I Will Find The Way

On July 5th I had 3 strokes, caused by a spontaneous vertebral artery dissection (VAD). In the middle of the day at work I was getting up to go talk to my manager and I got lightheaded and dizzy, I didn’t think much of it as this happens from time to time. By the time I got the 20 steps from my desk to his office I knew something was wrong. I was having trouble remembering, I had right sided weakness and trembling, my vision was blurry and parts of it were completely dark, I was hot as if I was having a hot flash, my breathing was shallow, my neck was tight and hurt to move, and my head was hurting as if I had just been hit with a sledge hammer. I told my manager I needed to go to the hospital, he offered to call an ambulance, and looking back I should have said yes. Instead I called a friend who was able to get to me pretty quick and take me to the ER. At my previous ER trip on July 2nd they did an X-ray of my neck and told me I had a pinched nerve. Despite my wife and I both asking for a CT or MRI just to be sure something else wasn’t going on, they declined. When I came back July 5th, (with all the textbook symptoms of a stroke) the doctor reevaluated the previous X-ray and said, “pinched nerves can get worse before they get better.” Due to all the new symptoms we again asked for a CT or MRI and were declined. This doctor sent me home with the same instructions as the previous doctor; if you have any new or worsening symptoms come back.

On July 9th we went back to the ER because again my symptoms worsened. – From the first set of stokes on July 5th I had no vision in my right eye and only tunnel in the left. – The doctor this time was very thorough, she did a CT and MRI and found the initial three (3) strokes. I was admitted to the neurology ward and kept for about 48 hours; I was put on Plavix and Aspirin, both of which are anticoagulants. These are the first go to drugs for people who’ve had strokes. I was discharged with a walker, instructions to follow up with an outpatient neurologist, and not to return to work until I was seen.

I spent much of the next week sleeping. On the 15th my symptoms worsened again, the weakness and trembling on the right side started, I had a slight slur in speech (new at this point), the pain and tightness in my neck increased, and I was struggling to walk. On to the ER again. By the time we got there my symptoms escalated to the point I could hardly walk even with the walker. They redid the scans and found 10 more strokes, 13 total; I had one on each side of the occipital lobe, 2 in the frontal lobe, one 90% the size of my thalamus, a couple in the midbrain and the rest scattered throughout. The anticoagulants weren’t working. This time I spent about 5 days in the Intermediate Care Unit (IMC), I was on a Heparin drip (intense blood thinner) for about 36 hours. Once the Heparin drip was in a therapeutic range they transitioned me off that and on to an oral blood thinner of similar strength, which I am still on today.

I had a few hospital stays after this, one of which the neurologist thought I was crazy and ordered a psych eval. The psychologist was really understanding and very much thought the neurologist was overreacting. This same neurologist then ordered an opthamologist eval because she thought I was exaggerating about my vision loss and was convinced there was something else going on. The ophthalmologists eval said that my eyes and optic nerves were completely fine, and confirmed the vision loss is in fact stroke related. The outpatient Neuro-Opthamologist also said that the vision loss is stroke related.

I have seen 3 different outpatient neurologists one who was a vascular neurologist, one a general neurologist, and the other a migraine neurologist. The first 2 said that my vision is not explained by the strokes, even though it didn’t start until the stokes happened and changed again as I had the other strokes. The migraine neurologist however, said that from what she sees on the scans and the radiologist notes the vision loss is stroke related and she is referring me to a stroke neurologist. I’ve also seen a hematologist, she confirmed I will be on the blood thinners for life as well as the cholesterol medication (this is more as a precaution/prevention). The hematologist is running a whole group of tests, which I don’t have the results from as of yet.

With all of the facts out of the way…I am exhausted, emotionally and physically. I am fearful and angry and confused, but mostly angry. What does one do with anger, especially with physical limitations? For my whole life I’ve trained myself as a form of protection; to turn anger inward and make it my fault, my failure, my [fill in the blank]. If something is my fault I can do something about it. This is not working any longer; I realized this when my wife told me that she is worried about me. About the mental space I’ve been in, about how I apologize for things I don’t need to be sorry for. She said I am headed down a dark and dangerous road, and she is right. She is so right, and the appreciation I have for her and her love for me. Enough to say these things. Enough to worry and be concerned. Her heart for wanting me to get better, not worse. I realized I have been self-shaming and self-loathing because of something I couldn’t control. I talk about the people in some of the Facebook groups I’m in and how bitter they are, yet that is the road I started to walk down. The thing is, that is not who I want to be. I’ve talked about how I don’t want to be this person, that I don’t know who I am, that I don’t like the new me. However as my wife said, I am becoming a self fulfilling prophecy. In reality, I have to come to terms with it before it ruins me. My marriage. My family. These strokes and health issues are out of my control, but I am in control of how I handle it. I am in control of how I use this unfortunate reality. I am in control of how I move forward from this. I don’t know what taking control, moving forward, and coming to terms with this looks like…but I am up for it. I will climb out of this rut as I have with others before. It takes concentration, tenacity, and perseverance; it takes an unwavering soul. But I am resilient. I am tenacious. I will find the way.

