Because I Am Not Afraid   4 comments

Here I am again- sitting in front of my computer trying to find something worthy to say.  Trying to find something people will be interested to read.  Trying to find something that will touch someone, help someone, maybe cause a turning point in their life, their journey, their road to survival.

I am going to be honest.  I couldn’t decide whether or not I was going to do my blog again to fundraise for the Houston Area Women’s Center Race Against Violence.  Many people asked why would even think about not doing it?  The response I received last year was more than I ever could have fathomed.  There were people I didn’t even know donating to my fundraising page, people I didn’t know telling me how reading my story helped them find their strength.  I had friends who had never been through a rape, but found something in my blog that they could relate to their life.  These were good things- great things really.  How could I even begin to think that it wasn’t worth it to do it again?  How could I be so selfish?

Writing this blog last year was hard for me- very hard. The weirdest thing about it though was that when I was writing the blog- when I was recalling stories from the depth of my despair in high school- I didn’t find it that difficult.  It really was a cathartic experience.  I was able to find something that happened that hurt me to my core and then relate it to something good in my life.  Relate it to something that developed me into a better person.  If anything, writing the blog at the time was the opposite of difficult, it forced me to look at things in a new perspective.  It forced me to see where I was, where I am and where I am going. Last year, I said I wanted my blog to be a blog about hope.  And that is exactly what it gave me- hope for a future where this didn’t define me.

Then, everything came crashing down.

The day of the Race Against Violence last year, I had almost all of my friends and family come out to support me.  My best friend flew in from California to surprise me.  A friend from middle school came in from Boston. My best friend from college traveled from Kerrville.  My two best friends from high school- the girls that were there for me every step of the way- who hadn’t spoken in years due to a falling out- showed up together, hand in hand with flowers to support me.  Aunts, uncles, cousins, childhood friends, colleagues, countless other people- some who had been there through the journey, some who came into my life afterwards- all showed up in one place, wearing the Stand Up, Speak Loud shirt supporting me and the mission of the Women’s Center.  I remember looking around in astonishment, thinking, “The next time I have this many people together in one place will be at my wedding.”  We celebrated the morning with a party at my pool following the race.  I had been the top fundraiser for the RAV, raising over $6,000. I felt proud, loved, supported.  I think that morning was the happiest I have ever felt in my entire life.

That night, I lost it.  I still don’t know exactly what happened though I have tried to put it into words so many times.  The entire experience overwhelmed me to the point where I was frozen.  It was something as simple as what we were going to do that night since all of my friends were in town.  I couldn’t make a decision.  It was like I had reached an overload- a tipping point if you will.  One moment I was ecstatically happy, and the next moment I was in a ball of hysterics.  I became irrational and angry- lashing out at my friends who were trying to calm me down.  Telling my best friend that had come all the way in from California to see me that I couldn’t take her to Brenham the next day to see her sister.  Calling my mom hysterically crying and getting angry at her solutions to fix it.  Shutting down every offer of help that was given to me.  It was as if I felt like everything was closing in on me.  What should have been a celebratory evening to cap off the end of this cathartic journey, turned into hysteria.

I struggled for a long time of why that night came to a screeching halt.  I want to know why I couldn’t just be happy.  People have said-, “It’s understandable.  You had been through so much reliving the whole nightmare.”  However, I’ll be honest- I’m prone to do that.  Definitely not to that extreme, but I get overwhelmed at times and lash out.  Is it because of the rape?  Maybe.  Is it because I am prone to stress?  Maybe.  I was 15 when I was raped.  I was 15 when my world was turned upside down.  I was 15 when I faced evil for the first time.  At 15, I barely knew who I was.  I was just becoming capable of understanding my emotions, figuring out how to navigate high school, discovering what love was, what my hopes and dreams were. Then, I was raped and my life took a detour.  I have spent the last 10 ½ years living with what I went through.  I have said I wouldn’t take it back.  I love who I am, I love where I am in life and I don’t know where I would be if this hadn’t happened.

However, it doesn’t mean I didn’t wonder.  I wondered if I would get as angry as I do now- a “short fuse” as my mother calls it.  I wondered if extreme amounts of stress would make me crumple like it does now.  I wondered if I would be so “sensitive” and take things personally.  I wondered if falling in love, feeling so vulnerable to someone, would hurt like it does.  I wondered if so many of my flaws, the things I am ashamed of, were magnified by the way I process my emotions after the rape.

Writing the blog last year was supposed to be the final steps I needed to close my process.  I have said for so long that the rape is a large part of who I am, but it doesn’t define me.  I think I was wrong.  I think I have let my rape define me since it happened.  In a way, I think I used it as a crutch.  As a way of not facing my fears, an excuse for letting things hold me back.  An excuse for letting things continue as they are for fear of rocking the boat or getting myself worked up.  I’ve stayed in relationships I knew were not right for me because I didn’t want to feel the temporary sadness of ending that friendship.  I stayed in a stressful, underpaid job because the thought of starting over in a new career was overwhelming.  Up until last year, I let myself get to a physical state I was unhappy with, but didn’t want to put forth the emotion or the energy to fix it.  I was afraid of change.  Change is hard and it brings a lot of emotions to the surface.  I was scared of my emotions.  If I let them out too much, they would take me back to a place I never wanted to go again. So, I thought I had figured it out.  If I kept everything at “status quo,” I would never have to go back to that place.

Earlier this month, I ran my first marathon.  At mile 21, we reached the final hill, the biggest hill on the course.  On the hill, they had spray painted what people had tweeted about why they run.  “I run because. . .”  It was a defining moment for me.  Since this time last year, I have made changes in my life.   I ended a relationship that wasn’t right.  I ended a close friendship that was bringing me down.  I found a new job and started over in my career.  As I reached the top of the hill, I thought, “Why do I run?”  I run because I am not afraid.  I am not afraid of my past, I am not afraid of my emotions, I am not afraid of facing the next obstacle in front of me.

When I saw the finish line, I was overcome with emotions.   I saw my parents and boyfriend yelling for me on the sideline.  I crossed the finish line with tears in my eyes. The next few days, I felt a physical soreness I did not even know was possible.  All of my months of training still did not adequately prepare me for the physical pain I would feel after the race.  In a way though, that pain was a reminder of the feeling I felt crossing that finish line.  The feeling of knowing I accomplished something I never thought possible.

So here I am, writing.  I didn’t know for sure if I would this all over again until I had my defining moment during the marathon.  In a weird way, running the marathon was the physical equivalent to the emotional experience of writing the blog.   There were months of hard work, a transcendent moment of joy and accomplishment, and then a painful follow-up as the experience came to a close.

I was afraid to do this blog again.  I was afraid to experience the pain of reliving the journey.  I was afraid to question things about myself again.  I was afraid to admit that my crazy emotions might just be flaws and not related to my sexual assault.  I was afraid I would crash after the race again.  I was afraid I might not receive the same support I did last time.  I was afraid it wouldn’t be the same defining experience.

I will run another marathon again.  I can almost guarantee that it will not be the same defining experience as my first one.  But I don’t care.  It’s still an accomplishment, a test and a growing experience.  It is a chance to do something bigger than yourself.  This blog is my chance to do something bigger than myself.  It is a chance to give back to the Women’s Center- the place that saved my life.  This year won’t be the same as last.  Most likely, I won’t feel the same overwhelming joy on the day of the race as I did last year and it will likely still be just as difficult.  But raising money for the Women’s Center is still an accomplishment, facing my fears is still a test and digging through my past is still a growing experience for me and for anyone who might be touched by something I write.

I have to let go of my fears of letting my past control me.  I have to let go of my fear that maybe my rape does define me.  I mean- here I am 10 ½ years later, writing about it.  A lot of people never even talk about it.  I have to stop being afraid that pain, physical or emotional, is going to stop me from doing something.  The two most joyous moments in my life over the last year were accompanied by a lot of pain.  But they were moments I will remember for the rest of my life.

Please, join me again this year to support the Women’s Center.  Join me in supporting men and women in Houston who still have the opportunity to face their fears and experiencing their defining moments.   Through the pain, we can all find our moments of joy.

I run, I write, I live because I am not afraid.

 

Fundraising update:

TO DONATE FOR THE 2013 RACE AGAINST VIOLENCE, PLEASE CLICK HERE:

http://hawc.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.participant&participantID=1063

TO JOIN THE 2013 YOUNG LEADERS TEAM, PLEASE CLICK HERE: 

http://hawc.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.team&teamID=5006

GO Stand Up, Speak Loud!

Posted December 29, 2012 by elleellewood in Uncategorized

Sounding Off   1 comment

Writing this blog has been an incredible journey.

When I first decided to fundraise for the Women’s Center, it was an easy decision- an obvious choice to give back to an organization that gave me my life back.  When I decided to write the blog, I didn’t expect the reaction I received.  I didn’t expect it to “take off” in the way it did.  I didn’t expect people who hadn’t been through a rape themselves to wait every week for me to publish a new one.  To be honest, I didn’t expect people to care this much.

