Sadness

Depression happens the same way you fall asleep. Slowly, then all at once. Sooner than later you can’t remember when it began. All you know is you’re lost, confused, and completely bat shit crazy with sadness. My mind is strong, but my brain is a fragile, helpless little thing – hellbent on its own destruction.

I thought it was homesickness. And I did miss my home. I felt isolated from my loved ones and from community and my weeping could all be contributed to loneliness. But when I went home, I missed New York. I missed the Puerto Ricans, the punks, and the heroin addicts that made noise in my street. Ohio wasn’t my home anymore and I had begun to create a life for myself without even knowing it. Then it was the boys, the one I love out of habit and the other that I am totally infatuated with. Neither one of them want me, really. They sleep with me and ignore me, and ignore me then sleep with me. And the pattern just continues like this, reminding me that I am still 17 and stuck under the thumb (or, penis if you prefer) of some careless self-obsessed man-child. Between the two of them, I am invisible. I make noise to get attention. I cry, and scream, and throw things, proving that I am still the craziest one in the room, unable to move forward because I am always slipping back into bad habits.

My job only worked to confuse my brain into thinking depression and anxiety were two radically different things. For 40-45 hours a week I move back and forth between being belittled by my boss and being screamed at by clients. It is continuous game of pingpong and I am the ball. I am never prepared to take the hit, so I just fly across the room into the face of the next paddle. I shake from nervousness on the train to work, shake violently during my 30 minute lunch as I try pathetically to gum my banana, and then weep on the F train all the way to Brooklyn. Anxiety, a foreign feeling of high alertness which gave way to the familiar feeling of absolute hopelessness. The two coincide with each other, but are at the same time very different – like twins. They may look and sound the same, but they move through the world in their own horribly unique way.

I have probably struggled with depression my whole life, I just didn’t always know the word for it. When I was a little girl, I remember crying and crying. Crying so hard over things so little that it left my parents confused and astonished. I would write things in my diary like, “Today I didn’t get picked to play T-Ball, I am heart broken.” and I probably really was. I also remember the days, weeks, maybe even months, when my mother wouldn’t get out of bed. I’d come home after school and drop by book bag by the stairs. I still remember climbing the stairs two at a time, holding onto the railing and using it to pull myself up before I jumped onto the landing, my pig tails bouncing wildly behind me. I would push her bedroom open gently and peer in, Mama I’m home from school, and she would open one eye and groan sadly in confirmation. Somedays I would draw her pictures, leaving them in piles beside her bed. I have never been a stranger to depression, only to the notion that it is abnormal or a part of life that can actually be controlled.

As a teenager, sadness showed itself in the form of self-loathing, inadequacy, and rage. I hated myself with such intensity that at times it felt like my brain was actually crumbling inside my skull and that I was inevitably unraveling into nothingness. I couldn’t control my emotions. Everyone thought I was crazy. I was funny, so no one really cared that I was a such a bitch. It’s a fact that people will always forgive you of your sins if you can make them laugh. I read moody teen literature where the main character was always in some psych ward for cutting or making herself sick. The books just gave me ideas, and I liked both of them. Cutting distracted me from the mental pain and bulimia made me feel good in a way that I still can’t quite describe. It took all of the noise away and left a gentle buzzing in my ears that made me feel separate and apart from my body. I have always liked that feeling. Vomiting is gross and pressing a razor to my legs left suspicious little scars so eventually I had to stop. I learned young that drugs, alcohol, and even sex can be used to keep the sadness at bay, but it will always find you.

Irritation is another sign that sadness is on the forefront. A sideways look, an unanswered call, anything can make me snap. I am a reactive ball of fury and I mad with the urge to fight and yell. I am exhausted by my own anger. I cannot trust my own perception and my brain keeps deceiving me. I am not to be trusted, I am paranoid and confused and bound to blow at any moment.

