Wrangling Ghosts and Fighting Evil

Good lord, has it really been almost two months since I last updated my blog?

There's been a lot going on -- mostly good stuff, thankfully. I found accidental success with my CppCon trip report, raised $800 out of my $1000 goal during Extra Life for All Children's Hospital, and tried to get started with NaNoWriMo. I'm sorry to report that the last one on the list has not been going particularly well. It's just too difficult for me to write on a deadline, especially with my current schedule. At the moment, plans are to write that darn book for sure, but to do so bit by bit and on my own time. 

In addition, I managed to unlock Affiliate status with my Twitch channel! This means that viewers can now subscribe to me for a couple of bucks per month, and in doing so they get exclusive emoji, immediate access to my past broadcasts, double entries for giveaways, and my undying love. Originally I was on a three-a-week schedule, but literally the same day that I got my Affiliate email, I was also asked to join up and volunteer with the Zonta Southbank club, which I very readily accepted. Through the power of social media and making our voices heard, we are fighting for equal rights and empowerment for women from all walks of life around the world. It's a cause I feel strongly about and well worth scaling back on the streams for a little while during the spin-up period.

Yet in the midst of all of this excitement I've also been feeling a little sluggish. I've had words in my head begging to be put to paper -- or LCD monitor, I guess -- but finding the motivation or coherence to do so has been nearly impossible. I've had multiple flare-ups of my illness, probably due at least in part to trying to do everything at once, which has led to another mild bout with depression. The silver lining here is that I'm not suicidal or completely non-functional during this round, I'm just numb. I feel like I'm viewing everything through a lens covered with Vaseline at half-speed.

Folks, from here on out, we're going with a pretty massive trigger warning for domestic violence, rape, murder, all kinds of stuff. Here's a link to the fantastic Wholesome Memes Twitter account which may be a better option if you are sensitive.

I'm fairly certain that I've inadvertently triggered myself with a social media campaign that I created and am currently running for the Zonta Southbank club, primarily on Instagram. As part of the larger Zonta Says NO campaign, we're featuring a profile and photo on a different woman who has died from domestic violence. It's a way to bring something to light that so often happens in the shadows or warrants nothing more than whispers, and a way to make sure that these stories -- typically buried under other articles deemed "more important" or "less morbid," or only show up in search results under their murderer's name and not their own -- are heard, and seen, and that these women are not forgotten yet again. But sifting through story after story of women being beaten, hacked, or burnt to death has affected me because it reminds me of my own past.

I made it out of multiple physically, sexually, and emotionally abusive relationships alive. I was one of the lucky ones. But that's not what this post is about. As tempting as it is to name names and bring all of the horrendous details to light of what it was like to be beaten, tortured, and raped countless times over the span of nearly a decade, I'm still afraid to do so. One of my abusers tracked me down a couple of years ago and attempted to "remind me" that he still had control and ownership over me. Another, a family member, is still lurking in the shadows, every so often attempting to get information as to my current whereabouts or contact information through others; he's the reason that the name on my government-issued ID card is completely different from the one on my birth certificate. There are people I love dearly who still don't know the details of what I experienced and I'm not sure that I ever want them to, because I know it would destroy them, and if I'm going to go "nuclear," so to speak, it won't be for them to find on a public blog post.

This is about why, if it's so difficult for me, I still continue to run these campaigns; why my bookshelves are full of titles on criminal psychology, true crime, the worst of the worst as far as murderers and rapists and thieves go. For most of my adult life I've had people accuse me of being morbid or weird. My own boyfriend winces every time I crack open another book with a crime-scene photo on the cover, and I have to wait until he's out of the house to fire up any of the crime documentaries on Netflix that I like to watch because he's squeamish about those sorts of things. I suppose most people are, and maybe I should be.

These books and films are about the darkest parts of humans, about what is often classified, simplistically, as "true evil." They're not shocking to me because these are things I have seen and experienced already. I know what horrible things human beings are capable of, and while I am nowhere near desensitized to it, I'm no longer surprised by its existence in the world. Angry about it? Saddened by it? Of course. And as long as I can still feel those things, I think I'm okay.

No, I'm trying to figure out why the men who did the things they did to me did them in the first place. I don't want to understand it to empathize with them or make excuses; I want to understand them in the hopes that new ways to prevent these terrible things from ever happening to anyone else can be discovered. I'm trying to find new ways that I can make more people care that these things are happening -- often right under their noses -- and bring them into the fight to stop them. I want other survivors to gain some sense of closure, to at least understand that what happened was not their fault, because I remember that guilt and how hard it was to shake off all on my own. I want to fight back against the evil that was done to me by using it, against its will, for something good.

I have been left with many things: damage to my hips, some physical scars, complex post-traumatic stress disorder, a pervasive obsession with seeing justice done. I am not the same person that I was before the first event took place. After around a year of regular, intensive EMDR therapy and building a solid support network, I am more myself than I have been in a very long time, but I will never be 100% who I once was. That is one of the awful things that I don't see talked about much; you may be alive, physically, but there is at least a part of you that is killed in the process of surviving. For a long time I was terrified that I had turned into a sociopath or a psychopath as a result of what was done to me. I had -- and still have -- dark thoughts, and what seemed like immense amounts of rage swirling around inside of me like some awful, burning mist. It was thanks to my EMDR therapist and subsequent research into psychology on my own that made me understand that no, the fact that I was distressed over such a thought meant I was nowhere near what I was afraid I'd become. In fact, the clinical definition of a psychopath states that feelings of anxiety, fear, or true remorse rule it out completely.

And this is part two of why I surround myself with this troubling media -- to understand that the way I am now is perfectly normal, and to identify what I'm feeling and why to keep that "darkness" in check. Survivors are expected to be superhuman levels of strong and cheerful; we're never allowed to point out that maybe we are anything other than sunshine and rainbows after our experiences because it "makes people uncomfortable." I went through a period of my life where I let it overwhelm me in the form of self-medication and some truly awful behavior. I still struggle with the anger, and in fact I think it's a large part of what drives me to keep fighting; as long as that anger isn't directed at myself or the people I care about, as long as it doesn't consume me completely, I feel I've got it down to at least an uneasy alliance where I work with it as best as I can, but am always keeping watch on it out of the corner of my eye.

I am sad that I'll probably never have the opportunity to go to school and get a degree in something like forensic psychology. The extreme financial burden that comes with higher education in the US and the unpredictable nature of my illness makes it highly unlikely that I'd ever be able to make it through four years or more of full-time study, and then I'm not sure what I'd be able to do with it -- I certainly wouldn't be able to manage a traditional career. Criminal justice, I've come to realize, has been my passion all along; in kindergarten, I wanted to move to Canada to be part of the RCMP, then I wanted to be a forensic pathologist, and then a regular police officer, then a detective, and now a forensic psychologist or researcher in that field. Now if only I could find a way to parlay that into game development, I'd be in good shape.

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