Writing the blog and delving back into the tumultuous rollercoaster that was my life brought so many emotions, good and bad, to the surface.  In a way, it was like I almost relived my journey (what I remember of it) all over again in an abbreviated time period.  No, I didn’t feel the pain the way I have in the past, but I still remember the pain.  I still remember what it felt like to be a stranger in your own body.  I still remember what it felt like to be in a room full of people and be completely alone.  I still remember what it felt like to be disgusted by yourself for reasons beyond your control.  I still remember what it felt like to want to die.

However, I also still remember what it felt like the first time I shared my story.  I still remember what it felt like when I looked around the room at my group therapy class at the HAWC and everyone in the entire room understood.  I still remember what it felt like the first time a person came to me and asked for help.  I still remember what it felt like the first time someone told me my story inspired them.

Every day, I will remember the support I have received from each of you.  Sometimes the tough things in life are what bring people closer.  Sometimes the tough things build a bond so deep that it just can’t be broken.

Something terrible happened to me.  Something no one should ever have to go through.  No one can argue about that.  But for me, I feel lucky.  Because tomorrow, 9 years, 8 months, and 17 days after I was raped, almost all of my friends and family will be gathered together to join me in supporting the Houston Area Women’s Center.  Together, we will help “fight” to end violence in our community.

I’ve said it before, and I think it is painful for friends and family to hear- I don’t regret what happened to me.  I wouldn’t go back and change the past.  Yes, it was hard.  Yes, it sucked.  Yes, I didn’t get to experience adolescence the way I would have liked.  But, that’s life.  Sometime we get dealt a crappy hand and we don’t know why.  But what about all of the amazing hands I was dealt?  I have the most loving, caring parents anyone can ask for.  I have a brother that would do anything for me.  I literally have friends coming in from out of town (one from across the country) to be there for me this weekend.  I have received support from so many other friends and family, some support from people I don’t even know.  I was born with an inner strength (that I didn’t know I had) that allowed me to not only get through this nightmare, but to come out a stronger, better, happier person.   There were a few years of my life that were just absolutely terrible when I was experiencing them, but how could I ever sacrifice what I have now to take that all away?

Thank you to everyone for helping me get through this.  Nothing would be possible without every one of you .

Until next year- when you have something to share, Stand Up, Speak Loud.

It is NOT too late to donate.  Let’s get back in 1st place!!!

Fundraising update:

TO DONATE FOR THE 2013 RACE AGAINST VIOLENCE, PLEASE CLICK HERE:

http://hawc.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.participant&participantID=1063

TO JOIN THE 2013 YOUNG LEADERS TEAM, PLEASE CLICK HERE: 

http://hawc.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.team&teamID=5006

GO Stand Up, Speak Loud!

Posted March 2, 2012 by elleellewood in Uncategorized

Living in a Dream World   Leave a comment

I’m a dreamer- in an obsessive way, not in a cute, romantic way.  In fact, it’s more like an over-analyzing obsession.  I create stories in my head that stem off something small, no matter how insignificant.   I turn it over and over, picking every little detail apart.  If I am in a disagreement with someone, I will often continue the discussion in my head, long after the situation has passed.  When I am about to step into a situation that I fear might be awkward or uncomfortable, I often find myself sitting in front of my mirror practicing my response to whatever might be said to me.  If something in the intended plan gets off track, I often think about the worst possible scenario and what the next steps are.  I think that maybe that is why I have started loving to run so much.  I now have so much built in time every week to live in this fantasy land and create these stories in my head.   In some ways, it’s a great attribute.  I can pick things apart, figure out what it means, and come up with a solution.  However, more often than not, I can let this “fantasy” I created, whether good or bad, take over.

I dream almost every night.  I would think that my brain would need some rest at night after the constant over-analyzing that takes place all day long, but this doesn’t seem to be the case.  Like most people, your dreams often stem from something that is happening in your life at the time.  It might not be right on point, but close enough.  The night before the state championship softball game my senior year of high school, I dreamed about the game three different times.  The night before a big race, I often dream that something happened and I either can’t make it to the race or I am trying to run and my legs won’t work.  The summer before my sophomore year of college, I had to have porcelain veneers placed on my two front teeth.  I was so self-conscious about them that I must have dreamed every other night that they just fell out.  I would be out with my friends or in the middle of a softball game and they would just fall right out of my mouth.

When I was in high school, I dreamed of being raped, over and over again.  As if it wasn’t terrible enough to actually have to live through that nightmare. . . Lucky me, I got to over-analyze it every day and relive it every night.  They were all different, and hardly every 100% vivid and factual. Sometimes I really was back on the river, but the details were changed.  We weren’t in Uvalde County, instead we were in another state.  Sometimes I was in a large group of friends and it happened to all of us. Sometimes he wasn’t a large, blonde man, but instead just a blank slate causing me tremendous amounts of pain.  Sometimes, I would just wake up crying.  I couldn’t remember any details of the dream, but I just knew that even in my sleep, I was continuing to relive the pain.

As I got older, the dreams became less frequent, but that didn’t make them any less difficult.  In fact, sometimes it made it harder.  It was as if I somehow got used the terror the night could bring me.   So as I was beginning to heal and the dreams were few and far between, they would strike me out of nowhere.  My mind was no longer prepared to deal with the vulnerability.  As most college students can attest, nap time is probably the most wonderful part of college.  One day before softball practice, my roommate and I laid down.  The next thing I know, she is shaking me back and forth trying to wake me up.  I remember waking up in a terror, almost completely panicked.  It had been so real.  It wasn’t one of those dreams where the details were mixed up.  Instead, there I was again, back on the river.  My purple bathing suit bottom was dangling around his neck, the girl was pointing at me and laughing.  Except this time, it wasn’t just her.  Everyone was pointing at me and laughing.  And it wasn’t just the people from his group of friends that were with him on the river that day, it was everyone I knew.  I don’t remember seeing faces of anyone in particular, it was just like the sea of people who were all laughing at me.  I started trying to run down the river (as I did in real life) trying to get away from everyone.  But my legs wouldn’t work; I couldn’t even crawl.  I kept looking behind me and everyone was gaining on me.  It felt like the end.

I guess I was screaming or thrashing because it woke my roommate up.  I was terrified.  Hell, I think she was a little terrified too.  It caught me so off guard.  I hadn’t had a nightmare in months.  I thought I was getting better.  What did this mean?  Why was this happening to me?  I couldn’t sleep.  That night, I didn’t go to bed at all.  I didn’t even try.  I wasn’t tired.  I was scared.  I couldn’t go back to that nightmare.  The following night, I met up with my friend and her boyfriend for a couple drinks.  Maybe that would help me relax?  Nope, not the case.  While we had a great time, when I got back to my dorm room and thought about closing my eyes, it just wasn’t going to happen.  I think at some point during that night, I may have drifted off for about an hour, but nothing significant.  The next night, I was so tired.  I mean, I’d slept for maybe an hour or two in the last 48 plus hours!  I just refused to go back to sleep.  It terrified me that the most vivid dream, the most painful dream, came to me nearly 4 years later.  What else was in store for my slumber time?  I called a guy friend in the middle of the night and he came to meet me.  I was a mess.  I couldn’t make sense of my words.  I was getting to the point where I was so tired, I didn’t know which way was up and which way was down.  He didn’t know what to do with me.  He took my phone and called my parents.  He put me in his car and drove me home.  That night, I remember lying between my parents in bed.  I was so tired, I was crying.  I was trying to explain the dream to them, but my words wouldn’t make sense.  At this point, I was so delirious, I literally started hallucinating.  I was thinking that guys were in the room and they were trying to grab me.  I didn’t want to freak my parents out but they were trying to grab me by the ankles.  Great, now my nightmares were playing out while I was awake.  When was it going to end?!?

That’s what my “recovery” was like.  Really, that’s what my life was like.  I could go back to being a happy-go-lucky girl, or young woman, and then BOOM out of nowhere I would get pummeled in the stomach by some memory, some trigger that would take me back to that dark place.  To the place where it felt like it was Never. Going. To. End.

You know what?  It doesn’t end.  It is never going to go away.  But it does get better.  Maybe I just learned to deal.  Maybe I just focused on the positive.  But it did get better.  It definitely didn’t go away, but it improved.

I still have dreams.  I still over-analyze.  I had a race this morning following a restless night’s sleep with all of the anxiety.  I still dream about the rape.  I’m sure at some point in my life, I will have another nightmare about the rape.   However, this last one wasn’t a nightmare.  In fact, it was refreshing.  In my dream, I was at a friend’s house.  We were just hanging out downstairs when I was called upstairs to “court.”  I remember in the dream I ran up the stairs, a little confused.  Why was I going to court?  I reached the top of the stairs, and there he was, standing in front of the judge.  The judge looked at me and said, “Now, what do you have to say for yourself?”  Now, it was a dream, so honestly I have no idea what my exact words were in response.  I just remember speaking my mind about the pain I went through, the struggles I overcame and the person I was today.  I don’t know if I told him off in my dream.  I don’t remember it being about him.  I remember speaking about myself.   I looked around the room at a faceless crowd and knew that it was all of my friends and family.  This time, no one was laughing at me.  Instead, the faceless courtroom stood, applauding and cheering me on.