Today, I lay in my bed and count the days until my prescription can be filled. I tried everything – mediation, vitamin D supplements, eating healthy, exercise, and prayer but none of it was a match for my sadness. Depression is the elimination of light. There is nothing at the end of the tunnel when it hits. There are no good days, no sun, no love, there is nothing but the weight of hopelessness – and it is crushing. Sure, there are ways to treat depression without medication but where does anyone get the energy for that? It took everything I had in me to get out of bed this morning and I spent my last bit of willpower pulling this computer onto my lap and writing these words. There are a lot of people out there who do not believe in medication and I think they are fucking crazy. Here’s the truth, mood disorders are not personality flaws they are chemical imbalances that need help to be corrected, and that’s okay. So take it from me ladies, sometimes it’s more than PMS or the weepies, sometimes it’s serious and to that I say fuck diamonds, because Lexapro is woman’s best friend.

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Broke & Basic

I squatted awkwardly under the bathtub faucet, waiting for the icy water to trickle out into my cupped palms. I collected water, I splashed it about my body. It went on like this for several minutes until I felt clean. The cold and hot water didn’t mix in my apartment and all that could be endured was a frigid little stream. Shivering and crying I did my best to keep it together. There I was, on the edge of absolute failure. It was one of the most real moments of my young life – and all I could think was, I’m a rich girl from the suburbs, how did I get here?

There is nothing glamorous about New York. I am not Taylor Swift, and it had not been waiting for me. I fought my way here above all odds and everyone’s better judgement (including my own). But damn it, I was here. Even if I was hating every minute of it. Since my arrival in January,  I have changed apartments twice. Once because our landlord simply never returned from Israel to let us move in, apparently that’s more common then you’d think. The second because our “Beautiful Bedstuy Apartment” was deemed unlivable by the New York City Housing Authority. We needed to vacate, fast. It was decided to be un livable due to roaches, broken windows that were never going to be fixed, a diseased stray cat named Tiger living in our hallway, and of course the scalding water that rained down upon us from the shower head like hellfire. Of course, my roommate Kelly, who I and my friends lovingly renamed Smelly Kelly, contributed to the apartment’s foul conditions. She was the type of girl who saved everything – even old milk. She would leave glasses of it inside the fridge or under her bed for days. She smelled of sour cream as if she was actually bathing in it. She was every Texas stereotype I could dream up rolled into one larger than life human being. She was a gun toting, Jesus loving, racist who didn’t recycle. She was truly the embodiment of my every nightmare.

Then there are the boys. Oh, New York boys! They come in every size, shape, color, and background but they all lie the same way. There was one I liked. He was Dominican with dark, smooth skin, and had a smile that could make me weak in the knees. Amy Schumer once made the comment that every time Latinos speak it sounds like they’re cumming. Now, I understand what she means. He could make the Pledge of Alliance sound like the dirtiest thing you’d ever heard. He was filled with passion and oozed sexuality. I thought I was in heaven until I realized that I wasn’t the only object of his affection. He loved his best friend. And not in a BFF, get a tattoo, and give a speech at each other’s wedding kind of way. My internal alarm went off until when he invited his friend on our date. He friend sat back in his chair and he asked me what it was like for us to kiss and whether I work out, and what my favorite position was. They were close – very close. The two of them might as well have been holding hands under the table. Needless to say, I left before the proposition could even be made.

Worse even so than my two spanish papis, my foul roommate and the broken down roach motel we shared, was the job. Sweet Jesus did I fuck up the day I accepted that job. Now, hear me out. I had just moved to NYC and I had been burning my way through all of my savings (my credit card). My other prospects had fallen through and I was desperate for anything when I decided to suck up my pride and enter the cruel world of customer service. I just really didn’t realize how cruel it would actually be. My boss, a plain looking English woman from the dodgy end of London looked innocent enough. She was kind and warm in our interview. She regaled me with tales of her company’s success and the devotion of her loving staff, and honestly, I should have seen through the bullshit. At this point, after being in New York for a few long months I should have known that nothing is what it seems and everything is shit. But, I am 25 and naive with no sense and stars in my eyes so I took the bate. Her favorite term of endearment for us is “pathetic” and I and the other brainwashed twenty-somethings spend our days being screamed at by wealthy designers for being physically unable to overnight their fabric from Thailand. All the money in the world and they still can’t figure out geography. But, I am sure the globes in their studies are for looking, not for learning. So I spend 9 hours a day sitting at my desk awaiting my 30 minute lunch so I can step into the Chelsea streets and be free to chain smoke and eat my sad banana lunch.

