

The signs were there. It should have been easy to see. Even when I didn’t speak about the abuse. Even when I had lost hope in the adults.

To the teachers and administrators, I have one simple, simple message: look out for that wierd, small, annoying kid. Nobody else is. Maybe, just maybe, his behavior problems aren’t a desire to torture you. Maybe they are a result of never-ending abuse. Help and you’ll be amazed. The few adults that did listen, that somehow spotted me, that somehow saw something beautiful in me despite the labels and behaviors, they are my heroes. They saved my life. You have no idea how important you might be to a kid. That 12th grade teacher (who didn’t actually teach me!) willing to write me passes to get out of class…she saved my life.

I probably should have told those few adults who actually helped me, who respected me. But by then I was too beat down, and too far from being able to heal. But they still provided me some respite from the abuse. And even that is a blessing.

And when an abused kid – whether abused by adults or other kids – actually tells you about abuse, act on it. You might not hear the word “abuse” used. You’ll probably hear that someone did something to the kid, and it probably sounds like the kid’s blowing it out of proportion and not dealing with things. But maybe, just maybe, you should investigate it and find out if this might just be one of thousands of incidents, and maybe, just maybe, the kid is hoping he can trust. Show your courage and your heart. Show you can be trusted. Do something. It takes a lot to build trust in someone that’s been abused. But show you can be trusted. Show you will listen. And believe. And do.

To that kid: I know it’s damn near impossible to believe me, but you can keep going. Just make it through to another day. I believe you. You don’t deserve this crap. The happiest day of my life was when I left home and traveled 300 miles to college. I had plenty of problems there too, and definitely lacked support (primarily because I had no trust in the ability of others to help me) – heck, I didn’t eat for a week simply because I had no way to ask where the cafeteria was. Not eating for a week was better than being in my hometown. And I did eventually find out where to eat. And I made friends. Yes, friends. People who actually liked me, protected me, spent time with me. What a relief it was to actually have a human to spend time with.

I do know how hard it is. Maybe I had it harder than you, maybe you have it harder than I did. I don’t know. But it doesn’t matter. Torture is torture, and is never okay. I’m hoping you keep going, that you somehow find strength that no human should need to find. But you’ve done it so far. Please, go on another day. There is hope. In your heart, you believe it too. You had to or you wouldn’t have gotten this far. Listen to that, and don’t let your brain tell you otherwise. Even when you can’t see a way out, things can change.

People Pleasing and Self-Respect

I like people around me to be happy.  And I’m in the middle of a bunch of conflict right now.  And I don’t like it.  As part of trying to explain why I’m reacting certain ways and doing certain things, I’m writing this post.  But I’m writing in a general sense, because I think it might affect others and it consolidates a whole swirl in my head.

Sometimes however, it’s easy to do what people want rather than what I want.  Now, sometimes I do what others want and push aside my wants, and that’s good because I consciously make the choice, “This person is more important to me than my own desire in this area.”  For instance, I might not want to help a friend move, but the friend’s happiness and ability to manage life is more important to me than this particular want.

But it’s not always like that.  Sometimes the want is more important.  In some cases, the want is for time and space to think through things.  In other cases, the want is to not see people hurt by others and, if I have the power to stop it, I should, even if it doesn’t please people.  Of course that’s hard to do and it’s why so many of us (including myself too often) fail at it.  But that doesn’t change that it’s the right thing to do.

There are two reasons I try to please people rather than listening to my inner voice.  First, in my past, there are times when I was unable to defend myself against bullies and abusers.  When the bullies and abusers were unhappy, so was I.  That’s probably a pretty common reaction to abuse – to sort of internalize it and think, “Well, I could have prevented it if I only made sure my abuser was happy.”  Of course that doesn’t work, but it’s a maladaptive pattern that is pretty ingrained in me.  It was an attempt to survive, which is exceptionally rational.  So partially, it’s an survival mechanism that can be triggered.

Second, I may try to please people instead of listening to myself because I am sensitive to other people’s emotions, although not in the same way as a non-autistic might be.  They affect me very deeply and very strongly.  I don’t like being around unhappy people.  It can easily pull me into a spiral, something I’ve learned I need to avoid.  I can’t deal with these emotions when they enter my mind, overwhelming me.  I’ll get swept away.  So to avoid getting to that state, sometimes I’ll just go along with what people want.  I’m okay being happy.  I don’t want anger or sadness or whatever else in my head though.  This isn’t a good way of dealing with things, and I’m learning and growing in other ways.