I woke up with a smile on my face.  I woke up feeling empowered.  I woke up recognizing the support that had been given to be all along.  In the nightmare of a dream I had in college, I talked about how all of my friends and family were laughing at me as I tried to run away.  It took me awhile to figure out the parallel between the two dreams.  It wasn’t about them.  It wasn’t that they weren’t there for me then but they are there for me now.  No, it couldn’t be that because that was never the case.  Just as the good dream I had wasn’t about him, neither was the reaction of my friends and family in each of the dreams about how they felt.  The dream was a part of my subconscious.  As I stated earlier, I over-analyze everything.  I read into things way too much and create situations that are not reality.  I realized that I haven’t always accepted the support of my friends and family.  For so long, I felt so alone.  It was a world of rape victims vs. non- rape victims.  To me, I was nothing more than a victim, a crazy girl, a burden to my friends and family, a broken person that left everyone around her feeling an obligation to try and pick up the pieces.  I thought so poorly of myself, I couldn’t imagine anyone could truly, selflessly, want to help me.  The dream was validation of the fact that I had finally acknowledged the love and support I had from everyone.  I no longer feel like “that crazy girl” and I have accepted that the people who love me don’t see me that way either.

Here we are now, a week away from the race.  My fundraising is coming to an end as well as the process I have gone through in trying to write this blog.  The support I have received is astounding.  To be honest, I didn’t expect people to really care this much.  Friends, family, and people I barely know (in many cases, not at all) have rallied behind me to support the Houston Area Women’s Center.  These people, all of you, have rallied behind me to help another person find their voice.  It’s overwhelming to think about everyone coming together next weekend.  I think about the miles that will be traveled by my friends and family to join in on the race, the dollars that have been given to support the Women’s Center and it brings me to tears.  I am truly blessed to have received this support.

Thank you to each and every one of you.  Every little bit counts, and together, we have given much more than a little bit.  THANK YOU.

Until next time- when you have something to share, Stand Up, Speak Loud!

Fundraising update:

TO DONATE FOR THE 2013 RACE AGAINST VIOLENCE, PLEASE CLICK HERE:

http://hawc.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.participant&participantID=1063

TO JOIN THE 2013 YOUNG LEADERS TEAM, PLEASE CLICK HERE: 

http://hawc.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.team&teamID=5006

GO Stand Up, Speak Loud!

Posted February 25, 2012 by elleellewood in Emotional, mental strength, Sexual Assault, support, victim

Surviving Your Daughter’s Sexual Assault   2 comments

My words cannot express what my parents went through.  Yes, everyone can argue that is harder for the “victim”, but what about when that “victim” is your daughter?

This week, my blog will be dedicated to their story- what they went through personally and how they saw me struggle through this.  I can’t speak for them.  My parents have always described the love for their children as the most intense love they have ever known.  Well, I don’t have any kids, but I love my parents so fiercely, I can’t imagine the pain I’d feel if something devastating like a sexual assault happened to them.

As I have grown older and fought my battle through the storm, I can truly see and appreciate the love my parents have for me, the dedication it took to stand by me and raw strength it took to watch their little girl fight this battle.  I was incredibly blessed to have such a supportive and loving family.  Were things perfect?  No.  What family can ever be perfect?  What family can react to everything just the way they should?  What is the correct reaction?  No one has the answers, but my family fought like hell to figure it out.  They never gave up hope on me and that was the strength I needed to never give up hope on myself.  You, parents, are my foundation, my rock, my strength and my hope.  Thank you for believing.

Love you so.

From my father:

First, I want to say how proud I am of you, Lorin.  Not only for the terrific job of giving back to the Houston Area Women’s Center but for the beautiful young woman you have become.

Go back 10 years . . .Not only did Lorin use the HAWC, but my wife and I did as well.

As the Dad, I had to try and maintain my composure and felt I needed to put up a brave front for Lorin’s sake.  All the time, I was overcome with all kinds of feelings myself.  The HAWC counselors sat down with my wife and myself.  They let us talk and get it out.  They led us through what to expect and told us the emotions Lorin might experience.  They told us how to effectively deal with her.

I cannot begin to relate how I felt.  Therefore, I will not try.  It is just too difficult.  Having studied psychology in college, I just knew we needed to get Lorin help, as well as ourselves.  After the initial help from the Women’s Center, we took her to an adolescent psychologist.  This was not the answer.  We needed someone with first hand experience of what she just went through.  When she was not improving, we went back to the Women’s Center.  Debbie Okrina of the HAWC was trained to effectively deal with what happened to Lorin and carried on the counseling from this point.  Under her guidance, Lorin began to get better.

Was it easy?  No way.  There were missteps along the way.  There were sleepless nights, mood swings, and everything unimaginable.  But there was always hope.  I was not going to give up on my daughter, my family or my life.  I hoped everyday would be the day – the day that I would wake up and things would be normal – the day that Lorin would be her old self.  The HAWC gave us hope and steered us in the right direction.

Did it get back to normal?  What is normal?  We got back and that is what is important.  As Lorin has said, it’s part of who we are.

I want to give a special thanks to our family, friends, teachers and coaches who have helped tremendously in the journey (you know who you are).

Also a thank you to my son, Matt, for the support you have given Lorin through the years and how you have helped so much with her fundraising efforts.  You can now go back to fighting with your sister.  Ha!

A big “I love you” to my wife, Lori, whose optimistic and unrelenting “we can get through this” attitude held the family together during this time.

Again, Lorin, I am so proud of you and I love you.

Dad

From my mother:

My name is Lori and together with my husband, Del, we are blessed to be the parents of Matt (27) and Lorin (25).   I always knew I would write in Lorin’s blog but seriously, I would rather jump out the window right next to me.  That, of course, is not an option.  Maybe, just maybe, it will give someone hope that may be going through the same hell we went through.  So here goes. . .

THE DAY

Father’s Day, 2:00 AM, June 16, 2002

I am dreaming that the phone is ringing.

“Hello?”

“Mrs. Leatherwood?”

“Yes”, I reply.

This is (don’t remember the name) from the Uvalde Medical Center.  We need permission to treat your daughter, Lorin.”

Okay, now I really know it is a dream.  I had just told my husband the day before that I had forgotten to give a medical power of attorney to the family from our church.  You see, Lorin, had gone away with them for the weekend to a deer lease they shared with several families.  She was so excited about the weekend.  The amazing power of my mind was playing out with this dream because I worried about that power of attorney.  I was the worrier – it was my job.  I would wake up and everything would be fine.

“Mrs. Leatherwood?”

Wait, she’s still talking.

“Yes?”

“This is the Uvalde Medical Center.  We need permission to treat your daughter.”

This dream seemed so real.

“Treat her for what?” I replied.

“Sexual Assault”.

Sexual Assault!!!” I replied.  My husband’s scream was proof this was no dream.

I do not remember the woman’s name but she was the messenger of the news that changed our family forever.  It became the before and after in the timeline of many of our memories.

The conversation became a blur.

She will be taken to San Antonio University hospital because they are equipped to do the rape kit – Oh, you did not know? – no one from the family she was with has called you yet? . . .  would you like me to get them on the phone . . . your daughter is talking to the police now . . .

The drive to San Antonio was a blur. I do remember trembling and feeling like I was going to be sick.   It didn’t really happen.  They must be mistaken.  How did this happen?  Where were the parents?  What about her volleyball camp on Monday?  Is she hurt? It can’t be that bad.  Thank God, she is alive.  Who was the person?  How was she left alone?  Did he abduct her?  Did they get him?  Was he arrested?

We arrived at the San Antonio Hospital at 5am and were able to see Lorin.  My beautiful little girl seemed disheveled and exhausted.   She had a look of fear that I had never seen before.  They took her away to do the rape kit.  It was necessary if charges were brought against the perpetrator.  What would they do to her?  We had never talked about her first “visit” to that doctor.

The father of her friend was there.  He was talking but I was not truly comprehending the words coming out of his mouth.  He did what?  He let his daughter and mine go to the river unsupervised?  No one else wanted to go with them and they really wanted to go.  No, surely he did not let a 15 yr old and a 16 yr old go unsupervised in bathing suits to float down a river – a public river without an adult.  Was this like New Braunfels – where groups tube down the river and drink all day?  Yes, there are families but the majority are young adults.  No, surely not.  No parent would turn two young girls loose in that kind of environment.  “Their” river must be controlled – it must be different.  Perhaps it was on their property.  She identified him.  Her friend identified him.  He was a college student from out of state.  There was a group of them.  They were drinking.  He was arrested.  What did all of this mean?  It was a public river.  How did they get there?  I didn’t know her friend even had a driver’s license.  Why would they go anywhere without the parents. I wanted to attack the father but I was too numb.  My mind wandered.  What now?  How can I tell Matt (brother)?  How will he be able to deal with this?  He was only 17 himself.

