Living in a War Zone: What it’s Like to Live with PTSD

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TRIGGER WARNING: Please be advised that the topics in this post are related to sexual abuse/assault and my experiences as a sexual abuse survivor.

After the past couple of days being triggered by the Weinstein situation I thought it might be helpful for others to be able to look outside in on someone who suffers from PTSD. Posttraumatic stress disorder is a mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event, like combat, a natural disaster, a car accident, or sexual assault. An estimated 7.8 percent of Americans will experience PTSD at some point in their lives, with women (10.4%) twice as likely as men (5%) to develop PTSD. About 3.6 percent of U.S. adults aged 18 to 54 (5.2 million people) have PTSD during the course of a given year.

Unless you’ve experienced PTSD it’s probably tough to imagine what it’s like living with PTSD. I describe it like living in a war zone. You know that you’re surrounded by danger and at any given time bombs could be dropped around you. There usually is no warning or signs it will occur. Once the bombs start to fall you frantically search out any way to take cover. This is very problematic when you have an episode out in public. Years ago when I was working for Xerox I was triggered during work. Thankfully I was working overtime and no one was around me. I felt so unsafe that I got underneath my desk for protection. That is what it’s like to suffer from PTSD.

Depending on the trigger and how extreme the fallout is from it will determine how quickly it will take to come out of that PTSD bubble. Often times I don’t even know that I have been triggered. Weeks later I find myself extremely depressed and feel like it’s the end of the world. It’s at my worst that I realize that I’m in a PTSD episode. I know that I have had a trigger but don’t always know what has triggered me… and I don’t ever find out. Occasionally if the trigger is profound enough I will know right away. Like for example, the whole me too phenomenon on Facebook. When the trigger is that profound it can push me over the edge.

Like I said most of the time I don’t know the trigger and it’s not always specific to a trauma, even though it’s probably somewhere there deep inside. Then there are times that the trigger corresponds to the traumatic event that caused me to have PTSD. When the trigger is related to the traumatic act it puts me into dangerous waters. This was true with me being triggered by the news of Weinstein and people sharing the phrase “not me” on social media. I have spent a great amount of time in PTSD bubbles that I have a better understanding of each episode of PTSD but it never makes it any easier.

My PTSD is centered around the sexual abuse that occurred when I was in my early teens. Most the time I’m not able to talk about it as it becomes too much. I’ve lived with it long enough to know that I need to be careful with who I share this information with, at least the details of the abuse. I can say that I’m a survivor but if I get asked questions about it I will put up the floodgates. Sometimes it’s just easier to not say anything, as most people will want more information out of curiosity. I control when and what I say when it comes to the sexual abuse. When you get triggered I don’t have that choice. It’s like opening pandora’s box. Once that lid has been lifted the flood water starts gushing out uncontrollably. It’s very much like in Alice in Wonderland when she starts to cry, it’s very easy to get washed away.

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It’s easy to push away a few articles and not have to know the details. When you are on social media anytime something big like the Weinstein news hits everyone knows pretty quickly. I started to see a few “me too” posts in my feed which wasn’t trigger as I could easily scroll past them and they started off being just those two words. Once it caught on my whole feed was filled full of victims admitting to have had some sort of sexual abuse. That’s when it started to be overwhelming. I learned a long time ago that I’m a sponge when it comes to others pain. It’s easy for me to get taken under from it, as the person becomes a mirror and I see my own pain.

I couldn’t get away from it. Once you’re triggered you can’t flip that switch back off. It’s just not possible. For me, when I’m triggered by something relating to the actual sexual abuse I get transported back to that time and place. So by Monday evening I was in the cabin that I was sexually abused in. Every door I tried to open would lead me back into that cabin. I could close my eyes and see every aspect of that cabin from the wooden walls to the musty cabin smell. I have a photographic memory of that cabin in all senses. I can hear the band that was playing in the messhall. I can feel the fabric of the sheets. When I close my eyes I can even walk through that cabin.

Once I’m transported back to that cabin then I start to have flashbacks of the sexual abuse. This is what really pushes me over the edge. The images are persistent and extreme. I relive every moment of the abuse. My mind races like I’m in a race to the finish line. It’s unsettling and alters every aspect of your life when you are in the belly of the beast. You try with all your might to get the images out of your head. In the past when I get this triggered it’s ended with me being hospitalized as it takes me to dangerous levels. I either become suicidal or feel like I’m going crazy… that’s how intense the flashbacks are.

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When you have a flashback you relive not only the physical assault but the feelings that arise because of the evil act done to you. Deep feelings of shame and guilt. A dirtiness that no soap will wash away. I didn’t just get triggered by the sexual act and the feelings that were attached from it but the rejection that occurred when I finally told my family seven years later.

At first I was triggered just on the size and scope of those affected by sexual abuse. People started to share personal stories. I couldn’t escape it. I was spiraling out of control already when I started to see some women question the validity of men also saying me too as well. One article I read said that male victims should just sit down and listen, that this movement wasn’t about them. These comments just stoked the fires of my PTSD. Each comment reminded me of a pain that occurred when my family didn’t believe me when I came forward about the sexual abuse. I was hearing my family tell me again and again that my pain and feelings weren’t valid… that I should just go back into the closet like a good little boy.

This is what it’s like to be triggered. You start to live these moments over again which I have done in the following paragraphs below. Once you start down this path you fall down the rabbit hole and can’t stop it until you come to the end. So if you don’t want to go through the gory details scroll to the end to finish this blog post.

It was then I went into the danger zone. I went seven years without telling my family. I didn’t tell anyone about the abuse because I didn’t think anyone would be believe me. Those seven years of my life were complete hell. Each day that passed chipped away any self esteem and self worth that I had. I remember crying myself to sleep at night because I didn’t think anyone loved me. My abuser was my cousin, who lived down the street from me with my grandmother. I couldn’t get away from him. All that time I knew this dark secret that I couldn’t share and I had to watch my parents love him. My grandmother didn’t drive so that meant my Mom had to drive him everywhere he wanted to go.

My cousin was the start of the family. Everyone loved him. He was the stereotypical jock. He was the captain of the Football and Basketball team. All the girls in school loved him and all the boys wanted to be him. I on the other hand was not. I was the boy who always wore sweat pants. I was the sensitive one. I didn’t fit my family’s mold of what a boy should be. Chad (I hate saying/seeing his name still to this day) was the son that my Father had always wanted. He hunted and fished. My father and him would go hunting all the time. Each time destroyed me. I so desperately wanted to tell someone but the fear was too much. He could do no wrong. This wouldn’t change when I came out about the abuse to my family. My worst fears came true.

While most of my family didn’t validate or believe me my Mom did… She never once doubted me and when she found out who abused me she wanted nothing to do with him. My father was different. He believed me but he didn’t care. The next day he went hunting with him. When my Father found out I was upset he told me that I needed to forgive and forget. The rest of the adults of the family chastised me. Being gay was worse than being a child molester. How dare he spread shame onto the family and say such horrible things about their beloved Chad. My Aunt told my mom that boys will be boys like we were just playing a game.

I wasn’t the only cousin in my family who was molested. I was just the only one who spoke about it. To make matters worse is that the adults of the family knew of the abuse and did nothing. When my cousin sexually abused me he stole my innocence and left behind the belief that I was unlovable and worthless. I became an object that he could own. I was bullied in school pretty frequently and whenever he saw someone bully me he would stop it… but then he’d turn around and bully me. I was his property.

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When my family rejected me they confirmed that I was unlovable and worthless. I had seven years of practice and by the time they were done with me I was left broken. When I came out about the abuse I also came out of the closet. While my Mother believed the abuse happened the news of me being gay took precedence. I lived in Southern Baptist family which was all about fire and brimstone. Being gay meant burning in hell for eternity. So you can imagine how my parents reacted to the news that I was gay. My Mom cried for weeks. I was called abnormal. Told over and over that I was going to hell.

The brunt of the emotional abuse was by the hands of my Father. He used the bible as a weapon. God we the jury, judge and executioner. The words he repeated and over brainwashed me into believing that I was going to burn in flames in eternity. If I had any self esteem left my father extinguished them that day. I was told that I would die of AIDS, that I had always wanted to lose weight and I finally would get that chance. He painted this picture of me dying alone in the hospital from AIDS. His words and voice are forever in my ear…

The next year was pure hell for me. I was cut off from everything. It almost destroyed me. Before I came I out I bought a computer. Living the rural Midwest there weren’t anyone like me nearby. The internet was a great refuge. I not only was able to connect to other gay people but also sexual abuse survivors. Well when I came out they took away that connection. I’ve never felt so alone and scared in my life. My father was right. I was living in hell. I got the typical responses like how do you know you are gay? or why don’t you at least try… My parents proved that their love had conditions and just furthered my beliefs that I was unlovable.

Finally things went back to how they were before. It was like I was back in the closet. Everyone knew but no one talked about. It ate away at my soul. I was never kicked out or forced into a conversion camp but how my family treated me would forever alter me. I would spend the next twenty years getting myself in similar situations which would further damage me.

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I’ve gone through periods where I would get triggered so deeply about the abuse that it would end with me being hospitalized. The first time was in 2000. It was the first time that the abuse sent me spiralling into a nervous breakdown. Pain is like putting air into a balloon. You can only put so much air into the balloon before it either explodes or goes flying around the room like a chicken with it’s head cut off. I couldn’t take the trauma anymore and went cray cray. I went from not being able to say his name to obsessively repeating his name over and over. I couldn’t stop saying his name. I was in the hospital for about a month and when I was released I went back to pretending like I was okay.

I went back to work and everyday life while deep inside I was dying. I wanted nothing to do with talking about the past so I dug a hole into my chest and buried the pain. Fast forward to 2004. I finally was free from my past. I had moved to Chicago, away from the rural nightmare. I was surrounded by bright lights and gay people. It felt like I was in heaven. I finally found my home but my past caught up to me. No matter how much success I achieved and the happiness I found would equal to the beliefs that I didn’t deserve anything good. I slowly started to self destruct because the good things I had finally achieved scared me senseless. I had the greatest job I had ever had with equally great health insurance. My manager at Xerox was also the best I had ever had. When you work in customer service often times you are seen as a number. You’re a robot to management. If you are great at what you do they run you into the ground because the rest of the employees don’t value the work quite like you do. I finally had a boss who saw my potential and appreciated my hard work. I was even on track to get a promotion to be a trainer. I had even gotten involved with the LGBT group at GE, as a leader.