Now, I debated writing this – someone reading this will know how to manipulate or abuse me right now.  But I’m, despite being wronged in the past by some in my community, still of the opinion that most people are decent people who don’t want to do me wrong (and even that some of the people who wronged me didn’t intend to wrong me, and are good people overall).  Not everyone shares my optimism, but my optimism has kept me alive. So, I’m going to hang onto it. I’m writing this to explain what affects me, knowing it probably affects others.

It’s hard to learn to listen to your voice.  It’s hard to step back and say, “I want person X to like me.  But I need to do what is right.”  It’s so much easier to give in to the coping mechanisms and just do what person X wants me to do. My abusers taught me well. And it’s not like most autistic people have tons of spare friends. I still live with lots of fear, whether that’s going into strange buildings, approaching people, or this. And unlike what may be said by outsiders, this fear has nothing to do with autism. It was taught.  And I learned that lesson well.  As do, I fear, lots of autistic people. Someone who hasn’t felt this fear has no idea.

So, not only do I respond to pressure to act certain ways, but I actively look for, “What can I do to make this person happy?” What I’m not doing is what is good for me.  I’m trying to do what is good for them.

Now, this isn’t the fault of the person who is unhappy or that wants my help.  They don’t know they are doing this most likely.  I’ve got to eventually stop things and say, “Hey, I need a bit to process this, get words around it, and maybe even figure out what my brain is trying to tell me.”  But of course that’s part of the abuse training too – I don’t do that often.  But I’m really proud of myself when I do.

How can people help? I don’t really know. I don’t have good strategies for this. I guess, people who know me and know this about me could realize I have a tendency to do this and give me time to process and think, and not take it as a personal insult if I don’t immediately do what they would like to see me do. What they want may also be what I want. But it might not be, too. And I would ask that you listen to me when I hint that I’m at the end of my rope.  If I even hint at it, it probably means the end of the rope is now five feet above my head and I’m dropping down a 500 foot drop. I don’t ask for help much. But I might occasionally hint at it.  That hint is real, it’s not like someone who might yell and scream over something not quite going their way – and, yes, people do that. But my hinting at a problem gets mistaken for not being a serious need while someone else’s yelling gets taken seriously. That sucks. Loudness or forcefulness is not the same as seriousness.

This is why we aren’t believed in the hospital. We go in and say, “Somethings hurting, but not bad enough for me to want to die.” That gets translated to, “It doesn’t hurt bad.”  Meanwhile someone two doors down is yelling and screaming about a minor injury – so they at least get some treatment. If we were worse off then them, we’d yell louder, too, right? Not quite. (ironically, if I say it does make me want to die, then I’m probably “suicidal” and a threat to myself, and, thus, not actually “really” sick and in need of having a physical problem treated)

It’s also a problem with the way a lot of us grew up, both from informal teaching (like my bullies) and formal teaching (where we’re taught don’t question people, quiet is better than loud, keep your voice level down, don’t make other people’s lives hard).  Autistic people get this type of teaching. A lot. Combine that with the typical responses that autistic people have to problems (tell the autistic how they could make people like them, rather than addressing the bully, for instance) and no wonder we often have problems with this. That’s why I don’t think it’s unique to Joel.

But now, regardless, you know something about me. I’m trying to stand up for myself too, to not be carried around with every wind of desire. My friends will accept that. Even when I disagree over things. They want me to have self-respect.

(and, for reference, no, I’m not directing this at one party or another in the Autreat thing, just in general to how demands for “do something now!” can be very triggering, so please don’t read this that way)

Stopping Harassment or Just Stopping Harassment Claims

I’ve been looking for some good adult anti-bullying/anti-harassment training material.  Unfortunately, I’m looking for cheap stuff (preferably free), as I’m not doing this for a for-profit organization, but for a community group.  So I can’t afford “$50 per employee” or such.  I’m also looking for something a bit more general than just sexual harassment (ideally it would cover harassment on the basis of race or disability, as well as other areas).