How could I possibly tell my Mother?  You see my Mother and I were as close as a mother and daughter could be.  She lived two streets from us.  She never understood the freedom afforded our kids of spending the night out and going away with people for the weekend.  Her words rang in my ear!

Do you know these people well? Do you trust that they will keep a close eye on the kids? Will they be responsible? Will they be with them at all times? Who is driving? How far is it? What if something happens? What is the weather like?  I just feel better when the kids are at home.  You have control over situations when they are at home. What about the other families at the deer lease?  Do you know them well? Will there be other kids there?  Do you know them well?

“Oh, Mother, she will be fine”, I would always respond.

The father leaves to go back to Uvalde.  Lorin’s examination is over.  They say she can go home.  She likes the nurse.  The nurse gives her a heart pillow.  Katarina is her name.  Katarina seems well-trained in her job.  She is given the “morning-after” pill and some other medicine.  It will probably make her sick.  They recommend contacting the Houston Area Women’s Center.  They will check on her in a few days.

The trip home is deafeningly quiet.  Lorin slept.  She is nauseated.  I have a bowling ball in my stomach.  My husband looks drained and merely drives.  I want to ask questions but I do not think I can handle the answers.

In my mind, I was already trying to figure out how we were going to keep this a secret.  We could handle this in our immediate family.  We would not have to tell anyone.  She would be able to block this out and get back to normal.

We arrived home.  The mother of her friend (there were mothers on the trip but her friend’s mother had not gone) was at our house with flowers.  She was obviously distraught over what had happened.  I was on automatic pilot.  She went on her way.  Maybe the flowers would make this go away.

Kristen, a good friend of Lorin’s, and her older sister came by.  This will help.  I sit with Kristen’s mother in her car and blurt out what has happened.  The words I just said can’t be real.

We told Matt.  He screamed out in disbelief.  His world was now rocked too.

I asked my mother and stepfather to come by.  I called them into the bedroom.  I blurted it out.  My beautiful mother suddenly looked much older.  She held onto the side of the bed as she went down to her knees in tears.  My sweet stepfather (Pop – the only grandfather Lorin had known) was sobbing.

THEN WHAT?

I guess my denial of what had happened was quickly shot to hell.  This was not the 60’s.  This was Lorin and there would be no cover-up.  One thing about our family is we are not quiet.  I did not know where to start.  Would I make it worse by talking about it?  Maybe it would still go away if we didn’t talk about it.

Would my daughter be able to overcome this?  It won’t be that bad.  It will be terrible.  Everyone will know.  She shouldn’t tell anyone.  Will the girl she went with tell everyone?  High school girls can be so mean.  It is best not to tell everyone.  What if Matt’s friends find out?  How will he deal with it?

How could I turn back the clock and not let her go away that weekend?  How could I deal with the anger I felt toward the father?  How could I maim the guy who did this to her?  Why did I hear about it from a nurse?  What about the legal aspect?  Could she be pregnant?  Could she have gotten a disease?  What about testing her?  What doctor will she go to?  She could have died.  Thank you God for not letting her die.

Two days later, I show up at a volleyball camp at her high school.  Her high school coach would help me.  You do not interrupt this woman in her zone – believe me I know from first hand experience.  One look at me and she left the camp.   The look in her eyes scared me.  She knew.  I told her we would just tell her.  We wouldn’t have to tell anyone else at the school.  She quickly got me on track.  No, we had to tell the school.  Lorin was going to need an unbelievable amount of support to get through this.  We cried.  She would put the ball in motion to set up the support she needed at school. And, she did.

We slowly started telling family and friends.  It felt like every time we told someone, it validated the severity of what we were dealing with.  The look in their eyes would cut us to the core.  Please do not cry – maybe that will mean it will be ok.  Do not look so devastated.  This too, shall pass.  Would it really?

Her aunts, both police officers, arranged for her to give her official statement to be transferred to the Uvalde police.  I can still see their shocked and devastated faces as they sat in our living room.  We found out he posted $5000 bail and was allowed to leave the state!  I was amazed!  Could that possibly be right?  What were they thinking?

She cut her hair off.  She stopped wearing makeup and caring about her appearance.  She resisted any suggestions I made regarding her clothes or appearance.  She pulled away from her friends.  She could not concentrate.  Her excellent grades fell for the first time in her life.  She could not process her homework.  She yelled, she screamed.  She was angry.  I bought her sculptures with sayings.  I bought her things that said Hope, Faith, etc.  I bought her clothes. I bought her a lot of crosses.  Maybe I could buy our way out of this.  She said she was ugly.  I said she was beautiful.  She told me to shut up.  I told her she would not talk to me like that.  I slept with her.  I slept outside her door.  I tried not to talk.  I lay awake at night so I would hear her if she started crying.  I talked and cried to my mirror.  I screamed at “him” in my mirror.  I cried in my car, a lot.  I talked to my mother a lot.  Go to bed, she would say, you will be stronger in the morning.  Nights were terrible, especially Sunday nights. Mornings were terrible.  I asked my mother for help so I could work when she would not get out of bed.  She was unresponsive.  She just stared.  She scared me.  My mother would show up and just sit with her.  Mimi had a knack of taking her to a dream world at her house that was an escape.  Mimi got a cat because Lorin wanted the cat.  Mimi did not like cats.  Mimi was scared of the cat.

I was angry.  How were all the people in the world acting happy?  Did they not know what had happened to us?  Why did this happen to us?  We were very involved parents.   We were not dead-beat parents.  We knew our kids’ friends.  This should not have happened to us.  Wait, it is selfish of me to think about my feelings.  What about Lorin?  How can I take the pain away?  How can I be her and figure out what she is going through?  What about high school?  This was supposed to be the time of her life.  Really?  It will get better.  Will it get better?

HIGH SCHOOL

Lorin had people who had captured her heart and there was not a chance she would not need to tell them.

Her softball coach in high school is etched in her soul and the reasons for that go far beyond softball.   She never gave up on her and magically knew when it was finally time to demand she reach deeper.  We seriously love her.

The one constant that remained in her life was softball.  For whatever reason, it felt like if we could keep her in softball then things would get back to normal.  It gave her structure.  Softball was natural to her – it didn’t require her to concentrate in class.  It was an escape.  It was really all we were hanging on to.

My husband continually wanted her to practice her pitching.  That was going back to normalcy but there were always battles.  She did not want to practice.  He was holding on.   She could not.  I was the mediator, referee, Mom and wife.

Her high school administrators and teachers rallied around her and facilitated her working through the pain that reared its ugly head in the months to come.  If the homework was just busy work, let it slide.  If her grades start falling, the dean wanted to be made aware and not at the end of the term.  If she needs to leave a class to go see a counselor, let her.  While it had to be so frustrating for her teachers, for the most part (amazingly, only one exception) it was like they saw the bigger picture.  The Village was determined to save the child.  Everyone has a “Village”.  The first step is to reach out to someone.  As Lorin has said, there was not a chance she would stay silent.  This did help her.  When she reached out on her own terms, some of the most unexpected people came to her rescue.

Things got worse.  Her grades did fall.  She could not stay in class.  She would leave school and show up at my office.  She would sleep and cry.  She would go back in time for softball practice.  This could not go on.  There was a round table discussion.  There was talk she would have to leave the team.  My husband and I pleaded.  We knew that would be the end of that school year.  There would be no reason for her to get up.   Things would have to change, she would have to show signs of stepping up.   I thank God for her coach’s insight to know just how much to push her.  She pushed, she responded.  She regressed.  She had a good day.  She had a bad day.  I can only imagine what it was like to have Lorin show up every day at practice.  You never knew what you were going to get.  Her coach NEVER gave up on her and we are eternally grateful.

She spent more time with her “at school mothers” – the dean of students and her counselor – than she did with me.  Actually, she spent more time in their offices than she did in class.  I am forever grateful to the two of you.  My phone would ring and I would see the school’s number and start shaking.  What now?  What had set her off?  Do you need me to pick her up?  Is she okay?  Her dad and I were mentally and physically exhausted.

Her recovery would not have been possible without all of these people.  They were able to put academics aside to try and save her.

Houston Area Women’s Center

We went to the Houston Area Women’s Center to get help for Lorin and desperate for the manual on how to deal with a child that has been sexually assaulted.   I learned quickly that it was her story to tell and there was no manual for parents.

I also learned that I had no clue whatsoever on how to deal with this.  My desire to push it under the rug and hope it would go away would have had dire effects for Lorin.  I was instructed to try to just be there and listen.  Let her work through it but be there every step of the way.

Initially, the Women’s Center was not a magic fix.  Lorin was not opening up.  She was resentful of the first counselor and mad at the world.  They were not equipped to see her for the long term.  They were making her draw pictures.  She hated drawing the pictures.  They suggested 10 sessions there and then we should find an independent therapist or psychologist.  We were not seeing a lot of progress.  She was crying all the time.

Four months after the assault, we began taking her to a psychologist.  The psychologist was delving into her childhood.  Lorin was getting angrier and angrier.  The psychologist was not treating the assault as much as she was analyzing Lorin’s entire life.  We were lost as to how to help.  She sent my husband and I to counseling.  It did not help.  These people were not equipped for what we were going through.  They were analyzing our marriage and avoiding the event that threatened our daughter’s life and she was getting worse.