I had the most friends I had ever had. I was happy… really happy… I had my own apartment. A beautiful garden apartment. Like I said the past started to creep up on me and I started to unravel. I had never lived in a city with such a large gay population. I felt like a kid in the candy store. When you’re violated sexually it’s easy to feel like an object. My dating life up prior had only confirmed those feelings. Most men wanted only one thing from me and that always was sex. So I gave them what they wanted because I was brainwashed into believing that was my purpose. The lines between sex and love were welded together. The harder I tried to pull them apart the more entangled I became.

When your life is filled full of heartache, disappointment and pain you learn to numb out the pain anyway you can. When I came out and struggled to find someone to love me I desperately took anything I could. Something was better than nothing. Prior to moving to Chicago I fell in love with a man who just didn’t have the capacity to love me back. Though he made it seem like he could until he got what he wanted. Once I served his purpose he was gone. He was just another man who used me and then rejected me. My cousin was my first rejection and each rejection after that instilled the idea that I was property deeper. It was the final rejection before I gave up on love. I thought he loved me. About a month later he had a secret to tell me. He had an STD and didn’t tell me because he was afraid I wouldn’t be interested in him. I foolishly believed he meant for love but instead he meant sex. When my feelings for him because too much he ended things with me. He just used me for sex. The last time I felt such devastation was when my cousin rejected me. You see once he found that women could give him what he wanted he threw me away like I was trash. I forced me to love him like a painful addiction. He got me high on his attention and then left me to detox. He was my first love and my first rejection.

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This man who I loved put me in harms way because he wanted to have sex with me. I stayed with him even after he told me because I thought he loved me but he did not. Afterwards I gave men whatever they wanted. I couldn’t take one more rejection and trust being lied to, so I gave men what they wanted.

The internet was both a blessing and a curse for me. What giveth taketh away as they say. The abuse taught me that from pain comes pleasure. I was desperate for attention. Sex gave me that. If I could find guys who wanted to have sex with such a hideous beast like me then that must mean that I’m attractive. The pleasure from one night stands were intense but they didn’t last. I would leave through their door and into the cabin that I was abused in. I fell into this cycle many times. Sometimes I would spend hours even days looking for someone who would have sex with me. The longer it took to find a hookup the more desperate I would get.

Because I didn’t think I deserved anything good and had no value to my life I started to engage in risky behavior. My Father told me that I deserved AIDS so I did whatever I could to contract it through unprotected sex. It was a self-fulfilling prophesy. I was so worthless that I didn’t deserve to live. I was so miserable that even in my subconscious I wanted to die. Whenever I would hook up I would immediately feel dirty. I would always shower afterwards like I did when I was sexually abused. Each time I relived those moments over and over again. Then I would become suicidal which led me to be hospital again.

My time in Chicago was the first time I started to process the sexual abuse and everything that occurred because of it. I found an amazing therapist and started to open up slowly to her. I even joined a survivor group for me. I was making progress but it wasn’t enough to take over the bad. I couldn’t break the broken record of hooking up because deep down inside I believe that was all I was worth. I did what I always did and ran away. That was always my solution when life got to be too much. I went back into hiding. My time in Chicago included both the best and worst times of my life.

2006 was the last time I dealt with the sexual abuse. The abuse was a book that I put back on the shelf… I knew that it was there but I didn’t dare look at it let alone open it and read the pages. I went back to life and tried to survive like everyone else. I failed miserably. I moved to another city and got into a relationship with an abusive man. The abuse was always emotional but it was starting to lean towards the physical. I almost stayed because I didn’t think I could find anyone else… that was what I deserved. The last straw was when he tried to hit me in the head with a big stick. It was fight or flight. What could have been a wonderful life turned into turmoil because I invited the beast into my life once again. This time I didn’t wait for him to leave me, as it could have been my death.

Again I went back to faking it. I moved back home to Michigan. I struggled but I did what I always did and I survived. That came to a screeching halt when my Mom got Cancer in 2012. We found out the horrible news in April and by September she was gone. My worst fear had come true. While our relationship was flawed I knew she loved me. Through it all she was always there for me. She came to accept me being gay. She would even ask me about my dating life. One of the last memories I have of her is her standing up for me to a homophobic cousin of hers who did the typical he’s going to hell and needs to be saved. She let her have it. To have her stand up for me meant the world to me. I often wonder if she knew she was dying.

My Mom had a rare form of Cancer called Carcinoid because it was so rare not many doctors were able to treat it. We couldn’t find anyone in Michigan to help her and had to go to Nashville to get her help. She needed to have the tumor removed. We drove down to Nashville for her surgery. It never dawned on me that she wouldn’t return home alive. Sometime that first week after surgery she got an infection and had to have an emergency surgery. After the second surgery she had to be sedated and put on life support. The last 21 days of her life were in an ICU. During that time I didn’t leave her room. I couldn’t leave her side. I was a boy once again desperately holding onto the woman who gave me life. Up until the end I didn’t lose hope.

The last day of her life I was awoken in the early hours of Sunday morning to my Mom surrounded by Doctors, nurses and other staff. The only lung left had collapsed and her vitals had reached dangerous levels. They put her on dialysis and i was told if her numbers didn’t improve she would die. Hours had passed and her numbers continued to drop. She was dying and there was nothing I could do to stop. I stayed by her side until the end. I held her tight as I sobbed. The person who was always there for me to comfort in my hour of need was slipping away from my grasp. I had no one to turn to. I was alone in a big city, hours away from home. She was taken off life support. My tears drenched her hospital gown as I watched her flatline on the EKG machine. It was slow, one heartbeat escaping at a time… she was gone… I lost the one person who truly loved me.

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Life as I knew it was over. I couldn’t imagine a world without my Mom. Once again my mental health spiraled out of control. I had struggled with depression most of my life but I was always able to snap out of it. This was the first time that didn’t happen. Suicidal thoughts were pretty common for me when I was at my worst but this was the first time I had a plan. I didn’t want to live anymore. I couldn’t take the grief. No matter how hard I tried to escape that hospital room I couldn’t get away from the grief. I was drowning in tears. I had the pills in my hand ready to take. That’s how close I came to killing myself. Thankfully I put a desperate plea for help on Facebook. That was the only way I knew how to ask for help. Losing my Mom was another traumatic experience that added another level to my PTSD.

Again I was hospitalized but because I didn’t have insurance I was sent to a halfway like house. While I didn’t quite get the help I needed it did start the process of me getting the help. I was put on medicine and when I was released I was setup with a therapist. The next four years I stayed on my medicine and continued therapy. The past four years haven’t been easy by any means. While the medicine helps with the helplessness I still cycle in and out of deep depression. I’ve tried really hard to live on my own and start a new life one where I treat my mental illness like the disease it is. I never stuck with anything for very long. Stability wasn’t a luxury that I was given. I gotten use to having to pick up everything and moving. In fifteen years I had to move twenty times.

I’ve been on medicine since 2013. I’ve also consistently been in therapy even when I had to find a new therapist which I had to do four times in four years. The person I use to be would have given up after the first time. Trust is huge when opening your wounds to a stranger but my life hadn’t gotten so bad that I knew I had to keep pushing forward. So I kept jumping hurdles. In the last year I’ve had to move three times, not by my choosing. The last move was to the town near my family. Finally I thought I could settle down but it was not meant to be.

I recently discovered that while I’ve made a lot of progress since 2013 I have not been living. I have just been surviving and miserable at that. I’m homeless and have nowhere to go but a homeless shelter. Whenever I start to think of going to live in a shelter my mind goes to dangerous places. Lately my depression has been very severe. I go weeks without showering. Everything is a chore. Even brushing my teeth is like climbing Mount Everest. No matter how horrible I’m feeling I make sure to go to therapy every week. No matter what I know that I have therapy. It’s the only consistent thing in my life.

This is where we go back to the present day. We are outside the PTSD bubble, at least in the blog post. Sadly in real life I’m still inside the bubble trying to find my way out.

So life was hunky-dory (well not really) until a few days ago… This is what it’s like to be triggered. You get transported back into time. It’s unstoppable. It hooks you like a fish and drags you under the current. I already had a lot on my plate already. Homelessness doesn’t suit me. It doesn’t suit anyone actually but it’s the situation I’m in.

Since the trigger has started I’m trying the best I can to not lose my mind… It’s not been easy. I come in and out of conscious constantly. Just when I think I have escaped the abuse is replayed in depths of my mind. You’re talking about the worst feelings you could imagine. At the heart of the pain is scared, little boy. Who is damaged and hurting. It’s like Voldemort when Harry Potter destroys the last horcrux. The forces trying to keep me down are just as scary and dangerous. The pit is the darkest of night. There is no light. There is only misery and suffering. These forces are always at my doorstep waiting for the first opportunity to drag me under.

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I might be weak. I might not be able to run any longer. I might be slow but I’m still moving forward… crawling… I’m fighting harder than I ever have before. I’ve not come this far to have some trigger do me in. For now I’m okay. I’m outside the cabin but I know at any moment I will be back in the bedroom where this all began. That’s the bad thing about being in a PTSD episode it’s like being lost. You have no map to guide you home. Sometimes the only way out of an episode is through a hospitalization. That’s where I’m heading. It’s where I must go if I ever want to make this a go. If I really am going to live I must go to the place of unknown. It’s scary to have to venture home in a land unknown. It’s like walking in the darkness. You don’t know if your next step will be your last.

But you gotta keep trying. Sure deep down inside I still believe I’m worthless and unlovable. Yes, I’m in a PTSD bubble and it’s unknown when I will find my way out. I have all of this fighting against me. It’s held me behind for too long. I’m tired of giving into it. I can’t do that any longer. It’s slowly killing me. I might be at the end of my rope but I still have hold of it. So I will continue to fighting and speaking out. I might not have a lot left but I have my voice… My will to fight… and my family…

I matter. My mind knows this. I’m aware that there is a disconnect between my mind and my heart. The darkness has my heart trapped and the path destroyed. I feel it deep within. It’s what’s kept me alive. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring but I know I want more out of life. I deserve so much more than the life I have lived. I somehow gotta learn a new. Start on a new path because I know the world needs me.

