When she has been hurt over again without committing a sin

Or: Tackling the “Repeat Victim” Phenomenon

How do we as a community, as leadership, as friends, and as acquaintances approach those who exhibit extraordinary risk-taking behavior and self-disregard?

I’ve been hesitant to write on this topic, as it is a sensitive subject for many, including myself. I feel like my insight is something that is important and valuable however, so I’m going to take the time to write a few thoughts.

I was at a convention a few years ago and I went to a class where the presenter introduced the concept of “repeat victims” as a counter-point to “repeat offenders.” The “repeat victim” was portrayed as someone who sought out, consciously or unconsciously, situations in which they would be abused or assaulted. Now, I will be transparent and say that I left this class about ten minutes into it, as I found it completely repulsive. I do not know what the content of the class was primarily about. I do not even remember what the title of the class was or who taught it. It’s not really important. What’s important to me is that I remembered this concept of the repeat victim. It stayed with me, haunted me, throughout my time in the kink scene, until I ultimately left. What’s important is that my friend, who was somewhat of a mentor to me in the scene, told me afterwards that he saw me leave and thought, “Now that’s a mistake, because if anyone needs to be hearing this lecture, it’s her.”

I was a repeat victim.

Let me expand upon that a little:

  • When I was seven, an older girl sexually abused me, which continued for about three years.
  • At sixteen, I was raped after getting wasted at a party where I knew almost no one.
  • When I was twenty, my first boyfriend told me I wasn’t allowed to have sex toys because it was cheating, despite the fact that he was “poly” and had another girlfriend; he made me bring him my sex toys, hundreds of dollars worth, so he could make sure they were thrown in the trash.
  • My next boyfriend raped me in my sleep several times, and my therapist at the time said it was normal for boyfriends to instigate sex while their girlfriend was asleep.
  • My first night in the scene, I had the inside of my brand new nipple piercing burned so badly that my top said he “smelled burning flesh” and it ultimately rejected. I had specifically told him during negotiation not to touch my new nipple piercings.
  • During a flogging, in which I had specified that we would be doing nothing but flogging, my top groped my breast, hard enough to bruise, and kissed me.
  • I received a back rub from a man at a club, and established that no play would happen after that. He then proceeded to grope me.
  • I was gaslighted for nine months by someone I was very close to.
  • I was raped by a girlfriend.

Now there are varying levels of intent involved in some of these anecdotes. For example, the man who gaslighted me for nine months understood exactly what he was doing, from before he started to after he finished. I consider him to have done something truly horrifying, and intentionally so. However, it is entirely likely that the men who groped me were playing fast and loose with consent, without preemptively considering whether or not they might be causing a violation.

The problem was that, from the age of seven, I was taught that what I wanted and didn’t want was not important. That was reiterated throughout my life, and I never really had an opportunity to learn otherwise. By the time I reached the scene, I was hurtling forward seeking pain without much consideration for safety, rolling with the punches as well as I could, and getting knocked down over and over and getting right back up, as I was so used to doing. It was my reality.

But more than that, I was determined to maintain my reality. I sought out risky situations, disregarded red flags, and refused to educate myself on how to protect myself from future injury. When injury did happen, I would inevitably say that I was entirely faultless, and that it’s the entire responsibility of offender not to offend. Honestly, the biggest problem with that attitude was that I kept getting hurt. I kept finding out who the people were who would bend or break the rules by diving headfirst into the most extreme situations with them and then being unprepared when they didn’t turn out the way I wanted them to.

I didn’t completely have my head in the clouds during this time, of course. I considered myself an edge player, and I told people who’d talk to me about my play style that I did not recommend they style their play after mine. I considered myself to be a practitioner of risk aware consensual kink, and I believed I had accepted the risks involved in pick up play and high-risk play. But I hadn’t, not really.  Because eventually everyone will make a  mistake, forget something, or bend the rules, especially in pickup play, and I wasn’t prepared to deal with that possibility.