Lorin’s anger prompted the psychologist to recommend she be put on Paxil.  This was the biggest mistake of her recovery.  Paxil suppressed her feelings and turned her into a walking zombie.  We came very close to losing her during this period.  She had sloshing in her head.  She did not want to live.  She stared blankly at us and would not respond to the simplest of questions.  She went out to her car to “get a CD” in her pajamas and left.  We were frantic calling everyone we could think who might know where she was.  We would find out two hours later she was at a school administrator’s home and they were going to dinner and yes, she wore her pajamas.

We directed in no uncertain terms that she be “weaned” off Paxil.  Crying is okay.  She was releasing the hurt.  Suppressing is not okay.  The right help is so important and the wrong help is so dangerous.  We were desperate, again.

We returned to the Women’s Center and were fortunate to start sessions with Debbie Okrina.  Under Debbie’s guidance, Lorin slowly started coming back to us.  Debbie described the effect of this type of assault on the victim as an opened hand placed covering their face.  They are trying to function but it is hard to see through the obstacle that is in their way.

I understood what she meant.  I was anxious and scared all the time.  I did not know what she would do next and felt she had no control over her emotions.  Debbie talked to Del and I.  Again, she explained that at times all we can do is be prepared to listen and just be there.  Let her cry.  It is a release.  It was a painfully slow process but eventually we started seeing signs of improvement.

A good friend had a daughter that had fought an eating disorder for several years and came very close to dying.  He described how he would pull in the garage and go to the garage door to enter the house.  He would put his hand on the doorknob and pray that when he opened the door it would be a good day.  I knew exactly what he was talking about.  I never knew what each day would bring.

DEL

My husband changed on June 16, 2002.  His perspective on life would never seem to be the same.  He had a temper that “we” had worked on for years.  When I say temper, I mean frustration over little things.  He would lose his cool if the kids left blankets in the yard or his fertilizer spreader malfunctioned.  Yes, little things.

On June 16, 2002, the mellowing process began.  He was taken to his knees with this one.  He could pick up the blankets or get a new fertilizer spreader.  He could not fix this.  This would change him forever.  Someone had damaged his little girl.  He was a broken man and would remain that way in a sense to this day.  He has never gotten over it but has just tried to learn to live with it.  The temper over little things is gone.

I could not have made it through this myself without him.  Many times it felt like the Twilight Zone and it would never end.  Somehow we held each other up and made it through.

MATT

Matt’s world changed as well.  He was entering his senior year of high school and should have been having the time of his life.  Our home life changed drastically during this period and it affected all of us.  The bright spots of our week that Fall were attending his football games.  That was our escape from the turmoil at home.

I had always looked forward to the time when Matt and Lorin would be in high school as they were close in age.   We lost that dream.  She was unable to be around large groups of people, therefore missed many high school events.  Frankly, I am not sure Matt knew what to do with her most of the time.  This didn’t happen to families like ours.  It was just too much to deal with at his age.

We feel regret this took away from what should have been a carefree time of his life.  Just like Lorin, though, this is a part of the man he has become today.  We could not be prouder of the support he has given her, and us, through the years.

LEGAL

The ongoing legal aspect exacerbated the nightmare at home.  Uvalde is 5 hours from Houston.  We went there four times over the course of the sentencing.   It was a process that could change daily.  I dove in and researched as much as I could.  I spoke to the district attorney on many occasions.  They would expect “him” to take a plea bargain and then he would not.  There were delays.  I, as the mother, tried to make these trips as peaceful and calm as possible. You would have thought I was planning a vacation.  I am the eternal optimist but my tank was running on empty and Lorin was getting angrier by the day.

We would have little or no notice when we would need to be there.  It was affecting our work.  She was missing school.  We had to postpone her semester finals to go to Uvalde, only to find out it was postponed again. It was a small courthouse and “He” was there. I cannot put into words how hard it was to face “him” time after time.  I can only imagine how Lorin felt.

The district attorney took a liking to Lorin.  He also saw her state of mind and anger get worse as the months went by.  She was lashing out at everyone. He wanted deferred adjudication.  This meant if the defendant did anything in a 10 year period, he would automatically go to the state pen for 10 years.  Lorin said no.  By the third trip to Uvalde, her anger and demeanor had deteriorated.  He wanted to speak to her alone – he did not feel she was stable enough to go through a trial and thought he could convince her.  However, he came out of the meeting with Lorin stating it was going to trial.

Lorin wanted the minimum of 2 years in the state pen and a Registered Sex Offender for Life “tag” placed upon him.  In her words, if she was going to have to pay for what he did to her for the rest of her life, so should he.

In March of 2003, with his back against the wall as it was going to trial, the perpetrator took a plea bargain with Lorin’s demands.  The district attorney did not have to honor Lorin’s wishes.  We found out it is the state’s case against the defendant not Lorin’s.  The district attorney gave her the power to believe it was her case against him.  “He” was going to a Texas state penitentiary for 2 years and he would be a Registered Sex Offender for life.

I read a statement to “him” in the sentencing hearing.  Del read a statement.  I read a statement from Lorin.  Matt was there.  “His” mother was there.  Everyone cried. It was gut wrenching.

It would all be better now.

That did not prove to be the case.  The effects on Lorin had become more apparent as the process was ongoing.   Everything was not magically fixed.  There was disappointment because of the hope that it would be better after the sentencing.

What would make it better now?

TURNING POINT

Lorin’s blog is appropriately titled Stand Up, Speak Loud.  With the help of her school and the Women’s Center, in November, 2003, 17 months after she was assaulted, Lorin stood before an assembly of juniors and seniors at her all-girls high school and told her story.

How did I feel?  I was scared to death for her.  Could she do it?  I wanted to push this under the rug and here she was telling all these girls what had happened to her.  Could I deal with it?  What would the fallout be?  Would she break down and not get through it?  Matt came in from college to attend.  Our friends and family were there.  I felt like I was going to be sick.

She came through with flying colors.  She took the microphone like she was a professional.  It was as if she had been programmed.  I was absolutely amazed.  The girls gave her a standing ovation and several girls sought help as a result of her speaking out.  They finally started understanding what had turned her into the “crazy girl”.

This was the turning point in her recovery.  She was able to begin to make the transition from victim to survivor.  She realized she not only found her voice but instilled courage in others to find their voices.

She has gone on to speak out many times and continues to draw strength from helping others.  She spoke at other high schools, again at her high school, at HAWC board meetings, and also a luncheon for Texas Association Against Sexual Assault (TAASA).  She also did a public service announcement for TAASA that aired in central Texas for a few years.

The college application process was difficult.  She was recruited to play softball by several schools.  She wasn’t sure she wanted to play in college.  Would it be too hard?  It had to be a match.  She had a three-hour “distance from home” radius.  Ours was, silently, much less.

Because of the effect on her grades especially in her sophomore year, a school college counselor told her she was not Trinity University material.  That cut her to the core.  The dean at Trinity had a personal meeting with her and told her she was exactly what they were looking for.

She went on to be accepted at every college she applied to.  Should she have been?  Probably not – based on grades.  Everyone was fighting to get in the top 10% so they could go to the school of their choice.  She was not in the top 10% but she certainly had an essay topic.  They listened.  They gave her a chance.  Colleges do look at the whole person.  Do not let anyone limit your future.

She opted to go to Houston Baptist and play softball.  She received an additional prestigious scholarship unrelated to softball.  She had to appear before the scholarship board.  They listened.  Her experience was not put under the rug.  It was part of the process.  She played softball all four years and graduated Summa Cum Laude with 3.96 GPA.  She was named Academic Female Athlete of the Year.  It was the college counselor’s alma mater.  I thanked her silently.  She made Lorin mad enough to prove her wrong.

There were hiccups in her college years but every year she seemed to get better and better.  I was glad she opted to go to school close to home.  We were only twenty-five minutes away and that came in handy more times than I can count.

We saw her more as a result of softball.  Softball kept her life structured which was helpful.  We thoroughly enjoyed her college softball experience.  It gave us an opportunity to be close without moving in with her!  We were determined to go on every road trip we possibly could.  We appreciate the help and guidance she was given by her coach.  We fell in love with the coach’s Dad.  I feel she is very grateful she had the opportunity to play softball in college.  She made many friends and in many ways, life was getting back to normal.

The “team” environment has helped her in her career and her life.

NOW

Now, it has been 10 years and this child never ceases to amaze me.  Yes, “it” rears its ugly head from time to time for all of us.  Occasionally she comes home for a night or two and that “little girl” is back.  For the most part, the assault has just become part of her life.  It does not define her but it is a part of her.  It drives her to help others.

She is a strong, driven young woman.  She is not afraid to tackle whatever life throws at her.  She welcomes the opportunity to revisit her experience to help others.