I might not have had the support and help I desperately needed so many years ago but I can ensure that others do. I will do this by continuing to speak out and share my story. My life has to have meaning and purpose. I know what it’s like to be rejected, cast out. To have others not believe you. To have your suffering go unvalidated.

Others might argue that the me too movement is not the time for male survivors to come forward. Some might think we should just sit back and listen. While the experience of male victims might look differently than a woman the pain is the same. The same thing is stolen from each gender. If you start comparing pain in terms of number and strength is when you start to slip down the slippery slide.

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Predators don’t stop with women. Men can fall into the power trap too. I understand that women have had to take the brunt of the abuse and have been most visible but to disregard another genders experience because of that doesn’t help anyone. If the rules of society will ever change then we must look at all aspects of sexual abuse. There are gender norms and rules that we must overcome. Misogyny is the symptom of the disease that is toxic masculinity. The cycle of abuse repeats when the victims stay silent. To silence male victims won’t break the full cycle.

Whenever is the right time to talk about abuse. People are arguing that by including men in the conversation will take away from the experience of healing but if things will ever change doesn’t all parties have to be involved. Sexual abuse is only talked about when something big like Weinstein comes to the surface. It’s talked about for a while but then everyone goes back to normal and nothing ever changes. We need to have ongoing conversations about sexual abuse. Predators are expecting us to stay silence. That is where they get their strength from. There are more of us than there are of them. Power has controlled them and they feel like they own the world. It’s up to us to stand up to them using our voices to remind them where they belong.

If people don’t want to talk about men who abuse women then they certainly won’t when the victims are men. I learned this from my family. Homosexuality is the ultimate break of the gender norms. Why else would so many have a problem with it? If society won’t accept consensual same sex attraction then nonconsensual doesn’t stand a chance. That’s why I believe it’s important that all victims be included because if we waited for our time it will never come. You can honor both experiences without taking away from another.

These gender rules are ingrained into our social consciousness. I was watching the Big Bang Theory the other night. In the episode Howard is freaks out when he finds out he’s having a boy. He freaks out because he’s afraid that he won’t be able to teach him to do the things that men do. The character was comparing himself to the gender norms of being a man that all men are sportsmen. Howard doesn’t fit the gender norm. Sure it’s a fictional situation but it shows the pressure that men have to endure. When you fall short in comparing yourself to the typical male then it’s very easy to feel less than. To those who take advantage of power they believe in the rules and will do whatever they have to enforce them… to keep them alive. These men feel like they own the world and can do with it however they see fit. I’ve been around men like this all my life.

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While many of the cases of serial predators like Weinstein victimize women there are enough cases where the victims are boys and men to take notice. One example are the countless priests who molested many boys. That’s the ultimate betrayal to be violated by a supposed man of God. Just like the Weinstein case the Catholic church knew about the abuses for years. Think about all the boys lives who were forever changed. Being violated as a child is something you just don’t get over. I was molested before I hit puberty. I didn’t know what sex was. I had my innocence was stolen. These boys were abused within the same power structure. Another example is the Sandusky case. Here was another man in power who sexually assaulted young boys. The abuse went on for years and many people were aware of the allegations. Like the Catholic Church those involved in the football program at Penn State didn’t do a thing and they knew about it for years.

Boys who don’t fit the masculine mold grow up feeling less, many of them are bullied. They’re called names like sissy and are seen as subservient. Many of these boys attempt suicide. Toxic masculinity sets up boys and men to fail especially if you are GBTQ. Many boys who are GBTQ are kicked out and end up on the streets. To survive these boys are forced into prostitution which leads to sexual abuse including rape.

Researchers have found that 1 in 6 men have experienced abusive sexual experiences before age 18. Prevent Child Abuse America states that sexual abuse of boys is common, underreported, underrecognized, and undertreated. Sexual abuse of girls has been widely studied, leading to awareness of the risk factors and prevalence. Unfortunately, there have been relatively fewer studies done on sexual abuse of boys, leading to inadequate knowledge about the facts related to this topic. Some of the studies that are available have a high degree of subjectivity, poor sampling techniques, and poor designs with few control elements. Underreporting is a result of many issues. Boys are less likely than girls to report sexual abuse because of fear, the social stigma against homosexual behavior, the desire to appear self-reliant (boys grow up believing that they should not allow themselves to be harmed or talk about painful experiences), and the concern for loss of independence. Furthermore, evidence suggests that one in every three incidents of child sexual abuse are not remembered by the adults who experienced them, and that the younger the child was at the time of the abuse, and the closer the relationship to the abuser, the more likely one is that the child will not be able to recall the event.”

Men are also not exempt from sexual assault. Male rape victims are less likely to come forward those who do are usually disregarded. Rainn states that 1 out of every 10 rape victims are male. They further state that 21% of TGQN (transgender, genderqueer, nonconforming) college students have been sexually assaulted, compared to 18% of non-TGQN females, and 4% of non-TGQN males.

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Sexual assault in the military are also significant. In 2014, ten percent of the 18,900 victims who came forward were male. Male victims are also less likely to come forward due to the stigma attached to toxic masculinity and military culture. Men are supposed to be tough. They don’t talk about their problems. Jim Hopper, a psychologist and researcher, and Russell Strand, a retired Criminal Investigative Service special agent, spoke about an aspect of sexual violence not often discussed: sexual assaults on men. There is a reluctance in men reporting assaults. So 87 percent of men attacked are not reporting it and “these are real men in real pain,” Hopper said. The pain is compounded by shame. Being sexually assaulted brings additional feelings of shame to a man because it works against the ideal of what it means to be a man, he said. Men who have been sexually assaulted believe they are not worthy of respect, Strand said. “Most people who sexually assault adult men are heterosexuals,” Hopper said. “And those same heterosexual men who are assaulting men are often the same men assaulting women.”

Many males won’t get help, he said, because they feel they won’t be believed, understood or supported. “Part of that is they know most people don’t expect men to be assaulted, that this can’t really happen to ‘a real man,’” Hopper said. They are also afraid of their friends or teammates finding out what happened to them, he said. They believe they will be looked at as less than a man, that they will be ostracized and shunned. And, many victims see the assault as the death-knell to their careers. So while the numbers might not be as high as the victimization of women the numbers make no difference in the trauma and long-term damage to the victim. To silence male victims for that reason only furthers the narrative that men won’t be believed or validated.

The likelihood that a person suffers suicidal or depressive thoughts increases after sexual violence. People who have been sexually assaulted are more likely to use drugs than the general public. Sexual violence also affects victims’ relationships with their family, friends, and co-workers. Long term effects can include guilt, self-blame, low self-esteem, negative self-image, problems with intimacy, sexual problems, addiction, depression, anxiety and PTSD. Not all experiences are the same for all victims. Each survivor has a unique set of challenges to face afterwards. Toxic masculinity plays a big role in the male victims in coming forward and getting help. That was the my reasoning for not coming forward. I waited seven years to speak out and when I did I was faced with rejection from my family. I’m not alone. I’ve heard men get laughed out of police departments when they try to report a rape. Many men hold onto these secrets into their forties and beyond all due to stigma.

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Sexual assault can hit men in all aspects of life including at home and in the workplace. According to a recent survey, about one-third of all working men reported at least one form of sexual harassment in the previous year.  Of the 7,809 sexual harassment charges filed in 2011 with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commision (EEOC), 16.1 percent were filed by men. By 2013, this had risen to 17.6 percent. Again many male victims don’t come forward due to the stigma attached to male sexual abuse victims. I personally was groped at one of my previous jobs and management didn’t do anything. I ended up quitting because of it.

I’m not able to see how including men in the conversation about sexual assault takes anything away from women who are victims. Unless your argument is that all men are to blame, that somehow all men are inherently sexual deviants. I get it. I really do. Personally I don’t trust men, especially straight men. When I go shopping I pick the lanes that the cashier are men. I avoid eye contact with men. I have always felt more comfortable with women. Growing up all my friends were female. The men in my life who were suppose to love and support me were the ones to treat me poorly. This left me with a negative view on men. This was no different with gay men. I’ve been used for sex more times than not. I understand why women have the attitudes they do about me. This is why it’s important that I speak out and give me experiences on sexual abuse. Stigma leads to further victimization. It prevents victims from coming forward and getting the desperate help they need. Sexual abuse forever alters the lives of the victims. It’s not something you ever get over. You will go the rest of your life having to deal with the ramifications of being sexually assaulted. You’re outlook on life is permanently changed.

Men like Weinstein abuse others out of power. Toxic masculinity gives them permission to treat anyone like their are goods. In order to break the cycle of abuse we must talk about sexual abuse in the open. Doing so helps to extinguish the shame and guilt that occur because of the sexual abuse. As complex as sexual abuse is, the solution is multi-dimensional. If you argue that it’s a woman issue to you silence all the boys and men who aren’t accepted in the all boys club. Doesn’t separating the victims further adds to the power structure. When was the last time you saw a public campaign for male sexual abuse like the me too movement. The answer is probably never.

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What some probably don’t realize is that many of the men who had the courage to say me too were doing so for the first time. To speak out publically takes a lot of courage. It could have been the first step in them getting the help they need. Trust me male survivors are thrown a lot at them when they do come forward. If it could save one person isn’t it worth including all victims? Keeping male victims silent won’t stop these abuses from happening. The question that always comes up whenever a sexual assault scandal is publicized is how others can make a difference. I don’t have all the answers but I do believe that education and prevention early on will make a difference, at least in how quickly someone comes forward. The less stigma there is the more likely someone will come forward. Children need to learn about respect for their bodies and others. When I was sexually abused I didn’t even know what sex was and that was one reason I didn’t come forward earlier. If society only discusses sexual abuse during these scandals nothing will ever change.

Gender norms are harmful to those who don’t fall within the spectrum. Boys and girls grow up feeling less than. They hide who they are to fit in. Sexual abuse is just one symptom of toxic masculinity. Children who are judged unfairly by these rules often develop low self-esteem and self-worth. This only furthers the cycle of abuse. The longer it takes to get help the more damage it causes. The stigma attached to sexual abuse can lead to further abuse down the road when victims put themselves in dangerous situations because they believe they deserve it. Our society has the tendency to blame the victim. When you’re sexually assaulted you have a part of you stolen and it’s something that can’t ever be return. The abuser plants a seed in you that you’re worthless and unlovable. They manipulate and convince you that you’re an object. How society often treats the victims only confirms that the abuser was right. Often times there is no vindication for the harm caused. Many abusers get away with their crimes. This only adds the false beliefs inflicted upon the victim. The rejection from others, when you do come forward, only adds salt to the wound. It further damages you. I think how my family treated me did just as much damage, if not more. I went eight years digging my grave and building my coffin. By the time I came out about the abuse I was already laying down in it. My family put the nails in my coffin and buried me alive. When you have to dig your way out of the ground it forever changes who you are. I’ve spent twenty plus years trying to dig myself out of that grave. To this day that empty grave still remains ready for me to catch me when I fall.