Unfortunately almost everything I have is full of problems:

Problem 1: The Focus

The biggest problem has been the focus of the material.  Most is about avoiding claims.  While I realize that talking about how much a successful lawsuit against a company can cost might convince a corporate officer to pay for some training material (“See, you’ll save money!”), that’s not what I’m after.  I couldn’t give a flying you-know-what about checking a box that says “Yes, we’ve trained people.  So you can’t sue us. Ha-ha-ha!  And we don’t actually have to stop abuse!  Ha-ha-ha!”  But that’s exactly what I’ve found.

Maybe I’m unfairly characterizing some of this stuff.  But go do your own Google search for harassment training, and report what you find.  Most is marketed as “when your people harass each other, now you can say, ‘I trained them!  So you can’t sue me.  I tried.”  Sorry, no.  First, that’s not what the law says.  But I’m not a lawyer so I probably shouldn’t go there.  Second, and more importantly, there’s a huge difference between trying to reduce claims and trying to reduce actual harassment.  Reducing harassment has a neat side effect of reducing claims, although not necessarily the other way around.

For instance, see Best Practices for Preventing Workplace Harassment – a site you  might expect to tell you how to create a decent workplace, at least regarding harassment.  Nope!  It has gems like this:

Harassment claims are bad for business. They hurt productivity and morale, can make it harder to retain qualified employees, and can damage your organization’s reputation through negative media coverage. Also, dealing with a harassment claim could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorneys’ fees, and even larger amounts in settlements, judgments, and punitive damage awards.

Seriously?  Let me let you in on a hint: Harassment even without a “claim” is bad for business and hurts productivity and morale!  I’m not saying this site isn’t giving good legal advice (it likely is).  But eliminating liability shouldn’t be anyone’s major reason for teaching people how to stop sexual harassment.

Problem 2: Discouraging People from Seeking Solutions

A few years ago, the employer I was with (not my current one) made us watch a supposedly anti-harassment video for, presumably, liability reasons.  I say “made us” because  it was clear this was simply a requirement of the company based on sound legal advice – not something that actually mattered in our lives or to our managers.  But I’ll put that aside and move onto the content of the video.  After all, it’s possible that the tool itself wasn’t bad, even if the presentation of the tool to employees was.

After watching the video, it became clear that there was a theme.  The theme was “not everything is harassment.”  Well, duh.  Along with valid points (yes, having a romance between coworkers that is mutual, consensual  and doesn’t create a conflict of interest is fine), it kept emphasizing this point.  What point, exactly?  It was essentially saying, “You might be bothered by something, but that doesn’t make it harassment.  There’s a high bar for harassment.”  The subtle message conveyed was that your (likely real) harassment might not be real enough.  After all, one of the biggest doubts victims of abuse have is that they were actually abused.

Following the “you weren’t really harassed” nonsense, it progressed into talk about how your management would have to do a deep, invasive investigation to figure out the truth, because, basically, you might be a liar.  Sure, they told you (quickly and quietly) that there would be no retaliation for reporting harassment – but the message conveyed was quite different.  It was, “it probably wasn’t harassment, you’re just overreacting.  And even if it was, you don’t want to go through this horrible process that doesn’t respect that if you really are a victim that you might feel scared, powerless, and concerned about even reporting it.”

I suspect this is typical of these videos (along with cheesy acting and bad attempts to use “common” vernacular street terms to demonstrate what is and isn’t harassment, but likely using terms that would never be used by anyone outside of an HR department’s classroom.

Problem 3: Too Much Focus on Distinctions

Almost every training curriculum out there spends a lot of time talking about what is harassment (particularly, what is sexual harassment?).  They focus an amazing amount of time on the distinction between quid-pro-quo harassment and hostile environment harassment.  Now, while this might be interesting and useful to lawyers, it doesn’t help anyone.  Both types of harassment are illegal and immoral, and both types should not be seen in any decent organization.  I don’t know that someone who is a victim of harassment cares whether or not he can label it “quid-pro-quo” or “hostile environment.”  He just wants it stopped.

And that’s my concern.  Rather than making us memorize definitions (ah, but there’s a test at the end!  And it’s harder to test for “decent human being” than “was able to remember the difference between definition A and definition B”), it might be better to focus on how to stop harassment.  Most people only need a short lesson on what is inappropriate (basically, “it doesn’t matter if you’re asking for sexual favors as a supervisor or you are just a coworker making crude jokes about someone’s anatomy – it’s wrong either way.”).  What each type of harassment is called isn’t nearly as important as (1) recognizing it is harassment and (2) knowing what to do.