My life is changing, so naturally my blog has to do the same. I have decided that I can no longer use the bulk of my posts to discuss my unsuccessful dating life. Because well, I may never have a date again. So instead I’ll focus on my current love-hate relationship with the city that never sleeps.

Breakfast of Champions

I passed by him on the street on the way to the bar where we were set to meet. I looked at him, made eye contact, and continued walking completely unaware that the tiny man who brushed passed me was the same one I had been messaging with. I sat down at the bar and ordered a drink, I checked my phone, and began to anxiously slurp down my beer. When I saw him walk towards me again, I thought seriously about pretending I didn’t speak English. Unfortunately, I am defined by my basic whiteness and couldn’t fake another language if my life depended on it. So instead I stood up from the bar stool and said hello. He pressed my face unapologetically into his small, bony chest. He smelled so strongly of stale cigarettes that I gagged a little.

He didn’t look much like his pictures. He was much smaller and worn looking and if there was ever any light behind his deep brown eyes, it was gone now. He stumbled a bit before he sat down and explained that he had, had a few beers before leaving his apartment. It was 5:00PM. I had always heard that Australians drink to excess but it was clear by his fifth vodka tonic that he had a real problem. He kept the bartender close, snapping at her and demanding service every time she tried to stray from his eye site. He became increasingly loud and brash as he gulped drink after drink–grabbing my inner thighs, making fun of homeless people sleeping in subway cars, and proudly telling stories of how he almost died three times but always came back. I wondered if he had left the bridge he was guarding in order to go out with me that night. He was so crude and unwashed that he could have been a character from a Brother’s Grimm fable.

At one point he alerted me that he needed to “drop a load” and I thanked God silently as I finally had time to escape. “You should really get out of here. He’s getting pretty aggressive.” The bartender looked at me seriously. “Did you meet on Tinder? I’ve seen this a lot. It’s not going to get better from here.” I nodded, jumped off of my stool, and ran out onto the street. Even after he informed me that his goal in life was to be able to sit on his ass all day and drink and asked me if I like giving blow jobs in the same breath, I still needed reassurance from a stranger to be able to get up and run for my life. I swear, my midwestern politeness will absolutely be my downfall.

Later that week he texted me. “What happened? I really liked you, I thought things were going well.” At first, I thought he was the med student I went out with a week earlier. I walked out on him too, shortly after he ordered me a vodka Redbull and pulled up pornographic images on his phone and slid them across the table for me to see. Okay, bro you might as well have just put roofies in my drink too. I felt genuinely sorry for Aussie but at the same time I knew that anyone who would seriously suggest feeding LSD to homeless people for sport was not the sort of person who warranted my sympathy.

I didn’t think about him again until he was standing over me, ready to take my order. My friend was in town and her, my roommate, and I all traveled into the city for a day of brunch and museums. We stopped off at a beautiful restaurant close to our destination. Excited to be out of the cold we all shuffled into a booth and dusted the fallen snow from our hats and shoulders. “Hi, welcome. Can I get you ladies something to drink?” Oh fuck. He didn’t recognize me at first, and I wondered if he would at all considering how completely belligerent he was throughout our date. He took our drink order and left the table.

“No, oh my God, no. We are in New York City. There are MILLIONS of people in this city…how is this happening?” My friends looked up at me, alarmed. “That’s him…that’s the guy I went out with.” Neither of them could believe it. Honestly, neither could I. You could really see how filthy he was in the light of day and it made my stomach sink and my skin crawl.