That’s why it’s very important to speak out about all injustices. Those who are strong enough to take a stand are able to liberate others who aren’t able to. It takes a great amount of courage and bravery to come forward. Victims face a lot in their life and it can lead to a very isolating life. The sea of me too’s are a reminder of the strength in numbers. There are more survivors than there are abusers. We must stick together if we are ever to change anything. Pain is universal. Sexual abuse doesn’t save anyone. It inflicts poison into everyone the predator abuses. Someone’s gender doesn’t exclude them from damage. No one is spared from that damage.

Not everyone will understand all of this. My message is not for everyone. I learned that along time ago. When I told my secret I was liberated and got my voice back. While NO is a simple word in terms of vocabulary the strength behind it is more powerful than any other word in the dictionary. Speaking out is my way of saying no. Every day I’m alive I say no. To my abusers. To society. To family who didn’t believe me. To those who try to silence me.

To the stigma attached to sexual abuse. I hope to remind others that they’re not alone. No one should have to suffer alone or feel left behind. Others are consciously choosing to disallow male victims in order to control their emotions. While that might seem like a natural choice does it really make the pain go away and who does it help. It only makes people feel left out and forgotten. The more we speak out and stand up for these injustices the chances are better to prevent further lives being forever damaged. The ultimate goal should be to protect children, women and men. I can’t go back in time to stop the abuse from happening to me, nor can I reverse the damage entirely but I can use my voice in the hopes of saving someone from the pain and misery I have lived.

If you are looking for help here are a few resources:

http://www.malesurvivor.org/

https://www.rainn.org/national-resources-sexual-assault-survivors-and-their-loved-ones

 

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Boys Will Be Boys: The Cycle of Abuse

****TRIGGER WARNING****

One thing I’ve heard over and over in regards to the news that Harvey Weinstein sexually abused women for decades is why it took so long for the revelation to come out. More so why others involved didn’t step forward sooner. When people learn about something outside their comfort zone the natural thing is to question it. It seems illogical someone would hold a secret for so long. They use words without knowing the background and experiences of living with such a secret. Our society has a history of blaming the victim. It’s ingrained into our culture and everyday life. The messages are clear, that men are superior which makes them invisible whenever they use their power to abuse others.

If you look deeper than you can see that many of the victims in the Weinstein case did try to speak out and were usually silenced in some way or another. One victim of the abuse even went as far as reporting it to the police. There is even audio proof of the abuse but even still he was never prosecuted for the assault. This speaks volumes as to how victims are treated. When the victims do speak out they’re met with opposition both from the abuser and the public. They’re shunned back into silence. Secrets eventually find their way to the surface. People can question the credibility of all the victims because they’re privileged to do so. They’ve not had to live through the pain, guilt or shame. Often times how others respond to abuse is just as damaging. It reinforces the shame and guilt from the assault, echoing the voice of your abuser in your ear.

Another thing I see people questioning is why so many victims come forward at once. As if the more victims they are the more likely the news isn’t true. When you speak out about something as tough as sexual abuse you liberate others who have gone through something similar. So many of Weinstein’s and Cosby’s victims were silenced. It’s tough enough to face the abuse let alone a judgeful world that will most likely blame you. When someone is able to break free from the shame, guilt and public pressure it gives all the other victims strength. There is strength in numbers.

Predators like Weinstein get away with these crimes because of rules of society. One that blames the victim. The victimization from Weinstein was so widespread and lengthy that it became a legend in Hollywood. It’s the ultimate plausible deniability. Just look how our culture treats people like Woody Allen, Bryan Singer, Hugh Hefner, Casey Affleck, etc. We reward them with admiration and awards. The evidence is always there. Unless the evidence is too massive to overlook oftentimes the victims are disregarded and overlooked. For example, the Weinstein company. They knew about the abuse for years and tolerated it until the secret hit the press and the public. It was then that they cut all ties because it hit their bottom line. How many more predators like Weinstein are there in and out of Hollywood. Harvey Weinstein justifies his horrible deeds by brushing them off to a time that was different. Wrong is wrong, no matter how long it has been.

Using the excuse of well I didn’t know better is bogus. It’s how you reflect accountability. Regardless of the time in our history, the difference between right and wrong has always been clear. The lack of judgment and being a horrible person in the past doesn’t exempt you from taking the heat when you’re hold accountable years after. So while Feinstein might not treat women like that anymore (which I find hard to believe) it doesn’t erase all the years of abuse. The damage caused to the women he assaulted will last a lifetime. When you’re sexually abuse your soul is split into two. You will go a lifetime having to deal with effects from the trauma.

While women take the brunt of this abuse it occurs frequently to boys and men. There is this boys club where people justify the horrible deeds of men. It’s the boys will be boys mentality. I lived in a family with that philosophy. Being gay was abomination when being a child molester was not. If you don’t fit in with society’s rules of what it means to be a man you’re seen as less than and worthy of abuse. What it boils down to is misogyny.

When I spoke out about the sexual abuse in my family, many tried to oppress the revelations through denial and disbelief. Boys will be boys is how my Aunt responded to my Mom. As if sexual abuse was a pastime. The sexual abuse in my family was rampant and widespread. For years it was this dirty secret that everyone in the family knew. It was an unspoken rule to be like everybody else and not say a word. To talk about the abuse was to bring great shame to the family. The impact of shame completely outweighed the damage of silence. I was ostracized and made to feel less than because I was speaking the truth. I was rejected and blamed. I became the black sheep of the family. I was trying to break out of the cycle and everyone including my cousins tried to silence me anyway they can.

For years we pretended that the dark secret didn’t exist. It was swept underneath the rug with all the secrets. We were brainwashed into believing that sexual abuse was acceptable and common. The years passed. Family gatherings such as our annual Halloween party went on. We had a predator in our family and the adults knew that the abuse was going on. They did nothing. They were complacent and did just as much damage for trying to silence us all. The adults of the family didn’t stop it and more children were forever damaged by one person’s sick game.

Prior to me, there was one other person who tried to speak out… my Mother. She didn’t know my secret but she knew someone else’s. When she spoke out she was chastised and shamed back into silence. Her cries were disregarded. My Aunt whose child was the predator didn’t talk to her for years. There was no way that her golden boy was a child molestor. How the family treated my Mom sent a clear message to the children to shut up. To be good little children. Be seen, not heard.

The predator would strut his stuff at family gatherings like he was the top dog. He knew that no one would stop them and could do whatever he wanted. He terrorized my cousins. We lived in a big family. By the time he was done he’d sexually abused most of my cousins. He didn’t stop at our family and started to branch out to other children in the neighborhood. Eventually he got caught molesting a girl next door. The lawyer his parents hired ended up getting him off.

To this day he’s never been prosecuted for the many crimes he committed. He’s never received help. He’s what you call a serial child predator. It haunts me to know that he’s probably out there abusing children and there is nothing that I can do to stop him. I had even heard that years ago he was coaching a boys basketball team in the same town we grew up in.

To my knowledge no one in the family has ever confronted him… Most of my cousins grew up damaged in some way or another.

When you try to speak out about a secret those who are trying hard to hide them will stop at nothing to keep them hidden, including those who were damaged from that secret. I was 18 when I first spoke out about the sexual abuse in my family. I had went eight years of hiding my secret and wallowing in my shame and guilt. I couldn’t hide my pain any longer.

You can only put so much air into a balloon before it explodes or goes flying around the room like a chicken with it’s head cut off. I couldn’t take it any longer and exposed my secret to my parents. I was free just for one moment. The secret was free but the shame and guilt remained.

I didn’t just come out about the abuse that day. I had another secret, I was gay. The fact that my abuser was a male was of great shame to me. It was one of the reasons I waited so long to tell anyone because I was worried that they wouldn’t believe me. I remember walking up to my parents door the night I was first abused. I was about to knock on their door before the shame set in. How could I tell them about the abuse when my attacker was my male cousin. So I showered and pretended like it didn’t happen. To this day I still remember the couch I took refuge in that night. I can feel the fabric. I can see the pattern.

My Mom never doubted me. She always believed me. The rest of the family did not, including my father. Well he believed me but he just didn’t care. The next day he went hunting with the cousin who sexually abused me. He told me that I needed to forgive and forget. This was the same man who told me that I was going to die in the hospital alone from AIDS because I was gay.

There is a lot of stigma still attached to sexual abuse. It’s a subject that so many don’t find acceptable to talk about in the open. It’s easier to talk about when something big like the revelation of Weinstein happens. We need to start talking about abuse in the moments in between. Silence deafens the cries of victims. It continues the cycle. If we don’t speak up and out about these horrible deeds these perpetrators will continue to hurt more people.

Until society stops blaming and shaming the victims nothing will ever change. There is never an excuse that justifies a crime. Sexual abuse has never been acceptable. The difference between the present and the past is that more people hold the perpetrators accountable today. We have more courage and strength today than we did yesterday. This happens when victims become survivors by speaking out and giving a voice to others who aren’t able to speak.

When you’re sexually abused you lose your voice. The ability of saying no is taken from you. Your body, mind, heart and soul are violated. There isn’t an aspect of you that’s not affected. I was ten years old when I had my innocence taken from me. It was stolen and it’s not something that can be returned.

I’ve not always had my voice. I’ve not always been able to say no. There are times still that I lose my voice. I have to fight daily against the demons of my past. When I am finally able to verbalize the world NO, I am free. The strength behind this word is powerful and doesn’t match the smallness of letters.