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*HUGS WITH PERMISSION*

When working with survivors, a few things need to be clarified. Unfortunately some of these should be a given such as respect but the are not always. When it comes to survivors (of all kinds of trauma) it takes more work than usual to build and establish trust, the 10 things listed below are not the only things, just the foundation of trust.

  1. Respect – In reference to [survivors], respect means to treat with esteem, kindness, and equality. We are not glass antiques. We are not a pet. We are not your guinea pig. We are human, just like you.
  2. Say what you mean. Mean what you say. – This comes in for me when people say they will always be there for me. This has only been true for a select few people that I’ve known ever. Many survivors have also felt this over and over; weather its our families, the others we worked with that were sold, killed, or left behind  when exiting the life. Moreover those that decided to leave for no reason without an explanation. All this to say, refer back to respect; if you do not think or do not know if you can commit to something DON’T. If you say you’ll be there: BE THERE. If you need a minute or 7: SAY IT.
  3. Be intentional – We survivors know we are/can be a lot to handle. We know what we’ve been through is sad and angering and scary and a lot of other things. But we also need to talk about it. Being intentional means, if you ask a question, be ready for the raw, real, and honest answer. Going back to #2; words mean things, be thoughtful and compassionate with your words.
  4. Show Up + Be Present – While we understand things in life come up and needing to reschedule; its important to keep your word when you say you want to meet up. As with any relationship, the other important thing is to be present and engage. This is especially important because we (most of us) have not had people in our lives who really care and want to know us for a long while. If ever.
  5. Listen, acknowledge, and validate – Listening is something we, unfortunately have to ask for as survivors. Many of us have been burned this way by ‘advocates’ all too many times. Please listen to us, actively. This goes back to #4 and #3, show up, be present, be intentional. Acknowledgement, I feel should be a given, but it is not. Acknowledgement is done in many ways from showing up, to asking questions, to having appropriate reactions to the things we say. The combination of these things are what create validation. It doesn’t hurt to tell us that our feelings, thoughts, etc. are valid.
  6. When a survivor confides in you, thank them. – A lot of us are very open about being a survivor, but keep details to ourselves for the most part. Those that know more than that are privileged; if we feel comfortable enough to share our pain. Please thank us. This leads into the next factor.
  7. Never use a survivor’s story without EXPLICIT permission. – Our pain, feelings, experiences etc. are not yours to share. Period. If/when we give you permission to share something. It is for that specific thing only and for that one time. We have the right to know when, why, how, and where our story will be shared. We have the right to place restrictions on or revoke your ability to share at any point for any reason. Even if the reason is not forthcoming. Our stories are just that, ours.
  8. Don’t assume or compare – Just because we share characteristics of some/many kind(s) as another survivor, does not mean we deserve to be compared. We do not deserve to be expected or assumed to follow suit of others. Just because I grew up in a ritualistic cult gang does not mean I will have experienced the same thing or will heal the same way as another survivor who grew up in a ritualistic cult gang. Or anyone else for that matter.
  9. Ask before giving advice or touching – Not only is this polite, but also crucial for survivor relationships. We have had a lot of unsolicited advice over the years, it is a big thing most of us use to gauge a person’s safety level. The same goes for touch, we’ve had way more than our fair share of unwanted and/or unsolicited touching. If you want to build our trust, please, PLEASE ask.
  10. Survivors are more than our trauma. – We are more than our abuse. Our stories don’t begin and END with the things that have happened to us. We are human. We exist outside of our circumstances. This is something that is a huge factor for probably most, if not all of us. We are told in the life that we will never be more than a ho. We are striped of everything. Literally. We are lucky to be alive. To have escaped, if we have. If we are still in the life ALL of these are that much more important.