A bottom has a responsibility to be proactive in maintaining their own safety, including preparing for such possibilities, just as a top has a responsibility to maintain consistent consent. These two things do not counteract each other. I am interested in the practical aspects of protecting oneself without detracting from the moral obligation tops have to value bottoms’ consent. When something does goes wrong, it’s entirely likely both or neither are responsible. Acknowledging that allows for a lot more conversation about how to move forward.

How did I eventually move forward, and cease to be a repeat victim? Well, I suffered a knee injury severe enough that I was wheelchair bound and thus expelled unceremoniously from the scene without so much as a goodbye. Oh, I clung to it as hard as I could for as long as I could, but eventually I let my grip go and I was free of the scene for over a year, only returning when I felt I was absolutely ready, physically, mentally, and emotionally.

During that time, I was forced to face not only mental health issues, but also physical health issues that had for a long time gone untreated, and had compounded upon each other. I also was faced with the fact that, outside of sexuality, I didn’t have a whole lot going for me. Only after I got my physical health, especially my neurological issues, under control was I able to face what until then I had been too ashamed to admit, even to myself: I was a repeat victim.

I had read The Gift of Fear at the suggestion of my boyfriend at the very early stages of my recovery. When I finally was ready to admit that I was a repeat victim, I returned to this book and faced down some of the things I had learned there, and instead of just accepting what was in this book as information, I instead worked on how to apply it to my life. I sometimes now come across as jaded or cynical about others’ motivations due to this, but I find it truly useful to recognize when and why to trust and distrust others’ motivations.

In addition, I spent a lot of time just doing shit. Reading, writing, making art, talking with friends, going to concerts and events, and essentially, becoming a better-rounded human being, and making the decision to do these things on my own. This I think, more than anything else, is what changed me from being a repeat victim. It may seem silly, but developing a sense of self outside of one singular community, and learning to define oneself independently is essential to learning how to self-advocate.

My question becomes then, what does one do when you suspect someone you care about is a repeat victim?

I consider classes such as the one I went to, but how are we to keep them from leaving, as I did? And even if they did stay, there is a good chance that they would simply hear the information and not apply it, as I had with other classes on negotiation. Are we simply to shut these people out of the scene for their own good? I don’t know if that would be effective either, or if it would just lead them to riskier behaviors elsewhere, after feeling rejected by one of the few communities that might accept them. Is intervention the way to go? Or would an intervention just cause defensiveness and anger?

I don’t have answers for these questions, and I welcome the opinions of anyone who has helped such people before. It seems to me that, as with many things, change is only possible when one recognizes there is a problem. However, I question if there is a way to push someone to see that there is a problem when they are otherwise unwilling.

I request that all comments be made with compassion; any comments made with the intention of cruelty or flippancy will be deleted. I also request that comments be focused towards the topic of how we as a community, as leadership, as friends, and as acquaintances can approach those for whom we are concerned regarding extraordinary risk taking behavior.

Mara Passio

You’ll be thinking of me

Today, a close friend of mine made a post about a comment I made to her that really made an impact, and I thought I’d write a bit more about it at length.

What I had mentioned to her was a concept called forced intimacy. This is a type of manipulation where an acquaintance shares very intimate information with another person in order to create a false sense of closeness, usually soon after meeting. After sharing said information, the acquaintance then proceeds to expect said closeness to be reciprocated, either with personal information shared or with emotional support from the other party.

These situations usually feel uncomfortable for the individual being manipulated, as they feel that they have not established this intimacy through the time and effort that usually is required for that level of sharing/support/etc. and yet they feel guilt because they now feel obligated to respond by the other person’s vulnerability. This is exactly how the person who overshares wants them to feel. What then proceeds from such relationships is often a highly intense relationship that is not based on trust or common bond, but rather on heightened emotions, requiring every interaction to have high intensity in order to be maintained.