Problem 4: Response to Harassment

I’ve only come across a few sites that don’t immediately say “go talk to your harasser in private” or similar.  They convey an expectation that if you aren’t just trying to get money from the company, you would talk to the harasser first.  After all, she might not know what she’s doing is wrong.  Or so the theory goes.

Certainly, there are times when a private one-on-one discussion makes sense and can solve an issue.  But harassment is often not one of those times.  Much harassment takes advantage of power differences – a man harassing a woman, a non-disabled person harassing a disabled person, a (supposedly) Christian man harassing a Muslim, etc.  These aren’t equal power – these are groups that have legitimate reasons to fear physical and other attack and abuse from the world.  So asking someone to talk to their harasser…well, that can shut down the whole process right there.

Even if the person isn’t scared to do so, what do you say? What do you do?  That’s rarely talked about, and if talked about at all, it’s talked about rarely.

Some programs get that the best time to confront someone is right when they speak the bigotry, hatred, racism, misogyny, etc.  But then they get it wrong what the response of the victim should be.  First, let me say in most cases, the victim should not need to respond.  Someone else should.  Most harassment is witnessed by others.  But, all too often, the rest of a room remains silent.  Sometimes there isn’t others there.  Either way, sometimes the victim can stop further abuse by speaking up.

It’s important to note a few things here.  There are two possible reasons someone said or did something inappropriate.  Either they knew it was wrong or they didn’t! If they didn’t, and they are a decent human being, a simple quick rebuke should extract an apology and behavior change.  Failing that (or where it is obvious it’s intentionally malicious, sexist, racist, etc), the best response I’ve seen is public shaming.  Confronting the harasser in private protects the harasser, but doesn’t help the victim.  The best example I can think of this was when a woman coworker was grabbed by the arm by a man coworker to keep her from leaving his office until he finished his lecture to her.  She responded by shouting, very loudly, “Don’t touch me.  Don’t ever touch me again.”  She was alone in the office with him, but this shout got the attention of half the building – and got her support if he were ever to do it again.  He didn’t.

What doesn’t work, ever, is ignoring it or using humor and jokes.  Yet, that’s exactly what’s recommended by North Carolina’s Health and Human Services Anti-Harassment Training:

… here are some standard responses, said lightly and jokingly that might be useful:

“Uh-Oh! That’s sexual harassment — you had better watch out before you get in big trouble.”

“Is this a test to see how I handle sexual harassment? (This could also be said without humor. See previous suggestion.)

“Are you sexually harassing me again? I’m going to have to call the sexual harassment committee (EEOC, my attorney, the affirmative action officer, etc.) right now.

Uh, no (in fairness to the State of NC, this training looks relatively old and does have some good in it as well – but they really miss the mark here).

No, the right response, if any, is to tell they harasser they are wrong.  And to stop.  Now.

Problem 5: Making it the Victim’s Problem

Most harassment doesn’t happen in isolated spaces with nobody else around.  But, rather than creating an environment where everyone speaks up when they see abuse or harassment, most bystandards are silent when harassment occurs – or may even laugh with inappropriate jokes or remarks.

That doesn’t mean the bystandards are comfortable – they probably aren’t.  But, at the same time, they’ve acted in a way that says to the victim, “Your well-being is less important than me not stirring up anything.  I don’t care about you.

Yes, that’s what you say when you stay silent.

Yet few trainings on harassment, and even fewer policies, make those who observe harassment accountable for giving power to the abuser through silence.  Instead, they focus on “what could the victim have done?”  No, the victim didn’t do anything to deserve to be harassed.  So the question is, “How could the asshole be stopped?” That involves everyone else (all of us!) speaking up and let him have it verbally when we observe harassment.  Sure, it take courage.  And it’s hard.  But it’s a lot easier for us than the victim.

When this doesn’t happen, we should be accountable.  Seriously.  We can give the victim or the harasser power – doing nothing always works in favor of promoting harassment.

In addition, when we observe this crap, we need to report it.  We were witnesses and can strengthen the case.  This person very likely doesn’t just have one victim during one incident.  By keeping silent, we allow him or her to continue.

So…HELP!!!

Does anyone know of any anti-bullying/anti-harassment training that doesn’t have these problems, is cheap or free, and which focuses on a wide spectrum of harassment, not just sexual harassment?  If so, I’d love to know about it.