Undone

Sometimes you see
And you can never unsee
Sometimes you hear
And you can never unhear
Sometimes you feel
And you can never unfeel
Chemical wall color cans. Midnight tarp. Rusted restraints, bolted to the wall. I try to move, to get up. But I’m stuck. My eyes close, and it’s dark inside. Opening my eyes is hard, they must have given me the sleepy medicine again. I’m tied, arms at my side, legs together. They put me in a sitting position against the wall opposite where today I know, he was to be mistreated. Beaten. Injected. Penetrated. Murdered. Disfigured and put in garage bags. Disposed of; never to be found again.
Sometimes you see
And you can never unsee
Sometimes you hear
And you can never unhear
Sometimes you feel
And you can never unfeel
Flashes remain today. Flashes of the last moments of his life. His screams. His plea’s for freedom. For mercy. For pardon. The sound of her fist meeting his flesh. Her screams for me to watch. Keep my eyes open. Or I would be next. Blood seeping from his eyes. His mouth. His nose. His ears. I’m pretty sure he is dead. I don’t dare make a sound. I don’t dare plea for her to stop. I don’t dare look away. These images burned in my life forever. His blood chasing my feet. Running faster. As if asking me to save him.
Sometimes you see
And you can never unsee
Sometimes you hear
And you can never unhear
Sometimes you feel
And you can never unfeel
Many bags. Dark like her soul. Each tied off with little air left inside. Jars with fluid. With organs. She will sell these. A liver goes for $500+ nowadays sweetie. Especially one as young and healthy as his. She is a different devil now. Happy. Smiling. Calling me sweetie. This always happens after nights like tonight. It won’t last long. It never does. I could be next.
Sometimes you see
And you can never unsee
Sometimes you hear
And you can never unhear
Sometimes you feel
And you can never unfeel

An open letter to Mr. Ashton Kutcher

Dear Mr. Ashton Kutcher,
I want to address you as a white male in our patriarchal society, speaking out about child sex trafficking in the United States. While a part of me is grateful that your influential voice has taken a stand, I am deeply offended by your recent statements to the senate. I want to thank you first, for bringing such a powerful voice to the movement. Your voice has so much power to do good, and you have stepped up to do so. Your organization, Thorn, is bringing a new approach to fighting trafficking using technology. Thank you for taking a stand. Thank you for trying. Thank you for addressing a group of people [the senate] that majority of our survivors won’t get to do.
Along with my appreciation for your speaking out, I would like to address a few things. The fact that you never mention having explicit permission to use the stories of the 3 child survivors you speak of; comparing one to your daughter due their similar ages, another you give the name Amy, and the third referencing a 7 year old child you saw on video footage is upsetting. Never once, did you mention getting permission. If you were unable to get permission, why are you using the story? And if you did obtain permission, why didn’t you state permission was obtained? This is exploitive and should not be seen as anything less. We have to hold the privacy and security of survivors tight, we have to build trust with them, they have to be able to trust us.
Secondly, I would like to address your comments about how what you saw made you feel and affected the way you sleep. Like a typical white male in America, it is once again about you.  You state, according to multiple sources, that you have been exposed to things “no person should ever see.” Do you understand, that the things you have seen do not compare to what a survivor goes through in a day, a single day?
I am a child sex trafficking survivor, and I am deeply offended at the right you think you have to tell our stories, without our explicit permission. I am overwhelmingly disappointed at the fact that you think it is acceptable to claim that you know what goes on because you have seen certain aspects. You, sir, have no idea. Have you witnessed murder? I have. Have you witnessed someone being beaten literally to death? I have. Have you had drugs forced upon you? I have. Have you been raped multiple times in a day for days on end? I have. Have you been deprived of basic human needs such as going to the bathroom, eating, sleeping etc.? I have. The fact that you have sleep to disturb, gives you privilege.
These comments go far beyond you and your address of the senate. This comments only graze the skin of what needs to be done to create a safe place for our survivors, myself included.