I’ll give an example of an experience that I went through recently, where I encountered forced intimacy:

I went to a support group for one of my disabilities, and afterwards, an individual caught up with me afterwards, alone, and started chatting with me about some things I had said in said support group, including the fact that I am autistic and bipolar. They then proceeded to tell me at length about how they had supported a past partner through grad school, who then proceeded to leave them after graduation. They told me about how this partner had bipolar disorder, and told me at length about the partner’s mental health issues. At several points I tried to cut the conversation short, asked no questions, and only gave noncommittal responses.

Eventually this person, after sharing with me for over an hour, switched the conversation over to attempting to extract information from me, about my dating life, about my diagnoses, about my treatment, etc. At this point, I did manage to extract myself, but this person did follow me and continued talking at me until I reached my car, at which point I finally made my escape.

Now, I had done, to my knowledge, nothing to indicate that I had any interest in having a conversation with this person besides perhaps a polite smile and nod, and had not directly spoken to them during the meeting. They had likely chosen me because I was new, and thus likely looking for connections.

Now, let me be clear, I have no idea whether this person did these things understanding what they were doing, or whether they were behaving manipulatively out of habit, as so many of us do. Many people, especially those with mental health issues, behave in manipulative ways in order to get the support they need because they have learned that is the only way that they can acquire it (at least in the form they want, which may be via friends, and not therapists).

I am by no means saying that all manipulators are people who are social puppeteers who know exactly what they are doing when they are doing it and have some big end game in mind; in fact, I would say the majority of manipulators are the exact opposite of this. I would say most manipulators know what they want for the next few steps; they know how to get from Point A to Point B. But this sort of manipulation is still unhealthy at best and abusive at worst.

Becoming aware of manipulative behaviors is an incredibly eye-opening experience, and coming to understand that we all, in fact, behave manipulatively at points has motivated me to become a more genuine person. As much as I may seem to others to be mistrusting or cynical, I believe that learning to see manipulation as it is and to learn not to respond to it, and, in fact, to reject and avoid it, will not only improve my quality of life, but will encourage others to learn to behave in ways that are less manipulative and more genuine in order to get what they want from me.

Mara Passio

Where do you get dreams like this?

It is the day after Easter Sunday and I’m thinking about redemption.

I’m not a religious person by nature. Something about this holiday struck a chord with me.

I believe in redemption. That may seem like a strange thing to say, like redemption is a matter of faith. But for me, it is.

I am reading a series of novels right now by Stephen R Donaldson called The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, which is a story of redemption. It features a man who has been plagued – but not overcome – with leprosy. He is a man who was once a beautiful human, turned wretched – physically, emotionally, and spiritually – by illness. He lost everything to leprosy, first in the physical realm – his wife, his child, any social ties – and then he pushed himself to become almost mechanical, nearly sub-human, in order to survive.

Early in the first book of this series, Lord Foul’s Bane, Thomas Covenant commits an act so atrocious that I – as a reader – was not sure I could forgive him. I’m still not sure I have. And yet, somehow, the characters in the book maintain faith that there is good within him. They hold not only to their precept of peace, but the majority of them somehow forgive him.

I have not finished the series, but I believe Covenant will be redeemed.

I’m afraid I am on a similar journey to Covenant. Although there is no singular event to pinpoint as the height of my instability and grotesque illness, I have definitely been near where Covenant was. For Covenant, he was not dead, but on the brink of dying, and fighting to stay on life’s edge of death. For myself, I was not dead, but on the brink of living, and unsure what side of death I wanted to be on. We both made ourselves sub-human, for a time. And in becoming sub-human, we immersed ourselves in self-loathing.

My story of redemption has sat squarely in the realm of allowing myself to be vulnerable, uncomfortable, and honest. A big part of this, I realize, is accepting that, while I have a unique set of life experiences, this does not mean others cannot engage with me as a whole person. I do not have to pare down myself into bite-size chunks and only dole out the ones that I think people want, hoarding the rest to go rotten.