 

Thanksgiving, Star Trek, Abuse, and Miracles

For people in the US, Happy Thanksgiving!

I’m thankful for…

  • My freedom
  • My wife
  • My survival
  • My friends
  • Star Trek
Let me explain.

Sometimes life is hard.  But just surviving those hard times makes me thankful.  I’m thankful that when I tried to take my life as a child, I failed.  I’m thankful for all the stupid little things that kept me alive in the midst of abuse.  I’m thankful that these things gave me a reason to wait just another day or even hour.  I’m very thankful.

I spent much of my childhood terrified that I was going to be killed by classmates (there are a few instances where I think it was but for a miracle that they didn’t).  Much of it was without friends, only tormenters.  I remember almost feeling like I was looking at myself from the outside, being burned, punched, spit on, urinated upon, and things even worse than this.  I remember the humiliation of it all, and it still hurts – 20 or even 25 years later.  I remember being locked in seclusion for two weeks straight while at school because I told the truth (I didn’t do it.  Really.).  I remember running for my life, running to a teacher, where I was laughed at and told to be a man.  I remember other abuse, and the shame that comes with it.  I wanted to disappear most of the time, even as I was crushed under the loneliness of my life.

I know that others can relate.  Others have stories even more horrifying, although I would never try to compare one form of hopelessness, humiliation, and shame with someone else’s.  In the end it takes a miracle to make it through it.

My miracle came in many forms.  It was often something very small, something that just gave me a reason to make it through one more day or maybe just one more hour.  I mentioned I’m thankful for Star Trek.  Sometimes just wanting to watch the next episode of The Next Generation was enough to give me a reason – something I desperately wanted at the same time I desperately wanted to die – to hold off, at least for a little bit.  There were plenty of other things – maybe I told someone I’d help them with something.  Maybe my cat curled up in my lap.  Maybe I wanted to finish the chapter of the book. These might seem like small things, but they aren’t.  They were life and death.  They gave me just enough reason to hold off.

I am thankful to God for putting those things in my life.  Star Trek wasn’t made to save my life.  It was made to sell advertising for a bunch of products that people didn’t know they needed.  Yet somehow that was sufficient when I needed it, as were the hundreds of other things used to give me just enough hope or just enough reason to wait it out.

I’m so very glad I waited it out.  It’s not because of any strength of character or supernatural ability.  It was stupid little things.  No, that’s not right – it was because of the miracles that God put in my life to turn my focus away from the horrors of my reality, for just a little bit.

I’m thankful that this is no longer my reality, and I’m thankful for this in my autistic friends who also somehow made it through childhood.  My life is a good life today.  I have a wonderful wife.  I live in a nice town, a full day’s drive from the hell hole of my childhood.  I have a great job.  Nobody has tried to urinate on me, burn me, rape me, or assault me for the last 17 years – about half my life now.  I don’t feel that shame or humiliation that was so incredibly horrible and hopeless.  Things did get better, from the minute I left my hometown at 4:00 AM on the first day I could (that is, the first day that the dorms opened at my university at 8:00 AM, a 4 hour drive away from home).  I’ve been able to come to peace with my childhood – recognizing the horrors that no innocent child should ever know, while also recognizing it’s affect – good and bad – on my character and who I am today.  I’m thankful for the empathy it has given me.

So things did get better for me.  But, still, I’m most thankful for those times when I was 8, 9, 12, 14, 16 or whatever when the only thing that I could see that was worth staying alive for was the next episode of Star Trek.  Perhaps our perseverations aren’t merely deficits or disordered.  Perhaps they are survival.

Along with my prayers of thanksgiving this holiday will be prayers for those who feel they don’t have hope or must endure another day of abuse on this holiday.  I’m praying for miracles.  If that’s you, please find something – ANYTHING – that can get you through this day.  It’s okay if it seems stupid or small.  It’s not if it gets you through another day.  Don’t worry about tomorrow if that’s too much – focus on just getting through the here and now.  I don’t know what you’re going through, and I can’t pretend I know how much pain you’re in.  I just know that I endured a lot of pain, a lot of abuse, a lot of hopelessness, and I’m glad today that I made it through.  I’m glad you somehow have made it this far, against all odds.  And I’m thankful for that miracle too, even while I pray and hope for your next miracle.