When I feel like I can’t speak it’s the strength of other survivors that inspires me and reminds me that I still have my voice. I know that the other side is loud and persistent. They expect us to be silent. They’re depending on us to keep our mouths shut. I refuse to remain silent. I know that the words that don’t escape my belly are the ones that could open the door for more harm to come at the hands of a sexual predator. I share my story in the hopes that I might reach someone in need. It’s so easy to feel like you’re alone when you’re dealing with this sort of trauma. So many victims continue to be silenced. They oftentimes have no one to turn to so they go anywhere they can whether it be addictions or suicide. If you’re able to come out on the other side it becomes pivotal to stand up for those like you. While I didn’t have the power to stop the sexual abuse when I was a child I now have that power returned. When I share my experiences, both the good and bad, I liberate others to do the same in return.

Who Is Dragzilla?

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You might be wondering this. You’ve probably heard of reports of someone coming to the rescue of the LGBTQ citizens of Straightlandia. While the city might be letting you down I will not. It’s not right that we have to hide in the closet because of the archaic laws that exist. No one should ever have to feel unsafe.

I will stand up for those who aren’t able to. I will avenge the deaths of our brothers and sisters. Too many have lost their lives at the hands of Roid Rage and others like him. Losers who feel it’s their duty to rid the world of faggots. I will not stand by and let this happen.

The city has failed us and we can’t wait for the politicians to save us. We deserve equal and fair treatment. We’re not second class citizens. It’s time to rise up and fight. I will be your warrior. I know many of you are scared and that’s understandable. We live in a scary time.

If you find yourself in trouble just scream Dragzilla and I will come to your rescue.

Please Rescue Me From My Homosexuality!

UPDATE: Take a moment and report her Facebook page as hate speech, including her posts. Maybe Facebook will remove her. Hate doesn’t belong on social media when so many children use it and will be affected by it.

https://www.facebook.com/theactivistmommy/

The other day a petition came across my Facebook feed about this woman who goes by the name Activist Mommy who has a facebook page where she spews her sugary coated hate. Her name really should be the Anti-Mommy or the Anti-Christ Mommy. Seems more fitting than to be labeled an activist. She’s also anti a lot of things including science, abortion, etc. She’s all things ridiculous.

I signed the petition and moved on. Then today I discovered the new rainbow reaction on Facebook and I thought I should find her page again to share some rainbows with her. There is something about trolling bigots posts with rainbows that tickles me. You won’t ever reach these kind of people and usually it’s best to just ignore them but sometimes you just gotta stand against that kind of hate. Kill them with rainbows, I mean kindness as they say.

Then I read her post about the Columbus Pride parade advertising that she was going to save some homosexuals by saying that she’s “looking forward to interviewing many of my homosexual friends in Columbus, Ohio.” In the post she further states that she’s going to interview and befriend all the homosexuals. I wonder if she will be like Kirk Cameron and bring a camera crew? She loves homosexuals and doesn’t care if she makes some enemies (from the people she says she will become friends with) that they need to hear the truth she thinks she’s speaking.

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This woman has mastered passive aggressiveness. Someone should give her a PhD in it. The Anti-Christ, I mean the Activist Mommy insists she loves us gays. I mean why else would she use the term homosexual to describe us? No ally in the history of queer allies has ever called their friends homosexual. Only people who feel uncomfortable by gay people or even worse are bigoted.

She doesn’t understand why she’s getting trolled with so much hate. All she’s trying to do is Jesus duty to save us from eternal damnation. I mean how could anyone think that had anything but a loving touch to it.

Anti-Mommy… gosh I’m having a hard time using Artistic Mommy… does the typical compare homosexuals to sex addicts, the fornicators, the adulterers, the porn addicts, etc.

We’re the petty, small-minded ones because we’re calling out her sugary bullshit. How dare we imply that she hates homosexuals. Why else would she troll us at the pride parade telling us what we need to hear.

Honestly I’d rather have someone call me a faggot to my face because at least they’re honest about it. They don’t hide behind a sugary coverup. You can pour a dumptruck full of sugar onto an ounce full of shit but you can smell the stank.

The stink they’re trying to cover up has nothing to do with homosexuality. It has everything to do with their own fears, insecurities and hate. To keep all of that negativity at bay they anchor themselves to a false idea of what God and Jesus is. The only way they will feel good about that choice is by convincing everyone else that their way is the right and only way.

I know all of this because I lived it for so many years. I grew up in a family full of people like this. People who felt it was their god given duty to save me. My father is one of these people. He’d go up to strangers telling them that they needed to accept Jesus Christ in their life or they’d go to hell. It didn’t matter the situation either. One time at a funeral he cornered my sister’s friend trying to save her.

That kind of hate destroys, including the sugary coated kind. I grew up hating myself because I was brainwashed in believing that I was going to hell for being gay. It almost destroyed me. You just don’t get over having your own father tell you over and over that you’re going to hell. While strangers and other family could escape his wrath, I couldn’t.

Children, teens and even adults kill themselves over this kind of hate. The age of Trump has brought out all the bigots. He is their king and now they feel even more justified in spreading their hate like shit on crackers. So I’m torn. I believe in free speech. I don’t know what the appropriate action is for someone like this lady. Ultimately she deserves love and she needs it. She’s lost and delusional. She has two young children and I can’t imagine what they’re having to endure.

Yes people like this are a dime a dozen. I think what upsets me about people like this isn’t about the hate they spread but the damage it does. I know countless people are enduring the pain I did. It breaks my heart that I can’t rescue them. They are the ones who need saving and I don’t mean by berating them.

Some will say to just ignore people like this and for the most part I do. There’s the argument that while her speech is vile it is still free speech. I believe in free speech but I also believe in standing up. If you’re going to spread your hate in a public forum expect that others will stand against you. There are consequences to hate. Now while I think speech should be speech that doesn’t mean I believe we should give them the stage like some universities have done for people like Ann Coulter or Milo what’s his name.

At what point does silence turn into acceptance and tolerance. When you stand up to people like this woman you’re standing up for those who can’t do it themselves. When she shares her sugary hate on social media it will eventually show up in the feeds of teens who are struggling and getting bullied. How many children have to die from bullying both from other children or adults before people wake up.

Did you know that suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24? Here are some other facts about teen suicide.

• Suicide attempts by LGB youth and questioning youth are 4 to 6 times more likely to result in injury, poisoning, or overdose that requires treatment from a doctor or nurse, compared to their straight peers. [2]

• In a national study, 40% of transgender adults reported having made a suicide attempt. 92% of these individuals reported having attempted suicide before the age of 25. [3]

• LGB youth who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide as LGB peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection. [4]

• 1 out of 6 students nationwide (grades 9-12) seriously considered suicide in the past year. [5]

• Each episode of LGBT victimization, such as physical or verbal harassment or abuse, increases the likelihood of self-harming behavior by 2.5 times on average. [6]

So that’s where I draw the line. I refuse to sit by and let this hate destroy others. Having to grow up in this kind of hate doesn’t ever leave you. So while many survive these horrific situations they grow into adults who struggle greatly. It’s taken me twenty years to heal and I’m still processing layers.

I’ve struggled to cope as an adult. It was easier for me to literally escape from that hate including my father. All these years I knew the hate that was out there in this world. I didn’t need to look any farther than my own family. I thought I escaped it but in reality I’m still living in parts of that house still. I was reminded this the night that Trump took the election. I was devastated. I knew what was at stake and the lives that would be lost from his hate.

It was surreal seeing all the people go through what I did for so many years. People not realizing the kind of hate that’s out there. It’s one thing to know your family is filled for of bigots but it’s another thing to know there are millions of them. It almost scared me into the hospital from suicidal thoughts. It was this gigantic flashback.

For the next two months I was paralyzed by my fear. I wasn’t just reliving that night but all the nights from when I was a teen. I live in a rural area and I would find myself questioning (in my head) others who I would encounter in public. Is this someone who voted my rights away? If they find out I’m gay will they verbally chastise me or worse attack me? I’m 6ft, 400lbs and have a big beard and even I feared being found out. I didn’t hide like so many years, well after a while.

Another dangerous aspect of hate speech is that it’s usually attached to some belief of discrimination. It’s one thing to believe whatever you want to but another thing to vote away my rights… or take them away… or deny service to me… So hate speech is a double edged sword.

Most in our country were awoken to the level of hate out there in our world. There was some relief to that fact knowing that you weren’t alone. It’s so easy to think that is all that’s out there. When you grow up surrounded by hate you get tunnel vision. If the people who are suppose to protect you and become the ones who hurt you how else is a child supposed to know anything but that.

You get to a point where you don’t trust anyone. It’s this weird state of living between the world of a victim and survivor. Which is why something like gay pride is so important. There is safety in numbers. It’s not just to have a good time. I still to this day find myself weary in places where heterosexual men are like sports bars. Instantly I become that scared child having to endure my father’s hate. So it was just easier for me to stick with people I knew were open minded.

I saw time and again people posting about removing facebook friends because of Trump and his army of hate. I didn’t delete one person. I had weaned these kind of people out of my life long ago. Maybe I’m missing out by not being as open to different ideas but it’s how I stay safe. It’s easier said than done to be accepting of all ideas when those words are stones to you. I also don’t think it applies to ignorance or hate. People are literally scared for their life and many have died because of this hate. There are those of us who don’t have the luxury of taking these risks.

So I think there is nothing wrong with eliminating people in your life like this or limiting your time with them. Sometimes you have to love people from afar.

I’m a strong believer that good things can come from bad things. It can be extremely tough to see this, especially if you’re living it. After I got over the shock of Trump I started to see all the wonderful supportive people coming out of the woodworks. There were way more of the lovers, than the haters. Just recently I saw a picture of a pride section at the Kroger in a conservative small town. That’s progress. You don’t know what that does to a person who has grown up hating themselves. It’s a bright light in a dark world. To many it’s just cardboard and paper, and others an abomination.

I’ve always lived life with the philosophy of doing good. You can be the person who lifts someone up. I’ve always been open with my struggles. Some have questioned why I’ve shared so openly. I don’t do it for them. At the end of the day if my struggles can be a lighthouse to someone else I will feel better. If I can save one person I know my life will have been meant for more than all that hate, misery, tears, blood and pain.

I won’t lie I’ve not got my life figured out. It’s a lifelong battle. I’ve struggled with dark days of depression. I fight daily with these demons. People like the activist mommy are not my demons, nor do they affect me. I’ve given people like her power for so long. They’ve rented space in my mind for most of my life.