I Am Not Ashamed

From victim to survivor.
Sure I’ll speak your language.
Since you refuse to learn mine.
I was sold by my mother.
Wait that’s not what you want to hear.
My pimp was the woman whose body grew mine.
Whose body God knit together my soul in.
I was sold for sex as a child.
Wait…
I was a victim of sex trafficking.
Because then you can have that layer of denial
Of cognitive dissonance
You don’t have to hear the words come out of my mouth
The words that would strobe graphic pictures in your head are too much
You don’t want to know what really happens
You can’t believe it would happen in your city
It happens in your city
No matter how big or how small
Do you have a gas station?
It happens in your city
Do you have a hotel?
It happens in your city
Do you have internet?
It happens in your city
I was a victim of sex trafficking. Trafficked in my home town. By my parents. By a national gang. I saw too much death way too young. I was born on drugs, literally, my mother had meth in her system when she gave birth. And Throughout my life she would shoot me up. Regularly. I live in pain every day, because of a pattern of things in my life that were there when I got here. I wish I could tell you it happened for only a year or two and then I was rescued. But that is not my story. My story is not a story of rescue. This is where sugar coating or speaking your language doesn’t really cut it. People bought me for years. As a child. This was all I knew. This was my normal. I knew it wasn’t normal, but it’s what I was conditioned to do. When I ran away. I was lucky in some ways. And not in others. I’ve been followed. I’ve been raped. I’ve been kidnapped. I’ve been beaten and shot up. I’ve been stocked. I’ve been ran over. And I’ve run away. I’ve sold myself. And for a long time felt a lot of shame about this. But you know what. I’m done with that. I was a sex worker. I was forcibly sold. And then I sold myself. I refuse to continue to wear the shame our society puts on the consensual selling and buying of sex. I refuse to allow the anti-trafficking movement to make me less of a trafficking survivor, because I later made the choice to sell my own body as others had done to/for me, for my entire life. One does not negate the other. I am a trafficking survivor. I was sold forcefully. I am a former sex worker. I sold myself, consensually. I am more than either of those things though. Life, my life, is worth more than any of those words. Those things are part of who I am. I am also a wife. I am a friend. I am a parent. I am a sister. I am a coworker. I am a neighbor. I am a writer. I am a student. I could go on, but you get the point. Being a trafficking survivor doesn’t define me. It is a big part of my life though, as an advocate (such a problematic word), for trafficking survivors, sex workers, DV survivors and many more. As Walt Whitman said, “Do I contradict myself? Very well; I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes.”

Dear Dad

The day in which I learned that what happened between us was not sex, but rape, was one of the worst days of my life. I remember it way to vividly, it’s almost like a bad dream. At that time, I didn’t realize it then, but on that day in 2013 when I saw you for the last time I remember feeling so violated. I remember feeling so betrayed. You were the one I trusted. I loved you. I know you say you didn’t know better. And I know some of that is probably true, but I can’t believe that. I can’t believe that you thought you were so different than the ones you shamed and belittled and rattled about. I can’t believe that you saw me differently than all those other little girls you talked about. All while playing the good dad. Taking me to the park. Buying me things I needed. Telling me you loved me. Giving me all the hugs I could ever want. Tucking me in at night. You gave me what my mother never could. Like a real daddy does. How dare you. How dare you lie to me. How dare you fool me. How dare you think you can come to my wedding. How dare you feel sad that you missed out on the last 3 years. How dare you. When you took the one thing I thought was real and cut it to pieces. How dare you think you have any room in my life that I don’t want you in. And today you may have died, and you know what? I’m ok with that. I am ok with never seeing you again. I am ok with you never knowing I have children. I am ok with your lungs never taking another breath. Because you stole my life.

Twenty-five Days

Until three years since I cut
Surreal
Is that time
A long yet short journey of freedom
It really is like an addiction
We like to think its not
But I promise anyone
Whose in recovery will tell you there’s
Withdrawals and cravings and relapses
Like there is a deep longing in your soul for that
One last cut
One last time
But that one
May be the last
I wasn’t ready for that risk
That’s why I quit
It takes risk
And accountability
And struggle
And tenacity
It is hard
One of the hardest things I’ve done
But also one of the most rewarding
I’ve mentioned to a couple people
About the tattoo
I plan to get in August
For my 3 year anniversary
Just a simple ‘III’
On my arm
The Roman numerals
And I’ve had several comments
About pride in me
And my strength
And how it’s a good way to remember
And a positive coping mechanism
And a good way to cover the scars
But to me
It’s a whole lot more
It is my accountability
It is my victory count
My proof of things achieved
These scars are nothing for me to be ashamed
They are my battle scars
They are the the times when I wanted to give up
But I didn’t
They are the times
I was hurting to much
For my little brain to handle
They are the days I kept living when I wanted
So badly to die
I am proud that I no longer have to cope
By choosing an almost death
Over a full death
I am proud that I survived

~Sarah

It was rape…

It was rape, even though he was was my dad.
It was rape, even though he claims it was cause he didn’t know better.

It was rape, even though my mother was paid for it.
It was rape, even though some were women.
It was rape, because I could not consent.

It was rape, even though he was my boyfriend.
It was rape, even though we’d had consensual sex before.
It was rape, because I did not consent.
It was rape, even though I was coerced into saying yes.

It was rape, even though I knew her.
It was rape, even though I was penetrated with a gun.
It was rape, even though it was in a car.
It was rape, because I screamed no over and over.

It was rape, even though it only lasted a couple minutes.
It was rape, even though I’d been drinking.
It was rape, even though I knew him.
It was rape, because he held me down after I said no several times.