I struggle to write on the topic of the redemption of others, as I have much more fear that it may not be universal, redemption. I fear that redemption is not available to all. It is a fear that sits deep in my chest. But in the end, I choose to have faith. I have faith in redemption. I guess, in the end, I have faith in myself. In humanity. In the world.

Mara Passio

We live in deeds, not years; in thoughts, not breaths

There’s a version of me that only exists in past tense. I think that’s true for everyone, but I realized recently that the difference is much more stark within me than it is within many. My past tense is a stranger towards whom I reach, simultaneously trying to pull inwards and push away. The realization that I cannot become who I once was is viciously painful. Sometimes I wish to forget that I have a past tense, as I realize more and more that the virtues I hold dear were stronger in me past tense.

There’s a version of me that only exists in the present tense. I came to the realization that I do not like who I am, present tense. And I have not liked who I am in the present tense for a while. This is not a new realization; it’s one I come to every few weeks, and I make changes and hope for the best and those changes stick or they don’t and I still don’t like myself present tense.

There’s a version of me that only exists in future tense. I’m not sure this is true for everyone, but it’s true for me, and it seems that my future tense is so wildly separate from my present tense that it could be a whole different person. My future tense has all of my emotional and physical limitations, but none of the character flaws. When building my future tense I didn’t plan to continue being unhappy with who I am.

I don’t believe I can reach my future tense until I become happy with who I am present tense, but I do not believe that has to or should involve giving up my values in order to find peace with my faults that I find intolerable and unethical. I also have come to the painful but necessary realization that the flaws I dislike about myself, others dislike about me as well.

I have become my illnesses. I have become narcolepsy. I have become bipolar disorder. I have become arthritis. I have become chronic pain. I have become post-traumatic stress disorder. I have become sickness. My personality is Unwell. And I am not proud. I am utterly ashamed.

I try to have empathy with myself, to realize that my life for the past few years has been a barrage of injury and illness. And on a level, I do understand that there is a reason I became the way I am. What that does not mean, however, is that I am excused to continue dwelling in despondent self-loathing. I am no longer excused from trying. And I don’t just mean trying on my own behalf. Trying means working to understand others. Trying means cooperation. Trying means being willing to be uncomfortable. And on a larger scale, trying means trying to work to improve the world as I see myself capable.

To be clear, I do not seek to divorce myself from my body, or from my illnesses. What I do seek is to divorce myself from the idea that my illnesses culminate into the total of my self. I have chronic illness, and I cannot and will not act otherwise. However, I am also a human being outside and alongside my illness, and these aspects of my self require time and space to thrive.

My future tense is a very long way away, and to be honest, I will always have some of my character flaws, although they may be smaller, more manageable shadows of the hulking barriers I currently have. Eventually though, my future tense may become my present tense. And in my future tense, I like myself uncompromising. If none of the rest of my future tense becomes my present tense, I dearly hope that I can one day like myself, present tense.

Although we’re apart, you’re a part of my heart

Long after he left me for good, I’ve spoken with him. I’ve cried on his shoulder, long after I knew that would never happen again. I’ve lain in bed with him in a home he never entered.

These visions became a torment I did not understand. I called them flashbacks. But I was not reliving traumas, not exactly. I was living new traumas, or new versions of old traumas, and I didn’t understand how it could be possible.

I began to fear the space between sleep and wake. A space I didn’t realize not everyone even experienced. Before and after sleep I’d lay my head on his shoulder again and listen to the horrible things he thought of me. As I’d slowly fade into full sleep, I’d absorb his words and feel his chest rising and falling under my cheek.

Sometimes even I wouldn’t realize I was in the space between. I’d have terror-filled visions on my commute home of him getting on the train and casually standing beside me, ignoring me but invading my safety nonetheless.

When I consider my recovery from the gaslighting I experienced at his hands, I think – I know – that these unwelcome visions just furthered the gaslighting for me. The purpose of gaslighting is to convince the victim that they are insane, and I truly believed that, if I hadn’t been insane before I met him, I was absolutely insane after. I believed he had caused me to detach from reality.