He finally recognized me when he placed my mimosa in front of me. His face became bright red and he walked straight into the kitchen without dropping the rest of our drinks. Needless to say, the service wasn’t very good after that. Some poor, half asleep bus boy was forced to bring us our food and refill our coffees. It didn’t occur to me until after I finished my $17.00 meal that he could have easily spit on it without me noticing. Welcome to my dating life, even in the most amazing city on earth, it is still so awkward and pathetic.

We begged the bus boy to bring us our bill but my Tinder date had already grabbed it and was moving from table to table with it in his pocket, making us wait 30 minutes before finally dropping it. He was helping the table next to us when he tried to nonchalantly hand it to me without making eye contact. He sort of handed to us behind his back while still chatting with the other table and spilled my roommates mimosa all over her in the process.

The entire meal, much like our three hour date was painful. It was like watching a car crash. You squirm and turn in your seat and hold your breath until it’s over. We walked out onto 6th avenue and continued our journey to the Upper West Side. I vowed I would never log onto Tinder or another dating app again as long as I lived, and I didn’t–for an entire two weeks.

I Am Unbreakable

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My stomach dropped when we entered the room. I wiped my hands on the sides of my pant legs as we searched for somewhere to stand. We were late, but no one noticed. Everyone’s eyes were focused intently on the large screen that hung in the center of the room. Images of women and men rotated slowly on a PowerPoint presentation. One after another the photographs appeared in front of us—images of friends, mothers, neighbors, and sisters all holding up signs that carried the weight of rape, molestation, and trauma. I knew what I had come to do; I was there to share my story and to add his words to the collection of abuses obtained by Project Unbreakable.

Project Unbreakable, founded by Grace Brown, began as a Tumblr page. Brown’s idea was to help victims break their silence by photographing them holding signs that read quotes from their attackers. Since its start in 2011 Grace has photographed over 300 victims and this once small movement continues to grow.

I stood in the back row of the crowded lecture hall, listening to stories alarmingly similar to my own. Each word, piercing stare, and utterance of abuse pushed me back to a place I never wanted to return to. I saw his face emerge on the screen and shook my head—struggling to focus, I heard him hiss and spit poison into my ears and my hands began to shake. I am here, I am safe, I repeated it over and over again in my mind but his words muffled my attempts to stay focused. His voice was booming within my brain and I could feel his words slithering inside of me—I knew I was ready.

He didn’t mean to—or, at least that’s what he told me. I can still see the guilty look on his face as I laid crumbled and silent on his bed. “It was an accident….I didn’t mean it…. You’re making me feel like I raped you.” I can still remember thinking that no, of course it wasn’t rape—rape happens in dark allies, rape happens to strangers—not to me, not in this bed. But in reality, that’s when he silenced me. In that moment declaring that what he had done was somehow outside the contexts of rape was all the convincing I needed.  It was an accident and as we all know “accidents” happen.

I was eighteen when he raped me, but the abuse began a year earlier. At first it was verbal—he’d tell me I was worthless, call me garbage, and throw all of the familiar names at me, names I was already used to hearing. The more he broke me down the more I depended on him to build me back up. I used to think of my love for him as an addiction—that something deep inside kept willing me back to him. Or, that my love had turned him bad and everything he did to me I deserved—it was my fault.

I found myself identifying with the labels he had placed on me. He called me worthless and so that’s exactly what I saw when I looked in the mirror. The abuse wasn’t my fault—but I had internalized the feeling that I had deserved all of it. Unfortunately, I wasn’t alone. Today, one in three adolescents will be a victim of verbal, physical, and sexual abuse.

I used to wonder why it took being raped for me to finally break contact with him. Looking back, I understand that I was no match for the toxic cocktail of manipulation and coercion he was feeding me—especially when coupled with the idea that the messages he was sending me were the same ones I was receiving from my peers and from the media. I learned young that love was fear and sex was only for him to enjoy—not for me, my body and my pleasure were irrelevant.