Lorin has often stated she is not sorry this happened – she says she would not be the person she is today.  While I appreciate that and have such admiration for her journey, I cannot say I am glad she went through this.  No mother could be glad.  I am thankful God gave us the strength to reach down and get through the nightmare somehow but this was never part of my dream for her.

I am somewhat petrified of the thought of her ever moving away.  That is not fair to her but I really think she needs us.  I know she is self-sufficient and can do anything she sets her mind to.  I may be giving myself too much credit but I want to always be there for her.  I want her to always be safe.  I want to help make her life easier the way my mother helped make my life easier.  If something triggers a down moment, I want to be able to have a movie night or go to dinner.

THANKS

I thank God every day that he gave Lorin the strength to endure this journey and make her way back.

I am thankful for the Women’s Center.  They are trained in the proper type of help that Lorin needed.   I am thankful she is involved and paying it forward.  I would encourage victims to talk to their parents if they can.  If they cannot, please find someone you trust to find your voice.  It doesn’t have to be in an assembly, but find your voice.  From experience, this is when the real recovery started.

I believe God puts people in place to help you.  They are not always who you think will be there.  Some people just cannot handle it.  It is okay.  There will be someone who steps up – it could be someone you least expect.

Thank you, Jeni.  From the time you were little girls, you were her silent supporter and still are.  Sometimes all she needed was for you to listen and eat hot sauce.

Thank you, Connie & Brittanie.  At such a young age, how did you endure being the “crazy girl’s” friend?  You stuck by her when she had nothing to give back.  It was such a burden to carry and we are forever grateful for you.

Thank you, Kristen, for being her long distance friend all these years.  How hard it must have been to go through this for the most part on the phone.

Thank you to everyone else who helped her – the many teammates and friends, her high school boyfriends, coaches, teachers, friends, strangers, and counselors.

Thank you to everyone who helped me.

I especially thank my husband and son.   Day in and day out, they lived this nightmare.  We never gave up hope.  Lorin was broken and somehow all of us endured the scary journey as she mended.   Our family was worth the fight.  We are stronger for having gone through this and it did give us a new perspective on life.

Thanks to all of our family and friends.  Without the Village, I am not sure we could have endured this.  I love you all.

Anyone helping a victim/survivor has to have an escape at times.  I had many wonderful friends who probably wanted to run from me but did not.  I love you.  My boss, his wife, and my co-worker were such a source of comfort.  Our family – what can I say?  You all mean the world to me and I love you dearly.

My mother and stepfather were only a phone call away.  As he said, they were always “sitting on ready, waiting for me to call” for whatever we needed.  My grandmother took care of the constant prayers “sitting in her chair”.  They are not here with us any longer but I still hear their words to me.

As for me, I don’t cry in the mirror as much any more.  I still talk to God and thank him for guiding all of us as we somehow got through this.

I still talk to my Mother.  Life without her has been so difficult for me.  I lost part of me when she died.  I talk to her a lot. I hear her like she is in the room with me.  She comforts me.  Thanks, Mom.

The circle of life is in full force.  I love my relationship with Lorin.  She even lets me (sometimes) roll her hair now!!  We are as close as a mother and daughter can be . . . .

Love you so.

One of Lorin’s favorites (Brian Andreas):

“This is a giant block of whatever is most difficult for you to carry & trust me on this, you’ll carry it more times than you can count until you decide that’s exactly what you want to do most & then it won’t weigh a thing anymore.”

One of my favorites (Brian Andreas):

“The first time her laughter unfurled its wings in the wind, we knew that the world would never be the same.”

I hope that somehow this “book” will give hope to someone in a similar situation.  There is always hope but if there is one thing I learned it is you have to talk to someone.  Your life is worth it.

 

Until next time- when you have something to share, Stand Up, Speak Loud!

Fundraising update:

TO DONATE FOR THE 2013 RACE AGAINST VIOLENCE, PLEASE CLICK HERE:

http://hawc.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.participant&participantID=1063

TO JOIN THE 2013 YOUNG LEADERS TEAM, PLEASE CLICK HERE: 

http://hawc.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.team&teamID=5006

GO Stand Up, Speak Loud!

Posted February 24, 2012 by elleellewood in Emotional, Hope, Sexual Assault, support

“Starting Over”   Leave a comment

Here we are. . . already one month into the new year.  2012 is already 1/12 over.  Talks of New Year resolutions have died down.  Most people have long forgotten their promises they made at the beginning of the year.  They have forgotten that sense of determination to lose weight, exercise more, make new friends, work harder.  The “fresh start” everyone was looking for has come and gone.  I find it interesting that everyone looks at the New Year as an opportunity to start over. As if the changing from one year to the next can erase away the past.  As if the changing from 11:59 p.m. to 12:00 a.m. is some kind of magical moment that gives you the power to make all of the bad things go away.  I can’t say I don’t subscribe to those same beliefs.  There have been times, many times for that matter, that I look forward to a new beginning.  I look forward to leaving my past behind and creating a whole new world where things come easily.  Where people don’t hurt me.  Where I can be whoever I want to be.

In high school, things weren’t great.  I know a lot of people say that.  High school was cruel to a lot of people.  You are in those years where you are awkward and self-conscious. People back stab each other left and right because they haven’t fully grasped who they are, what a friendship means and how it feels to truly be hurt.  I went through all of these things and also carried the burden of being a rape victim.  When initially looking back, high school was not my finest moment.

As I have mentioned in a previous entry, my junior year was the first time I spoke publicly about my rape.  By this point, many of my friends knew as well as several administrators in the school knew.  However, the friends I had prior to the rape, the people I had distanced myself from, had no idea.  Maybe they thought I just went “crazy” as I was constantly having panic attacks and withdrawing from social activities.  More than likely, they probably had just thought we’d grown apart as people do.  When I spoke publicly, it was to the junior and senior class at my all-girls high school.  Now, everyone knew the truth.  People were able to hear my story, understand what I went through and maybe a few could even relate to it. For the rest of that year, things were different.  Some people treated me with kid gloves as if they felt sorry for me, as if I might break if they said or did something wrong.  For the most part though, it gave me a fresh start or a new beginning if you will.  Most of the friends I had distanced myself from were back in my life in some capacity.  They understood why I changed.  Not having to explain and make excuses anymore made me feel like I could be a normal teenage kid again, at least some of the time.  I didn’t have to carry this burden anymore.

Then, my senior year, it drastically changed.  We shared a parking lot with the all-boys school next door.  Our senior year, we actually had some co-ed religion classes with the boys.  It was interesting all of the sudden being in mixed gender classes.  After 3 full years, girls and boys alike had been used to saying whatever they wanted without judgment, fear of embarrassment of whatever a member of the opposite sex might think.  This led to some very interesting class discussions senior year. Debates in these religion classes were a common theme and for the most part really fun.  Now, I have absolutely no idea of how we got on the topic of rape in one of my classes but we did.  One of the boys in my class said something along the lines of, “If a girl dresses provocatively, she deserves to get raped.  She’s asking for it.”  I immediately jump in to oppose this statement.  A girl never deserves to get raped.  She is never asking for it.  Rape is not about sex.  It’s about power and control.  The way a girl dresses has nothing to do with whether or not another person has the right to dominate her physically and mentally, brutally stripping her of her innocence because her halter top was cut too low?   Now, I am pretty sure my opposing statement was not as put together as the one above.  I was 17 years old.  I was probably fuming mad which I’m sure is not the best way to get my point across.  I looked to the teacher for help, maybe a little back-up on the subject?  Rather, he decided to play Devil’s advocate stating we needed to hear both sides.  After all, everyone is entitled to their own opinion.  Victim-blaming statements were thrown out left and right and I walked out in the middle of class, in tears.  Although this dispute happened in a class of 20 people, rumors were flying left and right within 24 hours.  Now, I spoke to my all-girls school but, the boys across the parking lot had never heard my story though I’m sure bits and pieces had traveled through the grapevine over the past year.  After I walked out of class, people started asking questions.  “Why did Lorin get so upset?  Why did she storm out of class crying?”  Well, I think most girls would get upset from those statements.  (I later found out, many of them did.  I heard one girl actually stood on top of her chair, yelling at the boys and the teacher before storming out behind me). But, I reacted with true pain and emotion.  At that time, it was still so fresh; I couldn’t handle feeling attacked on the subject and remain calm.  Well, through all of the questions about why I reacted that way, a story unfolded.  Apparently, a guy I had known for quite some time but we had really lost touch in high school, spread the story of why it was so difficult for me.  According to him, he heard that one time I got really drunk and cheated on my boyfriend.  Then, I claimed it was rape to keep him from breaking up with me.   Well, let me tell you what.  I knew the truth, my friends knew the truth, my family knew the truth, and my school for that matter knew the truth, but that really doesn’t matter in high school.  Once a rumor gets started of that magnitude, it doesn’t matter who knows the whole truth, because from that moment on, you are tainted.  I didn’t go back to that class for 2 weeks and when I first stepped back onto the boys’ campus, I was called a slut by a total stranger.   The next semester, I had another class with a whole different group of boys.  Again, a discussion about rape came up in which we were discussing the statistics of women who go through sexual violence by the time they are 18.  The number is astounding and to people who haven’t experienced violence in their lives, I’m sure it can sound unbelievable.  One boy in class really couldn’t believe it to be true.  He went back and forth with the teacher (and me) arguing his point.  Finally, we thought he had seceded.  He looked at the teacher and said, “You know what?  You’re right.” Then, he looked straight at me and said, “I know why the number is that high.  Because sometimes people get really drunk and cheat on their boyfriends.  They don’t want their boyfriends to find out so they claim rape.”  I was stunned.   It was humiliating.  I had worked so hard to overcome what had happened to me.  I had found my voice and through my voice was trying to help others.  Maybe they could find solace in my story or spread awareness on the issue.  Instead, this rumor mill of high school was destroying what I had worked so hard to build back.