It was rape. Period. None of this non-consensual sex bullshit. There is sex. There is rape.

~Sarah

I am Autistic

I am autistic.

I am sometimes unnecessarily dramatic

But it will always be because I am passionate about that thing/person/topic

I do not throw fits

Or tantrums

I have meltdowns

Sensory overload

I am autistic.

Sometimes I need a break

I sometimes don’t realize it

But am extremely non-empathetic

And other times

I feel all of your pain or joy or anger

I always take in all the senses around me

I am autistic.

The buzzing fly

The humming computer monitor

All the traffic sounds

I am autistic.

The grating sound of your nails scratching your skin

The air being suctioned in and out of your nostrils

I am autistic.

The taste of all the colors

And the taste of all the words as I read them

I am autistic

The smell of trees

And people

And food

And cigarettes

I am autistic

All the things to touch

All the textures

Chairs – some hard, some soft, some rough, and some flexible

Door knobs

Clothing

Shoes

Food

I am autistic.

Not to mention all the things “normal” people sense

Alarming sounds

Food being cooked in the vicinity

The pain they are in

Physical and or emotional

I am autistic.

I hold down a full time job

And I have associates degree

I am autistic.

I have a family

And I am working on my bachelor’s degree

I am autistic.

I eat food

I drink alcohol sometimes

I like to go to movies

I am autistic.

Sometimes I have bad days

And I need all the sense to calm the fuck down

I am autistic.

I live life

One day at a time

Just like you

I am autistic.

~Sarah

FAQ: Why I Self-Harm

***Trigger Warning: Cutting, Self-Harm, Hospital, ER, Medication***

 

I have been asked no less than 1000 times why I’ve self-harm, like why I do it. And it’s taken me until recently (4.19.16) to be able to answer this question in a way I feel is accurate for me. The answer: because it’s the one thing that I could always count on. It is the one thing that never let me down.

I have/had a routine or some would call a ritual. It includes preparing my tool, the actual act, and then the after/clean up. It’s something, one thing, my brain can focus 100% on for a few minutes. As an autistic person, this is rare…even hard. I feel so much. All the time. Sometimes it just needs to stop. Stop. For 15 minutes. And for 15 minutes I can have a single thought. A single focus. – A lot of people say exercise is a good alternative. For some maybe, for me it is not. For me, and I know for many others who struggle with self-harm, exercise is also a struggle of its own.

The Prep Stage

The prep stage includes new tools every time and rinsing the new tool with water.  (I promised myself before the first time I self-harmed I would only use clean ones each time, and never use one more than a 3-4 times). Then I would get in the shower to actually self-harm. (Only a couple times did I ever not get in the shower to harm and it was the times I ended up cutting super deep on accident: I was in a hurry).

There was a couple times growing up when I forgot my tools in the bathroom after I was done and never once was I caught, but man I was terrified of it. And then when I left home and lived on my own I constantly had several tools in my shower “just in case” is what I told myself. It was my safe guard.

After Self-harm

After I have self-harmed, I then have something to take care of. Something to fix. Something to heal. Something to change. I rinse it in water in the shower. I make sure the cuts stops bleeding. And then go about my shower. After my shower, drying is complicated because I mostly cut on my forearms, (early on I cut my thighs and my stomach, mostly because they were easier to hide). I would dry careful, as not to rip any open. And then I wear long sleeves so no one sees but also to protect them from germs. And I would clean the cuts once a day with warm water in the shower. (Later I did start covering them with gauze and an ace wrap, and treating them with lavender).

Today

It has been almost 3 years since I last self-harmed (32 months and 10 days if you want to be exact). And it’s been hard, I’ve had times where I really struggled to not self-harm. The last 2 ½ months or so my anxiety has increased significantly, because for the first time in my life all of my basic needs are met. For the first time in my life, I am able to not have to live in a dissociative or partly dissociative state all the time. And the last couple weeks have been particularly hard not cutting, so hard I even went to the psych ER (for anyone who knows me personally knows that is not something I am a fan of and use only as a last resort because I have had several bad experiences with it). It was truly life altering though, my fiancé took me and stayed the entire time by my side and spoke and explained things when I couldn’t. Being autistic, it’s hard for me to put things into verbal words sometimes. The ER is a dedicated ER here in Central Texas for psychiatric care and I received fantastic care, the doctor and the social worker really listened to me and what I needed and make sure I was as comfortable as I could be. They gave me a trial prescription to try in the mean time before I could seem my normal doctor, and they gave me awesome resources for therapy. This trip truly changed my life.

 

~Sarah