I didn’t speak about my experience for two years. I had let myself become convinced that talking was useless  because no one would believe me—it was his word against mine and his was always heard first. Excusing abuse and placing a higher value on a man’s word over that of a young woman is a societal norm that must be changed. This phenomenon is a large contributor to the fact that only 33% of girls in violent relationships admit to being abused.

Finding the courage to tell my story was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done in my life, but I couldn’t be more satisfied with my decision. I am fortunate enough to have a community of women and men who help me lift my voice and support my choice to speak. We didn’t choose to be abused—but we can choose to heal. We can choose to take back authority over our bodies and reclaim our power and purpose. I, along with the other one billion victims worldwide can rise against physical and sexual abuse. Together, we are unbreakable.

No More Ms. Nice Girl

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I stepped out onto the mat. With my feet placed firmly beneath me, I began to breathe. I heard the cheering from the line of women at my left. They were waiting for it to begin, for my triumphant win, waiting for something to happen. And happen, it did. Julie, a woman no taller than 4’9, stood beside me and asked me to lie down on my back. “Remember, he can’t hurt you. I’ll be right here the whole time. I won’t leave your side.” I dropped gently to the ground and stretched my legs out in front of me. I could feel my assailant, a man in a homemade padded suit, standing over me. It didn’t matter who the man behind the mask was anymore, the only thing I saw when I looked up at his makeshift helmet was the rapist, the kidnapper—the enemy.

Originally, I was going to use this piece as an opportunity to discuss the illusive soccer player I had been seeing and his latest fuck up, but none of that really seems to matter to me anymore. Looking back, the challenges I faced with him seem so miniscule in comparison to what I confronted on the old blue mat in my self-defense class. I enrolled in the course on a whim. My mentor got me an amazing deal, one too good to pass up. She had been talking up the benefits of self-defense classes for weeks prior. She explained that it would give me a chance to make peace with my rape and reclaim ownership over my anger and my body. It all sounded good until I learned that I would have to reenact the experience of being raped and fight the man— the rapist, off of me. Then, I got scared. It was the kind of scared that makes your stomach jump and whine and leaves your hands and knees shaking long after the excitement has settled.   Consumed with unease I could no longer focus on the boy and our non-relationship.

Lying on the mat, I clenched my fists and the man knelt over me. He stroked my arms and grabbed hold of my wrists—a move I always hated. Joe would grab my wrists a lot. He’d grab them and pull me on top of him, “No, no….can’t we just talk? I don’t want to.” But soon my “no’s” would be silenced and he’d have me anyway he wanted. But now I was here, surrounded by friends, I was safe. “Use your voice Liz, use your voice.” The women called to me. I choked on my “no” and could barely get it out. My voice was shaking and its weakness surprised me. “NO.” I tried again, this time it was louder—angrier. Tears were rolling down my cheeks and into my mouth. My vision was turning black and I had to fight to stay present and aware. “NO” I said again and waited for my opening, a moment when he’d be the vulnerable one, and then I could strike. He was down at my feet and about to flip me onto my stomach when the women screamed, “Kick…kick….KICK!!!”  I kicked him in the face once, and then again, and then one final time before his head hit the floor and he assumed the “technical knockout” position.

I didn’t fight when it happened. I never fought with him. I was too afraid to face what I already knew, that if I refused to give him something, he would take it anyway. The night he pinned me up against his wall, I froze with fear. My screams went unnoticed and my “No’s” were ignored. Something deep inside of me was broken that night. Some kind of God given trust was lost and my mind and my body were separated from one another. I was no longer in control; I could no longer protect myself.