The activist mommy speaks of freedom. To read her posts and the comments supporting here reminds me just how free I am. That I can read her posts and not feel any pain. I’ve had a lot of practice and I still get caught up occasionally.

For so many years it was easier to hate my father and be angry. It wasn’t until my Mom died five years ago that I realized how much destruction the anger has caused and how much he still controlled me. I say past tense because recently I cut those ties after some realizations. The grief softened the anger and I discovered a world of hurt. Through that hurt I wished for the father I always wanted and deserved. I even thought he had changed. Years ago he apologized for how he stated, the way he approached Jesus to me.

My mom was my lifeforce. She was my rock and when she died I went floating into outer space… so I grabbed onto the closest life force I was born with. I had my heart broken all over again recently. I had seen his posts on facebook about all things alt right. Anti this, anti that. A total trump lover… So it started to wake me up again. It was directed at me this time but it still stung. Still I thought maybe he wouldn’t turn on me this time. Maybe this time would be different.

Since my Mom died in 2012 I’ve struggled to survive. It’s been nearly five years and I’m not even 1/4 back to where I was before. In the last year I’ve almost been homeless three times. Through it all I fought through the grief and I’m finally on the outside looking in. For someone with PTSD that is extremely difficult to do. While I might not be emotionally unstable all the time I still struggle daily.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to live in a world where I no longer have the one person who was there for me. The world seemed to dark and scary for me. I had a lifetime of pain, suffering and misery that I almost ended it all in 2013. I didn’t really want to die, I just wanted relief and didn’t think I would ever get it.

It’s so much easier to judge someone else than it is to have empathy for what the person has endured. I think that’s what bothers me the most about this kind of hate is it reminds me of the kindness I wished I had more of. Often times I feel like a fuck up. The person who can’t be stable. Some days I don’t hate myself and those days are wonderful. I’m starting to have more of those happy days but I have enough of the others to mess with my mind.

I’m the end result of this hate. So many grow up into flawed adults who’ve never had the chance to heal and cope with the pain they’ve endured. It’s been twenty years and I still can hear my father’s voice yelling that I was going to hell and telling me that I was going to die alone in the hospital of AIDS. Those are words you never get rid of. You learn to detach the power cord but they’re still there.

Sometimes I just want to yell bloody murder. Will someone see me for who I am? and not the person they want me to be. For too long I didn’t think I deserved anything good, including love. So while I might still hate parts of myself I now know that I deserve wonderful things including kindness and love. I still struggle with believing I will find it but that’s just another thing I’m dealing with.

I wish people like the activist mommy could see our pain. See all our tears. I have to leave the situation knowing that they’re flawed and can’t see anything but their fears.

How do you combat someone like the activist mommy? Say what you want to her. Troll her with rainbow reactions but do something more than that. Reach out to someone you love who is struggling or even not. Someone in your life who is lgbtqai. They’ve probably just as scared as I am with the world we live in and could use the support. Just a simple I love you and I’m there will do. That’s what pride really is about. It’s celebrating our freedom from this hate and celebrating what being gay is all about… love and fabulousness.

I’ve never really questioned whether I was gay or not. For the most part I have loved being gay, it’s what makes me special. Though I’ve not always seen it as a gift. There was a time I tried to hide my fabulousness. I had guys make me less because of my femininity saying things to me like you’re too much like a girl, like that was a bad thing. So I tried to fit in. It was easy to do in the bear community with my size and facial hair. It wasn’t until I dressed in drag that I finally felt in touch with the person I was born to be. It was the first time that I had ever felt beautiful. Honestly I feel more like a woman than I do as a man. I recently have been describing myself as queer. It’s been rather liberating.

I’m learning to embrace who I am. So if you’re reading this and you’re going through something similar… hang on… weather out the storm. There are kind people out there. When you see people like the activist mommy remember like Glinda the good witch says, they have no power over you. If you’re living in this hell reach out to someone at school, a friend… A great resource is the Trevor Project if you can’t find anyone locally. They will help anyone including adults. You can always send me a message here as well too.

I’m with you and some many of us are. I will fight for you until I die. I’m learning to fight for myself but I will always have time for you. We’re worth it.

So activist mommy you have no power over me and others like me,  so be gone… <throws a proverbial bucket of glitter>

Huggs

SOURCES:
[1] CDC, NCIPC. Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) [online]. (2010) {2013 Aug. 1}.  Available from:www.cdc.gov/ncipc/wisqars.

[2] CDC. (2016). Sexual Identity, Sex of Sexual Contacts, and Health-Risk Behaviors Among Students in Grades 9-12: Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

[3] James, S. E., Herman, J. L., Rankin, S., Keisling, M., Mottet, L., & Anafi, M. (2016). The Report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey. Washington, DC: National Center for Transgender Equality.

[4] Family Acceptance Project™. (2009). Family rejection as a predictor of negative health outcomes in white and Latino lesbian, gay, and bisexual young adults. Pediatrics. 123(1), 346-52.

[5] CDC. (2016). Sexual Identity, Sex of Sexual Contacts, and Health-Risk Behaviors Among Students in Grades 9-12: Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

[6] IMPACT. (2010). Mental health disorders, psychological distress, and suicidality in a diverse sample of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youths. American Journal of Public Health. 100(12), 2426-32.

 

The Fear is Real

If you’re on facebook or any other social media the days after Trump won (not fairly) the election you saw your fears come to life. If you were half of America (or at least those who voted for Hillary) you knew what was at stake. That’s why so many of us were shocked because we couldn’t believe in a world where such a hateful person could become President. So when Trump kept winning states you saw your fear grow. For me, it grew to the point where I was in the middle of a massive panic attack… full meltdown mode.

Having lived in a world full of hate growing up I knew what was at stake and what it would mean if Trump was elected. I had first hand knowledge what that kind of hate does to your soul. It rips you apart like a forest fire. That kind of hate leaves nothing behind but a blackened skeleton. That’s what many of us are fearing from a Trump Presidency.

The day after the election it was very clear that our fears were justified as the news of people already being at the end of hate from the supporters of Trump. From swastikas spray painted on buildings in NYC to actual physical altercations with Trump supporters. On Wednesday,  a female student at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette was beaten, robbed and had her hijab ripped off by two men. Trump winning has given his supporters validation that their racist, discriminatory beliefs are just and apart of making America great again.

It’s only four days and we have enough examples of hate in action to fill up a book. Gay people are being harassed more. Anyone who might look hispanic is told to go back to Mexico. Disabled people are being called the R word. Muslims are being targeted, so are African-Americans. Anyone who doesn’t look like a Trump supporter is a target. Trump winning gave them an excuse to remind everyone that they’re going to make America great by going back to a time where black people were segregated, women belonged in a kitchen and gay people were forced to stay in the closet. How far back do they want to go? Back before women could vote or to the days of slavery.

We live in a time that’s more progressive but this election is proof that there are millions of people stuck in the 50s. They feel they’ve been left behind when in reality the one one to blame for being stuck is themselves. Change is a part of life and if you don’t move with it you’ll get left behind. Those who want to make America great again have felt out of control seeing all the changes that they don’t approve of, that go against their God/religion. Marriage equality was the last straw for these people. So of course the only choice was to vote for the man who’d save them. They’ll quickly learn that Trump was never on their side, he just used them. What will they do when they find out that he’s not going to build a wall or doesn’t reverse marriage equality?

It goes much deeper than fearing for our safety and lives because a Trump presidency will make our lives much harder. We might be safe for now but the laws that Trump passes will make many people miserable including his supporters. I know a lot of people are saying that not everyone who voted for Trump are bad and that’s probably true but the fact remains that millions of people voted for Trump in spite of all the bad things he’s said and done. They were so willing to look past all the bad and what it would mean to minorities in order to not change their world. When in reality Trump isn’t the savior they’re looking for. Trump is like the dragon version of Republicans. He was loud and fiery but he wasn’t much different than most Republican politicians. Trump was created by the Republicans he’s the effect.

Trumps followers were led by fear like the pied piper. I know what it’s like to be led by fear. I grew up in a Southern Baptist family which was all fire and brimstone. Being gay was an abomination. During my teenage years I had this reoccurring nightmare of the end of the world and my name would never get called to go to heaven. This is what fear based teachings do, they brainwash you into believing whatever is told to you. So if you grow up in that world it’s hard to overcome it especially if you’re one of the black sheeps.

Fears are based on falsehoods. The longer you hold the fear, the larger it grows until you become the monster. My family is full of them. They have this way of thinking where the path to heaven is only for the few and if you don’t live life the right way you will burn in flames forever. Talk about being scared out of your mind as a child. The bigger the fear the person has the more they try to convince everyone else that they’re right. My father is a prime example. Growing up he would use to corner people trying to preach the word of God to them. It didn’t matter what the function was he’d go out of his way to save someone. At my cousin’s funeral he preached at my sister’s best friend. Yet if you looked inward to his own life you’d see that he wasn’t living by example.

Still to this day he’s the same way. He’s the typical Trump supporter. His facebook wall is full of hate. I recently had thought of giving him another chance. He even apologized to me a few years ago about how he approached Jesus with me. I was foolish to think he had changed. Seeing how he went on about Trump just reminded me why I stayed away from him. He’s toxic and it only means pain for me. He’s just one of many in my family. The election this year has been extremely triggering for me because the people Trump spoke to was my family. Family is suppose to protect you and lift you up, not vote against your rights and safety.

The greatest satisfaction has been knowing that I was able to get away from that hateful world. I have worked hard the past twenty years to get away from it and it hasn’t been easy. During my darkest days I had to remind myself that I had gotten away from that bad place. So to have it come crashing back around me when Trump won the electoral votes just devastated me. It felt like the ultimate defeat that hate won. The world became very scary knowing that millions of voters didn’t care if I had my rights and safety taken away. It’s bad enough when strangers do that to you but when it’s your own family it’s especially devastating. So not only did I grow up in a family full of hate I now had it validated by Trump’s supporters.

As scared as I am and stunned that I live in a world where he could be our President I can’t let that get in the way of my fight. The difference between now and then is that now I have this inner strength that I didn’t realize I had. I’ve had so much taken away that I’m willing to give anything else away anymore. I have this fire in me and I will fight anyone who tries to take away my rights and the others around me.

So bring it on Trump and his army of hate. I’m ready and so are the rest of us. If you think you’ll have it easy you will learn very quickly that you shouldn’t have messed with us. If we don’t fight for what’s right they will really win and we just can’t let that happen. America is already great because of the diverse population.