With the exception of softball, I couldn’t wait for high school to end.  I couldn’t wait to get out of that place.  To be away from the people who put me down was like a dream come true.  I couldn’t wait to get to college and have a fresh start.  For me, college was a place to start over.  I could be anyone that I wanted to be.  No one would know me at college.  They wouldn’t call me names or think I was a liar.  I would be free from the jerks that put me down.

I started college just the way I wanted to.  No one knew me or what I had been through.  People only knew what I told them.  I could be anyone I wanted to be, but the thing was, the only person I ever want to be is me.  I couldn’t just take all of my experiences, stuff them in a little box on a shelf and tuck them away for another day.  My past is a part of who I am.  It’s how I learned to grow, to feel, to love.  Yes, my past was full of so much pain, but it shaped me into who I am.  Why would I ever want to box that up and start over?  I realize I had worked so hard to find my voice, why was I letting some jerks from high school take it away?  In order for me to truly connect with someone, I want to share all of me.  I don’t want to create a new life.  I want to enhance the person I already am by incorporating my past to make a stronger future.

When I “started over” in college, I didn’t just walk away from the bad things in my past, I walked away from many of the good things as well.  Through the process of writing this blog, I have been reconnecting with so many people from all different times in my life.  It’s been a fantastic experience.   I’ve been able to relive wonderful memories as well as a few painful ones (listed above), but it’s been something that makes me realize how truly lucky I am.  Yes, I went through a lot.  At some point in each of our lives, we will all go through something extremely painful.  While the experience is different for each person, there is a memory that comes from it.  There are emotions attached to that memory that strengthen you and make you vulnerable at the same time. Going through the “tough stuff” is how we grow as individuals.  I truly think that when you strip some down to their core in the midst of a traumatic experience, is when that person can truly be the most self-reflective and get to know themselves for the first time.  Through experiences like these, you realize who the genuine people in your life are.  You learn life-lessons that can’t be taught.  I am thankful for all of the memories in my life- from the most painful, to the happiest, to the utmost humiliating- they have made me, me.

When I heard people talking about wanting to start over in 2012, I know what they mean.  I understand the feeling of wanting to start fresh and become a better, happier you.  But why don’t we focus on doing that every day?  We don’t have to erase our past to have a happy future.  Instead, we have to rely on our past to have a happy future.  Without the past, we would have nothing.  I don’t ever want to start over.  I just want to continue growing.  It may not always be the most pleasant journey, but it’s my journey.  The journey that made me, ME.

Until next time- when you have something to share, Stand Up, Speak Loud!

Until next time- when you have something to share, Stand Up, Speak Loud!

Fundraising update:

TO DONATE FOR THE 2013 RACE AGAINST VIOLENCE, PLEASE CLICK HERE:

http://hawc.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.participant&participantID=1063

TO JOIN THE 2013 YOUNG LEADERS TEAM, PLEASE CLICK HERE: 

http://hawc.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.team&teamID=5006

GO Stand Up, Speak Loud!

Posted February 5, 2012 by elleellewood in Hope, mental strength, Sexual Assault, survivor

Dawne’s Story   Leave a comment

Last October, I joined a boot camp with the intention of getting my butt in gear and becoming a healthier person.  What I didn’t expect was to meet someone who would inspire me in so many ways.  My boot camp instructor, Dawne, is one of the most amazing persons I have ever met.  She makes you want to be a better you and has made me believe anything is possible.  Because of her, I know I am capable of anything I put my mind to.

When I first met Dawne, I had no idea she had experienced tragedy in her life.  It wasn’t until I told her about wanting to do this fundraising for the Women’s Center Race Against Violence that she shared with me how she has been tragically affected by violence.  Dawne has more strength than is even imaginable.  This week, I want to thank her for being so courageous and sharing her story so that others may continue to try and understand the depth of violence in our society and how they can do their part to end it.

Dawne, thank you for being an inspiration to me and so many others.  My words can’t do hers justice so this week, I will be dedicating my blog entry to Dawne.  Please join her in her fight against violence.

On September 14, 2006, my sister Mechelle (age 36), my niece Scarlet (age 12), and my nephew Scott (age 6) were murdered.  They were fatal victims of domestic violence.  Their lives were stolen from them and from the ones that loved them most in this world.  I am a witness to their short but very worthy lives and am blessed to hold beautiful memories of them in my heart.  I feel quite honored and proud to be forever linked to such 3 courageous individuals.  It’s with an expression of love that I share their tragic story with you.

After 1 ½ years of “talking things out” and “promises to change” my sister came to realize that all his words were hallow and they were not supported by positive actions, so she asked for a divorce.  He did not want one. 

He never showed “signs” of violence.  He was an introvert, if anything, he was lazy.  He hardly ever helped with yard work, around the house, or even with the kids.  He showed no real ambition.  Mechelle called me many times complaining that she was raising 3 kids, and only two of whom she should be raising.  It was this repeated behavior of his or lack thereof, that lead Mechelle to make the decision that unbeknownst to her would end her and her kids’ lives.

He didn’t physically abuse her or the kids prior to this, that would have been an easily recognizable sign.  Instead, looking back, his signs were more subtle.  Maybe an example would be if he stubbed his toe on a toy the kids left in the hall he would kick it as hard as he could or pick it up and throw it.  Same if he was working on his golf, hunting, and/or fishing stuff and things weren’t going his way, he would “throw a fit” like a child, stomp around, slam doors, and/or break items in his wake of frustration.

Mechelle did leave him one night explaining to him that she has two kids and he is not one of them.  She went on to tell him that she is not his mom, she is not his maid, and she is not his babysitter and if he threw another fit and broke anything else in the house, she would leave him.  This did resonate with him some, for he never threw a fit like that again.  His laziness was not improved upon however.  And I can only deduce he held his frustration inside, seething, lying in wait.  We never truly know what evil lives in a man’s heart until it’s unleashed.

The story of my family passing from this world to the next is told in broken pieces compiled in the Calcasieu Parish police and autopsy reports.  The scenes that play like a nightmare over and over in my mind begin with my niece and nephew going to bed at their normal bedtime, 8:30 p.m.  Just like any other school night to them.  He waited until the kids were asleep and when he thought Mechelle was also asleep he took a .22 caliber pistol and shot her point blank in the chest. The first shot must have only startled Mechelle because she seemed to stand and confront him, struggling with him only to lose her battle when he forced her down onto the floor at the foot of their bed shooting her point blank in the chest again.  There on the floor at the foot of her bed my sister, the person who took up for me many times as a child, the person who tried her best to shield me from our father’s spankings, the person who I laughed and cried with over the years, the person who I held strong next to when we buried our mother, the person who loved me like only a big sister could, passed away and took our past, present and future with her.  She left this world so violently.  I imagine she thought about her kids and what they would do without their mother.  Little did she know they were next to die.  I imagine she thought about me and dad and how her death would be hard on us.  But above all of this, I imagine my sister was scared and was trying to fight to save her own life and to get to her kids, to protect them from this monster she never really knew at all.  Bottom line, she knew exactly what was happening to her and who was taking her life.

After he killed my sister, he then went to my niece, Scarlet’s room.  While she lay sleeping, he stole her future.  Two shots, point blank to the chest, they say her death was instant.

He made his way to my nephew’s room and as lil Scott lay sleeping his father shot him twice point blank in the chest.  It’s life gone in the blink of an eye.

Their lives were senselessly cut short, never to realize their futures.  Never to experience first kisses, proms, high school graduations, college, marriage, kids, and grandkids.  The longevity of their lives was decided for them by a coward, a monster, someone who did not hold children to be divine.

They could have been, anything they wanted, a pro football player, a writer, an artist, a musician, a doctor, a dentist, a social worker, a cop, a fireman, anyone, but it was all stolen from them.  They went to bed thinking of tomorrow never knowing they would not wake from their sleep.

Once he killed my family he collected all the bullet casings and lined them up neatly on his nightstand, walking over my sister to get there.  He then shut their bedroom door, knelt down with his back pressed up against the corner between the door and wall, holding a shot gun in his hands and between his knees- one shot and he was gone.