It wasn’t just my physical boundaries that I had trouble protecting, but my emotional ones as well. As I stood in line and cheered along for the other women I couldn’t help spacing out. The moment was gone and I was no longer in Joe’s bed, hands pressed against the wall. Now, I was in my hotel room in St. Augustine, Florida, lying beside a man I had been fantasizing about for months. We were inches apart but I couldn’t have felt further away. I was turned over, crying silently to myself and listening to the low hum of his snoring. We had, had sex…semi-painful, unromantic, awkward sex. It was nothing like I had imagined it would be. For the first time in a long time, I felt like I didn’t need to be there for it. Like, I could have been anyone, it didn’t matter, the connection we once shared was lost and I was just a body for him to rest on.

“I’m about to blow your mind, Liz. Listen up…this is serious.” I wiggled around in my chair and looked over at my friend, awaiting her next words. We were sitting on the front porch of her mother’s cozy Italian Village home and the sunlight seemed to dance around our bare feet. “You wanna know why we date guys who treat us like shit and have nothing going on?” “Because boys suck?” I joked, half-heartedly. “ERRR. Wrong! It’s because we don’t think we deserve those nice guys with college educations and good jobs, the ones who will treat us like queens.” She was right. I had spent most of my adolescence convinced that there was something wrong with me. I was a victim—I was damaged; I had, had an abortion—I was controversial. Nice guys like nice girls, ones without scars or pain, the kind of girls who wear pearls and smile a lot—girls who are whole and happy—girls who weren’t like me.

Then something shook me from my trance. It was my mentor; she had placed a bag of ice on the back of my neck. “This will help keep you present. Hold it to your chest.” With shaking hands I thanked her and took the ice focusing my attention back onto the mat. One by one I watched the women step out onto the mat and fight their battles. Some were fighting old lovers, nameless attackers, and others were fighting family members. I watched as they screamed from their bellies and kicked and punched as if their life depended on it—because for many of us, it did. I stood in awe as I watched quiet, reserved women rise with ferocity and anger like phoenixes, hungry for redemption. I saw women who had never gotten their chance to scream and fight retrieve their dignity from the ones who stole it and revisit dark places they had spent years trying to hide away. The energy in the room grew thick with power and I fed from it. I gathered strength from their strength and their cheering kept me awake and ready.

I was my turn again, and this time I was going give it everything I had. Before I had a chance to catch my breath he grabbed me from behind. The line roared with support and direction. He threw me on the ground and slipped a pillowcase over my head. “This changes nothing. You don’t need your sight—you can feel him. Wait for your opening.” Julie’s voice was calm and clear. I breathed and centered myself, waiting for my chance to get out from under him. “I’m going to fuck you in the ass and throw you in the dumpster.” The words slithered out from behind his mask. My eyes widened and I got pissed. In that instant I knew exactly what I was fighting for. With one move I heaved him off of me and ripped the pillowcase from my head. I kicked and kicked without stopping, my limps flailed about and I hit every target on his body I could find. Finally, I got up—refusing to fight him on the ground—I was going to show him that I could take him where he stood. At the same moment he charged in my direction I shot my foot into his groin and he fell to floor. Julie blew her whistle and the women screamed with joy. He took off his helmet and looked up at me with a smile, “Well I know I wouldn’t mess with you if I wasn’t wearing this suit.”

I’ve been called brave before. They’ve called me brave for sharing my story on the Internet, or for handling my abortion alone, but this was the first time in my life that I had actually felt it. I had overcome my greatest fear and persevered when I was at my most vulnerable. In a lot of ways it was the best moment of my life. It was better than the time I meditated under the sun in New York City, or climbed the Rocky Mountains in Colorado and saw a lake so clear it looked like another sky. I ran back to join the women in line and I heard a familiar voice calling me from the other side of the gym, it was my father. Smiling ear to ear he held out two big thumbs up and I realized how blessed I truly was. I have people who love and care for me because I’m worth being loved. I’m tired of letting others push me around and silence my voice. Now is my time celebrate my life and my body. This is the beginning of the greatest love affair of my life—the one I’m having with myself.