Just because when they go low, we go high it doesn’t mean that we won’t fight for our rights. So my brothers and sisters the time is now to prepare for January. Keep on letting your voice be heard. I know so many are wondering how they can help. One way you can help is by attaching yourself with the organizations that will come at risk during a Trump presidency like the ACLU, Sierra Club, NAACP, etc. by volunteering and donating to them. They’re going to need all the help they can get.

We need to keep up the protesting. My hope is that they will grow and take over more cities. We need to send a clear message to the world and the haters. A lot of people are scared including the rest of the world. Trump will be bad for everyone but the rich. If there isn’t a protest in your city/town form one. All it takes is a group of people gathering in public. We can’t give up now. The fight has just began. It’s going to be a long four years.

There are protests being held all over the country including overseas. A lot of them are organic and just happen at the spur of the moment. I’ve created a website to help mobilize the movement. To find protests visit:

http://www.lovealwaystrumpshate.org

https://www.facebook.com/lovealwaystrumpsh8/

If you know of a protest that’s not listed please let me know and I will add them. Hang in there everyone. Love will always prevail. While we might have lost the battle we will win the war. We have love and light on our side. Don’t ever forget that!

Huggs

Stop Derek from Being Homeless

https://www.gofundme.com/dereksnewhome

A few weeks ago I received an eviction from the people I rent a room from to be out of here by the end of the month. It was unexpected and unfounded. I’ve been a great tenant, paying my rent on time. I’ve come to find out that they want someone else to move in. Now they’re trying to push up my move out date by a week, which has left me scrambling for a new place to live. As it stands now the only option I have is to go live in a homeless shelter. I’m trying to raise enough money to help pay my rent (for my own place) until my SSI court date in Feb next year.
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I’m disabled and unable to work. I’m waiting for a court date for SSI disability, which will be Feb 2017. I’m hoping to raise enough money to get me through until that date. I’ve suffered from major depression disorder and PTSD most of my life. There hasn’t been a time in my adult life that I haven’t suffered from depression and PTSD. When I have a PTSD episode friends/family become strangers and strangers become enemies. It’s like being in a war zone. My current living situation has pushed me to my limit, as the last few months have been extremely stressful living here.

Stability is something I’ve never had and something I’m so desperate for. Being able to get my own place would bring that into my life. Lately I’ve made an effort to better my life. I’ve consistently been in therapy and on medicine since 2013, as well as seeing a psychiatrist. I’ve recently moved all my services to this county and having to move out of this town would put my health at risk.

I have a new therapist who I love. She’s working on a new treatment for those with PTSD called EMDR. It’s helps the patient to reprogram traumatic events into more healthy ways. I’ve finally taken my life back after four years of complete hell. In 2012, my Mom died from cancer causing me to spiral into a deep, dark depression. It’s taken me four years but I’m finally starting to feel like myself again. I’ve come to terms with my disablity and now realize that I need to treat it like diabetes.

I’ve tried to do this on my own and that doesn’t work. So I’m asking for help. I’m so very scared to be homeless. I’ve made a lot of progress the last few months and I want to keep moving forward. I’ve also started to embrace my art again by working on a new comic book. My passion for art has helped me through some very difficult times in my life. Having my own place would give me a safe space to create new works of art.

I’ve suffered for too long and finally realize that I deserve better. I’m taking my life back and I’m determined to get my own place. No matter what is thrown at me I don’t let it keep me down. Every time a hurdle is placed in front of me I clear it. I will keep climbing this mountain until I get a home of my own. While the last two months have been some of the worst times in my life it has helped me find an inner strength that I didn’t know was there. All this time I thought I was broken but I always rebound. Then it dawned on me through all the bad things in my life I’m still here. I’m strong as steel.

Thanks for taking the time to hear my story. Please consider sharing this campaign with everyone you know.

Here are some of my recent sketches of my comic book. Also follow my facebook page for DragZilla! DragZilla is the story of a gay man brutally attacked because he’s gay. He cries out for help and in his hour of need a glimmer of light appears. A goddess like entity, who goes by the name Glimmer, transforms him into a drag queen superhero. He starts off his journey to find justice for his attack but in the process becomes a beacon of light for the LGBTQ community. I’m really excited to have started work on this new project of mine. Having my own place would help me bring to life DragZilla!

Making the Impossible, Possible: The Journey to Triumph

Re-Visions Event in NYC

Creating the Tree of Spectacle Triumph has been a journey from start to finish. Just like life creating the sculpture wasn’t easy by any means. Creating this beautiful tree tested my patience, stamina and will. I jumped through hoops and didn’t let roadblocks prevent me from pushing forward. That’s the message in my story is to persevere regardless of what is thrown at you.

This journeyEdit_IMGL3627 started last fall when I entered my rose sculpture in ArtPrize, an international art competition in Grand Rapids, MI. When registration started for ArtPrize I debated entering due to the registration fee. I kept getting messages that doors would open. The messages started off as a whisper but eventually turned into a roar. I really feel my Mom was behind the messages. Even after I registered I kept getting the same message. A month after ArtPrize ended I received an email about a possible commission for an eyewear manufacturer in New York using eyewear material in the piece.

treeoflifeupdatedWhen thinking about a proposal I thought about what I wanted to create. At first I struggled. Then I thought about this tree I first started to create over ten years ago. It started off as an oil painting where half the tree was alive and the other half was dead. It represented the best parts of ourselves and the pain that we endure. The living part was the phoenix that rose from the ashes. It’s taken me many years to realize that I’m not my pain or troubles. The Tree of Triumph is my best, true self.

The inspiration for the original tree was a lilac bush that grew next to my family home. It was my pride and joy. In the spring the sweet fragrance would float throughout my home. I loved that lilac bush. Next to the lilac bush was an old corncrib. One day my father decided he was going to tear the corncrib down. Not only did he tear it down he set it ablaze. The flame was so hot that it bubbled the paint on the siding of the house. You could feel the heat inside the house. The flames were higher than our house.

Once the flames had dissipated all that was left of the lilac bush was a charred out skeleton of what use to be a beautiful, vibrant living creature. I was devastated. My father on the other hand acted like it wasn’t a big deal. It was just a bush to him, not important. He just brushed off my tears like it was nothing.

I thought all was lost. Spring wasn’t the same without those purple, fragrant blooms. The blackened skeleton was a reminder of the hurt my father caused. What I couldn’t see were the roots deep within the ground. Years later they arose from the ashes and life had sprouted again. It took some time but eventually the lilac bush grew to four times the size of its former self. It took a big portion of my adult life to realize the moral of the story.

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You can destroy my branches. You can knock me to the ground but you’ll never reach my roots. The roots represented my heart, soul and spirit. It was the first time I regained the power that I allowed others to take. No amount of hurt or pain will reach my soul. So it’s significant that the heart of the tree is surrounded by the roots.

I submitted my proposal and patiently waited for an answer. The date given passed and still no word. I had started to think I wasn’t selected. Another few weeks went by and finally I received word that I was one of seven artists selected. I was beyond ecstatic. My sculpture was going to be displayed during an art show in New York City. It was a dream come true. It’s one of the best things to ever happen to me.

Creating a sculpture using unconventional materials is a complicated, challenging process. It was my first sculpture of this size. The final sculpture was over four feet tall and four feet long. The next six months pushed me to my limit and tested my will. Creating the bark was a very tedious process of hot gluing small piece of frame onto the skeleton which was pvc. This wasn’t your typical glue gun. It was a professional glue gun that carpenters use with temperatures going past 400 degrees. Due to the intricate aspect of the branches, the quick harden time of the glue and the small frame pieces I had to use my hands to attach the pieces. So you probably can guess what occurred fairly frequently. I’m surprised I still have feelings in my hands.

Creating sculptures out of unconventional materials is very physically demanding and the tree was no different. There were times that my hands, arms and legs were covered in burns, scratches and cuts. It looked like I had been a fight with a cat and lost. Towards the end I had so many cuts on my hand that it became very painful to use my hands but I pushed through. Reaching through the branches felt like I was reaching through a briar patch.branches

There were aspects to the tree that were very tedious. Creating the bark was a very lengthy process. At times it felt like I was never finish it. Imagine gluing small pieces of frame to a large area. It was so tedious that it gave me panic attacks. Creating the leaves were also very tedious process due to the number of lenses needed to fill the space. Never in my wildest dreams did I think it would take over 3,000 lenses. Most of these were treated and hand painted. I then had to hang each one to the branches and that part took forever.

Creating the Tree of Triumph meant bringing my inner demons into the light. The tree represented my best self and the darkness was ruthless in trying to stop me. There were times I couldn’t even look at the sculpture because there were parts of me that still believed that I didn’t deserved it. I faced the darkness and once again pushed through.

The tough part of creating a sculpture out of unconventional material is that for a big portion of the time creating it there isn’t a clear defined picture of what the final picture will be. It’s not until the end that you start to see the picture. It wasn’t until I started to add the leaves that I was finally able to see what I had envisioned. It’s amazing how quickly the final picture comes to the surface. It’s like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon.

The art that I create is very time consuming. I like to create little biodomes. My specialty is creating creatures out of the unconventional materials. A part of the design included a little girl swinging from the tree which was based off my seven year old niece. I also included one of the creatures (the frog) from my rose sculpture. It was my way to honor where the tree came from. If it wasn’t for the rose I wouldn’t have gotten this opportunity.

Connie 236The creation of the tree was a family event. My nieces and nephew helped me paint lenses. My seven year old niece was quite the helper. She would come down frequently asking if I needed any help. My sister was my sounding board. Many of the decisions like not painting the bark came from her.  My brother in law was my technical expert and made sure the sculpture was secure during the long trip in a Uhaul to NYC. I couldn’t have created the sculpture without their help so it was really important to make them a part of tree. I had them each sign a lense and put it on the tree. It was my way of honoring their contributions and support. While they couldn’t be there with me in NYC they were definitely there in spirit.

Original Sculpture

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During this whole experience I have felt a strong connection to my Mom to the point where I would turn around thinking she was there. She was one of the person I turned to as a sounding board and I found myself physically turning to her thinking she was there. I strongly believed she brought me this opportunity.