I quit my job.  For 4 months my grief paralyzed me.  All I could do was work in the yard and cry.  Clean the house and cry.  Run errands and cry.  I went through the motions of life during those four months, crying myself to sleep, crying when I woke, crying for my loss, and crying for theirs.  I never stayed in bed I suppose I was more of a functioning griever.  I was very angry.  I had trust issues. I was in therapy. I tried to find a group who had experienced what I had but only found people who had lost their loved ones to disease or old age.  It just was not the same kind of pain or hurt.

I went back to work (new job) in January of 2007.  I grieve daily in my heart.  It’s not as raw but the void remains.  I am forever changed.  My therapist told me that no matter what I think I could have done to save them, it’s highly unlikely it would have changed things.  That is still something I continue to battle inside.  I just don’t know.  I blame myself for not being more alert, even though my sister and I were very close and talked every day.  No topic was taboo, we shared everything.  Had she even known what he was capable of, things may have turned out differently.  However, the smallest of signs were there in hindsight.  Maybe we were too close to the situation to see them. Maybe we were just used to his jerk like behavior to see them.  Maybe we thought things like that happened to other family’s not ours.  Maybe because he was not physically violent toward Mechelle or the kids we thought he could never do such a thing.  We won’t know.  However, I hope this story sparks a light inside anyone who needs to ask the questions- Is he/she capable of harming my loved one or me? Do I need to be more alert when he/she tells me of a potentially questionable behavior exhibited by a person in their life?

Physical, mental, and/or verbal abuse is not a show of love.  It is arguably a chemical imbalance or personality disorder, or a learned behavior that is NEVER okay.  This issue is the sole problem of the person committing these violent abusive acts against you and has NOTHING to do with your self-worth.  Tell someone you trust, go to someone you trust, remove yourself from the situation or circumstance immediately.  If you feel you have no person to go to, go to your nearest shelter.  Remember domestic violence not only affects women and children but in some cases men are victims as well.  If you see a friend or loved one that could be in need, ask, be alert, HELP—- SAVE A LIFE!!

To donate under Dawne’s name in the Houston Area Women’s Center 24th annual Race Against Violence, please use the link below.

http://www.hawc.org/faf/donorReg/donorPledge.asp?ievent=1006320&lis=1&kntae1006320=976569E59F334971BCF112588471BCF8&supId=348617247

Until next time- when you have something to share, Stand Up, Speak Loud!

Fundraising update:

TO DONATE FOR THE 2013 RACE AGAINST VIOLENCE, PLEASE CLICK HERE:

http://hawc.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.participant&participantID=1063

TO JOIN THE 2013 YOUNG LEADERS TEAM, PLEASE CLICK HERE: 

http://hawc.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.team&teamID=5006

GO Stand Up, Speak Loud!

Posted January 30, 2012 by elleellewood in Uncategorized

Change   Leave a comment

Change

Change.  It’s an interesting concept that is talked about often.  To quote a country song, “the only thing that stays the same is that everything changes, everything chay-yane-ges” (yeehaw)!  It’s true.  Overtime, everything changes.  BUT what happens when it changes overnight, or in this case, minutes?

Sometimes when recalling stories on my life, I can easily pinpoint it to freshmen year of high school and before or sophomore year and after.  However, if you want to break it down even more, it was simpler than that.  It’s really broken down into before I got into the river that day and when I got out of the river that day.  A two-hour trip down the river defines the separation in my life.  The river changed me, immediately.

Who I felt I was had been shredded to the core.  I no longer felt like the same person.  The first thing I did was cut all of my hair off.  The second thing I did was cut all of my friends off.  Okay, not everyone, but there was this group of us at school, ten girls, that did everything together.  After that day, I separated myself from almost all of them.    I didn’t understand who I was, what I was going through.  I felt like an alien.  At this point, I was telling very few people what had happened to me.  If I pretended like things were normal and hung out with everyone, wouldn’t they be able to tell?  Wouldn’t they know I was no longer the same person?  Would they reject me out of embarrassment?  Would they think I was dirty?  Would they believe me?

Then came the physical changes.  I stopped doing my make-up in the morning and fixing my hair.  I left my uniform skirts un-hemmed and forget about any accessories, unless you consider a giant hemp necklace with matching rope sandals a fashion statement.  When you see people go through these changes or read about what these changes in appearance might mean for rape “victims”, the answers range from “matching how you feel on the outside to the inside” or “trying to look unattractive to men.”  In all honesty, I really just stopped giving a crap.  I simply didn’t care.  Getting through the day without crying or having a panic attack was a chore in itself.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again.  There are times when my parents described me as a “walking zombie”.  The lights were on and nobody was home.  For a brief period in time, I went to a psychologist rather than the Women’s Center.  This psychologist spent more time talking about how my depression may be stemming from something deep inside me from my childhood rather than the fact that HELLO?!?!, I just went through a rape!  So while I may tribute some of my “walking zombie” days to the ridiculous amount of anti-depressants she put me on (only making me shut down further), the main reason behind my secluded state was that I went through a trauma that changed my entire view on life. My mom was telling a story the other day (which I do not even remember) about when she would try to get me up for school.  Now, let’s be honest, we have all not wanted to get out of bed in the morning.  I remember times when I was in middle school or even my freshmen year of my parents where I just didn’t want to go to school.  I would scream at them to “Get out of my room!  Leave me alone!”  But, my mom described this as completely different and ultimately heartbreaking.  She would very gently come in my room telling me it was time to get up and go to school.  Most of the time I wouldn’t even look at her.  On the bad days, I wouldn’t even respond.  She said she would beg me, bribe me, do anything she could to get me out of bed.  On the few occasions I would meet her eyes, it would be with the most empty, blank expression she said she’d ever seen.  I wasn’t me anymore.

Looking back, there are so many chunks of time that I just don’t remember.  I can’t tell you how many stories my friend and family have recalled over the years, and especially in the last couple months that I’ve been writing this blog, that I just truly don’t remember.  It’s kind of a scary feeling, especially because they’re not all bad stories. Sometimes they are funny, vibrant memories that I should remember.  Memories that I have no reason to want to forget.  But they are gone, forever missing from my memory.

I don’t know why I don’t remember things.  I guess I never will.  Part of me thinks that my mind would just shut off sometimes.  The pain that I was going through was just too much.  I couldn’t adjust to all of this change that was happening within me so suddenly.  Overnight, I changed from an innocent teenager to, in my eyes at the time, nothing more than a rape victim.  The extremity of my emotions were so severe, the amount of change happening all at once, was too much for me to handle at the time.  So, at times, I simply just had to shut down.

Now, I’m definitely not a psychologist so I have no idea if that is what happened to me, but I do know that change is something I have struggled with so much since high school.  Once I find a routine, whether it is good or bad, it is so difficult for me to get away from it.  It’s like when something is no longer making me happy, it may take me much longer than I wish it did for me take those steps to be happy again.  Whether it’s relationships, friendships or anything of the sort, I have had the hardest time just walking away.  The thought of changing things that are familiar terrorized me.  Having to start something over or find something new was absolutely overwhelming.

For the past few years, I have always said that if I could go back and change the fact that I was raped, I wouldn’t.  It’s shaped me into who I am, it’s brought me down this life path, and dang it, I like me.  I like where I am in life.  I battled with my self-image for so long, but I made it through the war.  I’m here.  I’m safe. I’m loved.  I’m happy.

Through the self-reflection that came in this blog process, I realized how paradoxical me saying all of these things is if I am so afraid of change. Yes, change is hard.  Honestly, it sucks.  Usually, it gets worse before it gets better.  But one thing I try to say now is, “I would rather make this change now and be unhappy for a little bit, than unhappy for the rest of my life.”  At first this was just a statement I said, but now I really believe it.  I believe that I deserve to be happy and like I said in “So Emotional”, you can’t be happy without being sad.  Even though I believe it now, it doesn’t make it perfect.  It doesn’t make me want to pick through every aspect of my life that is not perfect and turn everything upside down in order to be happy.  That’s not what it is.  For me, it’s about taking a deep breath and knowing I can get through what is thrown my way.  It’s about knowing that I don’t want to live a stagnant life.  I want to be able to learn and grow and unfortunately, we can’t ever do that without change.

Right now, I am going through a lot of change both personally and professionally, and it’s not easy.  It’s really freaking hard.  However, I am doing everything I can to not let it overwhelm me.  In the grand scheme of things, these changes will continue to make me stronger.  It is something that I am faced with that I can fight or I can embrace.  When I finally chose to embrace the rape, and turn it into something positive, my whole life changed- for the good.  Even though it was the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through, it has played the biggest role into developing me into a more positive person, a person that no longer has to be afraid.  Most importantly, I’ve become a person that knows life, good and bad, is worth living and living well.

Until next time- when you have something to share, Stand Up, Speak Loud!

Fundraising update:

TO DONATE FOR THE 2013 RACE AGAINST VIOLENCE, PLEASE CLICK HERE:

http://hawc.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.participant&participantID=1063

TO JOIN THE 2013 YOUNG LEADERS TEAM, PLEASE CLICK HERE: 

http://hawc.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.team&teamID=5006

GO Stand Up, Speak Loud!

Posted January 22, 2012 by elleellewood in Uncategorized