Thinking about these times makes me so angry. I think about how, if I had only known that I had narcolepsy, if Ihad only known, I might have been able to make peace with these horrific visions. At least I would have known that he had not succeeded in driving me mad. It would have helped to know that what I was experiencing was not a result of anything he’d done to me, but a result of a neurological condition. Sure, I was probably hallucinating him in particular due to PTSD from the abuse at his hands, but the hallucinations themselves were not caused by his torment.

I fear constantly, though, to this day, that I will be visited by him again. I still see him, on occasion. I still fall asleep sometimes convinced I am wrapped in his arms. Sometimes I myself can’t tell the difference between a flashback and a hallucination, because sometimes I can’t remember if something had happened before or not. Narcolepsy has blurred the lines of reality in my post-traumatic stress disorder, and that is a terrifying fact to behold.

I don’t know if I’ll ever have a life where I know I’ll never see him again, even in my dreams. On a level I am resigned to it, and on another level, I am angry, incredibly angry, and afraid. I feel helpless against the half-sleeping dreams that plague me, and I do not know if I will ever be free.

Mara Passio

Heavy thoughts tonight and they aren’t of Snow White

This a non-narcolepsy post and is a response to:  http://nytlive.nytimes.com/womenintheworld/2015/11/10/the-righteous-rage-of-margaret-cho/

My philosophy is, “murder the rapist in your mind so you stop killing yourself.” I’ve seen, in my lifetime, that sexual abuse has turned into self-abuse. When I kill the rapist inside of me, I will stop killing myself.

I want to murder my abuser. I want to cleanse myself of him. I’ve never been the kind of person to fantasize about harming another person, and I’ve never gotten to the point where I thought about how I would kill my abuser. If I could wish upon him a heart attack, though, I would in an instant. Without hesitation.

I’ve never viewed it before as him being inside me though. I’ve always viewed it as him being an outside force that is just constantly present around me, suffocating me, like a bag over my head. But when I look at what she writes, I realize he is inside me, because I let him in, over a year ago, and I want him to die because I’d rid myself of his influence.

I recently started thinking about moving to a new city, and I still think it’s a good idea, but part of the reason I wanted to, was to escape him, escape the memories and the fear and the possibility of meeting someone who knows someone who knows someone who knows him. I want to exterminate him from my life because I cannot exterminate him from the planet.

In the video, there’s a group of girls and women who are learning to fight and are chasing down their rapist. I want a team. I want a team of powerful women who’ve survived hells like mine and who can teach me how to survive. I feel like, despite my many traumas, I am still a novice survivor. More victim.

I am killing myself with self-abuse and neglect. I don’t consider myself worth caring for because he didn’t consider me worth caring about. I need to destroy the abuserv that has remained in my head, that I didn’t even realize was there. I need to destroy my abuser turned inward. I need to take my bag off of my own head.

Mara Passio

We fray into the future

I don’t remember 2015 very well.

My first impulse is to go through each solitary memory individually, and reflect upon it, as they are sparse enough that I would be able to do so in one writing, but I realized upon attempt that this was simply grasping at random memories trying to make sense of the whole, instead of attempting to look at the whole and make sense of it as it is.

The year 2015 was a year of letting go, and a year of learning hard lessons.

In winter I let go of the kink scene in Chicago. It had become the most toxic thing in my life, and I had clung to it until my body literally would not allow me. I spent the majority of winter recovering from knee surgery, slowly progressing from a wheel chair, to a walker, to a cane, to walking unaided. I surprised even myself by weaning myself off of the narcotic pain medications long before I ran out, and relying only on anti-inflammatory medications throughout the vast majority of my recovery.