The End is Just the Beginning

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I stared at the screen and my hands began to shake. Every cell in my body was seizing with anger and I thought seriously about throwing my keyboard through the office window. “He blocked me on Facebook?? Are you fucking kidding me?!” I screamed at the computer. And there it was, the inevitable ending I was looking for. I had been half expecting him to break up with me for weeks before it happened. Of course, I expected him to handle the situation…well a little differently then he did.

I hadn’t spoken to him in three weeks prior to the Facebook incident. We had decided to take some space apart, which is laughable considering we live almost 900 miles away from each other. He was set to try out for a soccer team in Thailand and assured me that he needed space to “mentally prepare for the challenges ahead.” Apparently for him, mental preparation requires having sex with his ex girlfriend.

So, that’s sort of how it ended. He deleted our love with the click of a mouse and it was gone so quickly it was like it never happened. He sent me an email a couple weeks after, mostly so he could ask me to stop messing with his wikipedia page. Drinking can drive you to do crazy things sometimes. Luckily, I didn’t get much crazier than changing his name to “Douche” and changing the word soccer to “Douching”. Before I knew it his page looked like a poorly executed mad lib.

Work began piling up on my next, and by that I mean a FB post went unanswered. Regardless, I was not living up to my potential. I listened to nothing but Aimee Mann and Ani Difranco for two weeks straight before my CEO finally knocked on my door and asked me if everything was alright. I looked up from my desk and into his soul, “Tell your daughters to never date athletes.” He nodded his head and backed away from my office with caution. Everyone sort of left me alone after that. My weekends were filled with drunken debouchery and my attempts at dressing “sexy and single” fell short and I looked more like a baby prostitute than anything else. I stopped wearing pants and eating anywhere besides my bed. I had spent the last 8 months allowing my life and my future to revolve around someone other than myself, someone who was using me and who didn’t really care for me at all. It was time to pick myself up off the floor, put on my big girl pants, and try to get my life back on track. It was time for a rebound.

There was another guy that I had, had my eye on. He had meaningless leg tattoos, a beard, and dumb job–the attraction was immediate. One night he even got drunk enough to tell me that he’s incapable of loving other people. We made out sloppily for hours on his sweat stained sheets. His room, his bed, and his beard reaked of stale cigarette smoke. He had “rebound” written all over him and I went in for the kill. It wasn’t until he rejected me, that I thought seriously about revaulating the decisions I was making. “But I’m hotter than him. I have a better job and a brand new car. Like, I have everything going for me. How can he NOT be into this??” My friend stared blankly from behind her lit cigarette. “Do you even like him?” “No, I’m just trying to get back out there.” She took a long pause before finally responding, “He sends snap chats of himself on the toilet, and you want to have sex with him.” “Yes, that’s what I’m saying. Sure I get rejected in relationships ALL THE TIME but never for casual sex. NEVER for casual sex. What’s happening to me?” My friend practically fell over laughing, my face flushed pink with embarrassment and suddenly I felt deeply irritated. “You need to relax, you’re just hitting your quarter-life crisis a little earlier than most people. You’ll be fine.”

Quarter-life crisis–It didn’t need to be explained. I knew exactly what those words meant as soon as they fell from her mouth. College was over, my friends had all found healthy relationships or had moved away, or both. Real life had begun and it was sucking me in some unknown direction, one filled with morning commutes and paperwork. I thought about my job, how hard I work and how little money I make, I thought about still living in Columbus in a stuffy condo that I hate, I thought about my latest failed relationship and realized that this was not where I thought I’d be at 23. It was enough to push me near the brink of a complete meltdown, during which I continued to try to answer my own question of What the fuck do I want out of life?