I thought that challenging aspect was done but boy was I ever wrong. Originally it was my understanding that the sculpture would be crated. With over 3,000 lenses the sculpture was extremely heavy, at least over 200 pounds. The shipper just wanted to bubble wrap it and cover it with a furniture pad, and throw it on the truck.

cocoontreeI had spent the past six months (over 1500 hours) in creating this beautiful creature and I wasn’t about to let it get broken. I put my heart and soul into this tree. It had became a part of me because the tree represented me. I became a part of this tree and it a part of me. When I had the idea of driving it to New York City it never dawned on me how rough of a ride a Uhaul moving van is. Thankfully my brother in law came up with a system that would keep the sculpture secure in the back of the Uhaul. He attached it to a pallet and then boxed it in between the wheel wells. Finally he secured it by attaching a 2×4 to each side.

The trip was only suppose to take 10.5 hours. The client wanted it at their location at 5pm. I made sure to leave enough time for stops, etc. I had tried to fall asleep the night before but with the nerves and excitement I wasn’t able to. So I left for NYC with only 4 hours of sleep in 48 hours. I left at 4am. About 5 hours into my trip I started to become very sleepy to the point where I struggled to keep my eyes open. I did everything possible to stay awake including blaring the music and turning the air on full blast. Anyone who’s driven on highway 80 through Pennsylvania knows that the terrain is very hilly and rough. Imagine driving on it when you’re majorly sleep deprived. On top of all the hills there are many drop offs. It got to the point where I couldn’t even look at them as they made me seasick.DSCF8390

Around the fifth hour I was pulled over by a cop. He said I had went over the white line and wanted to make sure I was okay. He ended up being really cool but it just added to the nerves of the trip. Anyone who has ever driven a Uhaul knows it’s like driving a boat.

I had downed a red bull, a Starbucks cold drink and several Mountain Dews in the hopes that it would keep me awake. About into the seventh hour I went into this sleep deprived state where I felt like everything around me was warped. It was like I was on this major trip. It felt like the mountains were coming at me both in fast forward and slow motion all at once.

Towards to what I thought was the end of the trip I started to count down the hours. I counted down the hours to help comfort me. The last two hours I started to become so tired I wasn’t sure I could make it but I knew they were expecting me and I couldn’t let them down. So I continued to push through.

Eye of the Tiger came on the radio and it helped give me the steam needed to finish the trip. I finally got to New Jersey during rush hour mind you. At this point I was so tired that I was wired. I continued to count down the time until Manhatten came into sight.

Finally I could see the city. I wasn’t ever so happy to see a city landscape. It was around 5pm when I drove into the city limits, so you can imagine how crazy it was. The traffic went from a slow pace to a crawl. I was stuck in a traffic jam. I was only 15 minutes away from my destination and only one mile from my next exit which was the Lincoln tunnel. What I didn’t know that there was an accident up ahead.lincoln+tunnel+traffic

It took over ten minutes to move .05 of a mile, if that. Anyone that’s driven in a major city knows that traffic jams are inevitable. About an hour into the traffic jam I started to lose hope in getting to my destination in a timely matter. I had already missed my time to drop off the sculpture. At this point I just wanted to get to the dinner that evening with all the artists but as the time crept by I realized there was no way I was going to make it. All of a sudden I hear this bang. Someone rear ended me. I was like great how can this day get any worse. Thankfully there was no damage to the Uhaul and the only damage to his vehicle was to his license plate which was bent in half on the ground. How does one hit a huge moving truck with the brake lights on and stopped???

Finally after four hours in the traffic jam I was back on track. At this point I thought the plan was for me to go to the hotel and drop off the sculpture in the morning but when I contacted the client I was told that it needed to be delivered tonight. I was told if it wasn’t delivered tonight it wouldn’t be in the show. The next thirty minutes I pretty much circled time square over and over in a Uhaul. I was starting to panic. Imagine driving a huge truck at 11pm at night in Time Square. I was sure I was going to hit something or someone. There were people all over. They crossed the streets in mobs like ants out of a ant hill. Eventually I said heck with it and started driving like a mad man.time-squares-at-night-wallpaper-2

I finally made it. I should have known the night wasn’t going to get any easier. Earlier I had a bad feeling. There was one point during the traffic jam where I almost turned around to head home. When I opened the back of the truck the first thing said was it’s not going to fit. I could also tell they really didn’t want to have to move the sculpture. I have always been upfront with them on the size and weight.

We get the sculpture into the main lobby and I’m dumbfounded when I see the elevator. The door was extremely narrow. I honestly never saw an elevator so small. There was some discussion about getting the sculpture into the elevator. Someone suggested leaving it in the lobby. I wish I had pushed for that. I was informed that they learned the day before that the freight elevator was broken.

My sculpture was at least four feet tall and four feet across. The elevator door couldn’t been bigger than three feet across. I suggested angling the sculpture into the elevator. They got the sculpture in the elevator but getting it out was another story. I couldn’t watch them try to get it out. I honestly was done with the whole situation so I sat in the conference room knowing something bad was going to happen. Never in my worst nightmare did I imagine what I would walk into…

Every branch was broken and lying at the base of the sculpture. They had tried to fix it by shoving branches into the wrong holes. They basically decapitated the tree. It was like they dropped it from the top of the building. I was in complete shock. In just a matter of minutes they had destroyed something that took 1500 hours to complete. Until you see the pictures of the demolished piece you can’t begin to understand how badly it was broken. In a sculpture that size a strong foundation and structure is crucial in securing the piece. Individually plastic lenses don’t weigh that much but when you use thousands of them they become very heavy.

Broken Sculpture

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On top of them destroying something I put my heart and soul into I wasn’t treated very well. One of the employees started to take his frustrations out on me, accusing me of lying about being stuck in the traffic jam. I was dumbfounded by the whole situation. If I wasn’t so out of it and delirious I would have never let them put it in that small elevator. After spending over twenty hours in a Uhaul my night ended with them doing the worst thing you can do to an artist. I was told that they could fix it. I didn’t have a lot of faith. We agreed to come back the next day which was the day of the event.

I didn’t get checked into my hotel until 1am. Thankfully my good friend lives in New York City and came over to my hotel. I don’t think anyone would have questioned if I did have a meltdown but I was surprisingly calm. I obviously was upset but I didn’t let it destroy me. Prior to my Mom passing away I would have totally turned into Chicken Little. I posted on Facebook that the breaking of my sculpture didn’t even make my top ten list of bad things that had happened to me. When my friend left I had accepted that my sculpture was destroyed. I had come to terms with the fact that I was going to show a broken piece.

After I had dropped the Uhaul off in the Bronx I headed to the office. I wasn’t sure what I was going to walk into. I had four hours to salvage my piece. The event started at 7pm. Thankfully one of the employees was experienced with construction and offered to help me put it back together. I had used pvc to build the structure. When they broke the piece they not only broke apart the branches they broke the connecting pieces. So you couldn’t just connect pieces anymore because there was big chunks missing.

Thankfully I had packed my glue gun and brought a lot of supplies just in case. If I hadn’t brought my glue gun I’m not sure we could have put it back together because we used the glue to connect the pieces together. After a few hours he was able to rebuild the structure the best he could. There were still three main branches that we couldn’t put back together which left a lot of holes. I had put a lot of effort in creating the shape of the tree.

When I finished the sculpture I was relieved to be done. I had very little energy left in me. I felt accomplished for finishing it but I was also relieved to not have to work on it again. So once again I was forced to give more than I had and rebuild something that took countless hours to create. I got on the floor and began to work my magic which again meant burning myself with that boiling hot glue.

I worked on the sculpture until the very last minute. I did what I could to rebuild it. Most everything on the sculpture had something wrong with it. The wire butterflies were bent out of shape. The iris was broken, so was the dragonfly and girl. Thankfully the damages to the creatures were minor and I was able to fix them.

We had done the impossible and was able to put back together the broken pieces. The salvaged sculpture was a lot more rough and exposed than before. The shape of the tree was also drastically altered. I was relieved to have a finished piece to show. There wasn’t anything else I could do.

Salvaged Sculpture

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The event was amazing. I met so many wonderful people, many who had no idea that earlier that day it was a broken mess. I wove the whole experience into the theme of the piece. It’s not coincidental that of all the pieces that were broken the roots weren’t touched. I was able to weave what happened into the story of the piece which many of the guests at the event were able to connect to. I talked to many people who themselves also had moments in their life when they felt broken. Without the sculpture breaking I’m not sure the impact would have been as strong.

It was very symbolic that the sculpture was broken. The theme of the piece is resiliency, rising above the difficult times in our lives. There have been times in my life that I have felt just like that broken sculpture. When something traumatic happens we are forced to pick up the broken pieces.brokentree14

While I wouldn’t want to relive this experience ever again there is a part of me that is glad that it happened. It was a major confidence boost. I could have given up. I could have thrown a fit. I could have went home with my tail between my legs but I didn’t. I pushed forward and didn’t let anyone stand in my way of getting what I wanted and deserved. There have been many times I have cowered down in defeat. This wasn’t one of those moments. This was my moment of triumph.

Like the tree I was strong. Stronger than anything that ever happened to me. You can cut my branches. You can cut my bark. You can even knock me to the ground. You’ll never reach my roots and I will always rise from the ashes.

I’m not alone. There are so many people out in the world who themselves feel broken. After my Mom died I wasn’t sure I could go on. It felt so broken that I didn’t believe I could be put back together. That’s why my sculpture breaking wasn’t really a big deal because I had already gone through something a million times worse. This was nothing. It was also out of my control. I couldn’t bring my Mom back, neither could I undo my sculpture breaking.

The sculpture breaking just added to the depth of the piece. It multiplied the strength of the piece exponentially. The Tree of Triumph is confirmation that the impossible is possible. We are never truly broken as our soul always remains in tact. No power or force will ever reach that. So say what you want to me, it won’t hurt or affect me.

So many people have been apart of this journey. This has been the best part of this experience. I have received so much love and support it’s lifted me up from depression and my troubles. It has proved that I deserve so much more. Losing sight of your dreams makes for a very dreary world. This journey has proved that our dreams can come true. Just keep moving forward. Even at a snail’s pace you’ll reach your destination. Our trials and tribulations make us into who we are today. I wouldn’t have been able to handle this journey if I walked down an easy road.

Check out my new artist website:  http://www.derekstephens.net

Progress Pictures

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