In the spring I muddled through my last semester at SAIC. It was complicated, to say the least. As it turns out I had been struggling for the past several years with undiagnosed narcolepsy, and this year I was in a capstone class that I desperately wanted to succeed in. It seemed, to my dismay, that the harder I worked, the more I slept. It became this vicious cycle of working throughout the week and then sleeping through class, or sleeping through the week in order to make it to class. Similar things were happening with my performance class, only in a lot of ways worse on two fronts: the work was physically demanding, and I had my job immediately afterwards. Now, the work being physically demanding actually helped me stay awake during the class, but having my job immediately afterwards made it nearly impossible for me to succeed at both simultaneously. I ended up leaving that job quite suddenly, after having been one of their star employees for four years.

I managed to walk at graduation at SAIC with 3 credits left to complete. This was the plan; I was going to take an additional art history over the summer to complete my credits and then I would receive my BFA. I gladly signed up for an online art history class at my community college, along with an accounting class, my backup plan.

Over the summer one of my closest friends, who would become my boyfriend, moved in with me. He had always challenged me, but now, in close quarters, he seemed to notice everything that wasn’t working, and challenged me to change it. Soon after he moved in, I started on a new medication, which vastly improved my mental health. It was like night and day. I was still tired all the time, but I was motivated, and happy.

As it turned out, SAIC decided to reduce the number of required credit hours, and so I ended up not needing to take the art history class, and I retroactively graduated.

I found a job at Goodwill. I won’t go in-depth about that except that it was a bad experience, and their attitude changed towards me instantly the moment I asked them for an accommodation for my knee injury. I worked there for a total of two weeks, and then was put on a leave of absence.

Soon after I started working at Petco, and while it was hard work, I loved it there. I wasn’t good at it at first, but I learned and I made good friends and I respected everyone who worked there.

In early fall, my boyfriend moved back with his family in Virginia, so he could finish his schoolwork without the pressure of job hunting and rent.

I don’t remember the fall very well at all to be honest. It basically consisted of medical issues and me failing to take care of myself until I absolutely had to. Most of what I do remember is because I wrote it down as it was happening.

I was constantly re-injuring my knee, to the point that popping and sudden pain became familiar parts of my week. I started seeing a pain specialist for my back pain, an issue that had been affecting me for over ten years. I finally had an MRI done, something all my other doctors had refused to do, and they found osteoarthritis and bone spurs in my back. They gave me several injections in my back and hips along with several sessions of radiofrequency ablation to help manage the pain. Usually I’d go straight from a doctor’s appointment where I’d had my nerves literally killed with heat to go work for an 8-hour shift on my feet. My narcolepsy hadn’t gone away either. It was easier because I was active most of the day, but whenever I got really stressed out, I would start to lose my muscle strength, and felt the need to sit down suddenly, like my legs would give out. Sometimes I even felt like I’d fall asleep if I was really stressed. I thought I was on the verge of passing out, but it turns out it was something much more complicated.

My boyfriend was constantly pushing me to take better care of myself. I just never seemed ready to listen, or didn’t think it was possible to both take care of myself and do my job.

I brought my beautiful ferrets into my life, their names are Briar, Larkspur, and Iris. They are a big handful, and I adore them. I treasure every second with them.

Eventually I quit my job at Petco, finding another job quickly in the two weeks that I had given notice. This new job was seated, on the phone, everything I preferred to do about Petco with none of the physical demands that were injuring me constantly. I still work there now, and I still enjoy it.

Over the last few weeks of 2015, I was given a preliminary diagnosis of narcolepsy, with more definitive diagnosis coming up on January 15th. Since then I’ve been doing a lot of research into it and it’s like seeing myself described by someone else when I read the description of narcolepsy.

I haven’t made photographic artwork since I graduated SAIC, and that has been a major source of frustration for me this past year, but I see myself using my experience of health as a major source of inspiration for future work. My main goal for 2016 is to take care of myself, wholly. And that means taking care of my physical health, which is most pressing, but also taking care of my spiritual health by making art, and continuing to maintain my mental health that I’ve worked so hard for these past seven years.

Mara Passio