The truth is that I only really think I know what I want. I do know that I don’t want to be sitting in an office watching the 27th severe summer storm of the season only to realize that my windows are down and my umbrella’s in the car. Moments like these remind me that my life might be a cruel joke. There’s a reason why I don’t know what I want and it’s the same reason why these little life crisis’ exist. It’s because we tend to lose ourselves sometimes. We put other people’s needs before our own until we stop remembering who we are and what we were made for. We allow ourselves to become disconnected from our goals and dreams and once realized, it can cause stifling depression and anxiety. I’m tired of trying to live my life for some guy, or for my friends, or even for my parents. I’m looking for me, and I’m not going to stop until I’ve found her. I’m going to prove that your twenties are not a lost decade by making mine the into gold.

One Voice of Many

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(A real photo from a brothel raid in the United States via sevenly.org)

My arm has been hurting all day. The aching began when I woke up this morning. I stretched upwards towards the sky and felt a sharp pain shoot through my elbow and into my wrist. The pain was brief and blinding and I gasped as I held it against my breast. I knew why it hurt. I knew why the pain had come today and not yesterday or the day before. This pain was a sign, a warning, telling me that it’s time to stand and fight.

When he took it, he had me up against a wall. I had my arms out in front of me—pushing, wiggling, and trying to escape. I overextended my elbow in the struggle. Now the memory of my trauma is caught there and every time I hear rape, or feel it getting closer my arm aches and signals that it’s near.

Three women who had each been missing for nearly a decade escaped from a home on Cleveland’s west side where they were being held against their will. Most news stations haven’t come out and declared this as a case of sexual slavery but my sinking gut tells me that, that is exactly what this is. One girl, Amanda Berry called out to a neighbor for help as she scratched and pushed at the back door of the house which held her. After the neighbor helped her pry open the door she ran into his arms still clutching the hand of a six year-old girl. The heart wrenching 911 call she made after her escape can be heard all over mainstream media.

For the first time in 10 years we’re hearing Amanda Berry’s voice. A voice that her community believed had fallen silent. They probably thought that she had been kidnapped and killed, that her attacker was some deranged pervert who lusted for the blood of young girls. But he wasn’t. He was a school bus driver and Amanda wasn’t killed on the same night of her abduction, she was kept locked up in a house where she was raped, beaten, and humiliated at her captor’s convenience. Although it now appears less likely that this is a case of human trafficking – which is still a form of sexual slavery – we must take note that it has become increasinly more prevelant in the U.S.. Especially in my home state of Ohio. When we see cases where women and girls are being abducted by members of their own community it forces us to accept that rape is not a personal issue but a societal one.

Think of all the women and children who go missing from parks and neighborhoods every day who we assume have been kidnapped by one killer, one man, who is evil and unlike us. Now, let’s think about the fact that all these missing bodies could be hidden away in a dark room, two houses down from where we live. One man, one killer, one rapist who drives a white van isn’t the problem—we are the problem. Worldwide we have set up societal systems that allow women and children to be bought and sold to the highest bidder. By allowing this to continue we reinforce the notion that women are worthless and that our identities are meaningless. If there weren’t men willing to buy sex, and men and women who place a higher value on money than on the humanity of women and girls than sex trafficking wouldn’t exist, it’s that simple.

Last week 13 were arrested in New York for having ties in a human trafficking ring. These men were promising Mexican women brighter futures in the United States and then selling them to brothels once they crossed the border.  This wasn’t even big news. I didn’t see it in any headlines; it didn’t cover any of the popular magazines or printed papers that I pass in the supermarket. Besides an official news release from the Department of Homeland Security, the story didn’t see too much airtime. It was covered, but it didn’t get as much recognition as it should have. Women’s lives were stolen right under our nose. We should be up in arms about that but instead there’s just—silence.

Well I’m not going to be silent. I’m outraged and I will continue to express my thoughts on this issue fearlessly and with determination. When I stand up for women both here in the U.S. and around the world, I’m standing up for myself. When I fight against the desecration of women’s bodies, I fight for my own body. Human trafficking is the greatest form of genocide the world has ever known, claiming the lives of countless women and girls, and I’m sick of it. The rapes, the mistreatment, and the abuse of the sacred female have to end. I’ve made my stand, what will you do to stop human trafficking?