“Love the Way You Lie”

I first listened to this song a few weeks ago, and it’s really been sticking with me. On top of the facts that I’ve harbored a long-time appreciation for Eminem as a sort of guilty pleasure and Rihanna’s chorus is catchy and sung beautifully as always, I’m a one-time survivor and currently navigating my way through a relationship-turned-nonrelationship much like the one addressed in the song (second-time survivor-to-be?).

The song lyrics and video illustrate so perfectly situations and peculiarities I’ve experienced with both of my abusive relationships. The first one was completely one-sided–more like the circumstances the character Tommy on True Blood grew up in. My abuser completely obliterated what little sense of self I had going into the relationship and left me honestly believing I deserved all his vitriol and poison, and the first time I tried to get away, I spent two weeks completely lost and confused, not knowing what to do without him there and feeling completely unable to take care of myself alone. It’s so difficult to get someone who hasn’t experienced at least something similar to even come close to understanding, and even then, no one I’ve known has expressed to me that they were in the same boat in the past, so I’m more assuming the people who’ve dealt with similar are relating on some level.

A dependency so consuming and intense characterized that relationship. I literally did not exist outside the abuse, and that is what made it impossible to leave the first time. How could I leave if I was nothing on my own? It wasn’t until I met someone who gave me the vibe that it was possible to have a relationship where I was my own person, a good person, worthy of respect and care and appreciation simply for who I was and not what I did or didn’t do, how well I obeyed and cooperated, or how utterly self-sacrificing I was, that I was able to finally end the relationship and get away from the abuse.

It is a bit scary, looking back, because honestly if it wasn’t for that truly good person who opened my eyes to the possibility and instilled a sense of hope that I could have something genuinely kind, I don’t know how long I would have stayed… I don’t think I could have left him on my own. I was so weakened by the abuse, and I was absolutely not one of those women who could pick herself up off of the floor and just leave, alone and groundless, out of sheer determination to escape the cruelty.

Even now, I’ll say how much I realize I don’t deserve anything like that, and have marginally removed myself from bad situations, I’m once again caught in the cycle of abuse. It’s even scarier knowing that I recognize this and still entertain the idea of not cutting all ties and making my escape.

Embedded in all the drama, pain, hurtful words, and hardhearted treatment is an intense passion. Embodied in the line “Maybe that’s what happens when a tornado meets a volcano” is the power of the interaction between us. While I have never been an instigator–at least not intentionally–and definitely still have a tendency to defer to an abuser, being self-sacrificing and obedient even when my heart isn’t truly in it, I have gotten better about standing up for myself and have used my penchant for observing idiosyncracies and picking up on the things people are truly sensitive about in order to push buttons when I’ve had enough. I honestly don’t like being that way, but it seems to be the only way I can manage to cope when I feel like I’m being attacked and mistreated. It’s become intoxicatingly cathartic to respond with meanness and hate when I’m being subjected to the abuse. I quite simply don’t have it in me to be violent and can’t see that ever happening because even when struck I don’t have the drive to fight back, but I can be just as vicious with words.

This obviously isn’t healthy, and the fact that I keep forgiving it all and even vaguely consider going back honestly disgusts me. I feel trapped in the same situation as my first abusive relationship–I don’t know if I can ever truly move on without something beyond my own will to pull me away. It certainly doesn’t help that there would be a benefit to going back, something I’m increasingly desperate to have. I know how much of a bad idea it all is, prolonging the situation and incessantly ignoring the truly awful in light of the bits of good.

My inability to get away from these situations on my own and my seemingly terrible luck (a full two-thirds of my relationships have been abusive, odds that are heartily discouraging to me for future relationships) are starting to jade me. Of course, I’m an impossibly hopeful person, so I doubt it could ever become my default state of being to anticipate any relationship turning this dreadfully sour, but it certainly lowers my desire to pursue anything close.

You ever love somebody so much you can barely breathe when you’re with ’em?
You meet and neither one of you even know what hit ’em
Got that warm fuzzy feeling, yeah, them those chills you used to get ’em
Now you’re getting fucking sick of looking at ’em

That’s how it went both times. Wonderful to start and then blindsided by the bad. It makes me feel like there’s no way to avoid it; that any relationship, no matter how amazing it is to start, has the potential to turn into something just as destructive.

So I’ve developed a habit of being detached. I just don’t know that it’s really the way I want to be…

My Struggle With Eating Disorders, Part II

To pick up where Part I left off, I made my way to begin anew in San Francisco…

It all started off quite swimmingly. The entire environment in California, even Northern Cali where there aren’t really any beaches and generally the scene isn’t that stereotypical sunny, OC, blondes-in-bikinis thing, encourages a healthier lifestyle. At least from my experience. All the hills in San Fran kept me active (I don’t drive, and have always had this mentality of even $1.25 for a bus ride is more than the FREE that walking costs ;P), and living with my non-cooking aunt meant tempting things were never around at home to test my resolve to abstain from bingeing.

I ate reasonably healthy things whenever I was hungry for about the first month or so, but then I succumbed to my long days at work with often no real breaks and returned to the habit of not really eating anything. I managed to drop about 30lbs in the first few months I was there, and by the time Thanksgiving was approaching, I was subsisting on two coffees a day and nothing more.

Around Halloween, I’d met a few people my age–the only people my age within the city that I’d befriend in any way the whole time I lived in SF–and got a bit worked up over something related to them. Between my growing inability to cope with experiencing any sort of emotional ups and downs and the feast that was available to me at the Thanksgiving dinner I was invited to, that uncontrollable desire to just eat anything until I was stuffed to bursting kicked in again.

It never quite got as bad in San Francisco as it had during University, the whole mindless bingeing thing. There were definitely days I was seriously out of control, but probably the combination of regular work and lots of travelling kept me somewhat grounded. It’s impossible to ignore the reality of day-to-day living when you HAVE to go to work or you HAVE to get on a plane. I simply didn’t have the option of bingeing to the point of stupor and laying in bed recovering for days like I did my last year of Uni.

I had good days and bad days, good weeks and bad weeks, and fluctuated within a 15lb range for the majority of my time in Fog City. Then I met the guy who ultimately was the driving force behind me coming here to Australia. We were insanely active together, and for the first time in years, I wasn’t thinking nearly as much about food and my weight and appearance. Part of it was probably that I simply didn’t have time to stress over it, with all the activities I was getting up to: a multi-day road trip from Portland, Oregon to Flagstaff, Arizona; many trips between San Fran and Portland; visiting Australia for the first time; buying a boat… I was more absorbed in life than my eating disorder.

Of course, I had to break my foot just as it was going so well. Compounding that obstacle was the fact that it happened shortly after he was laid off and came to live with me in San Francisco. We both, therefore, had way too much time to sit around and do a whole lot of nothing with far too easy access to food. I’ve always had a horrible habit of eating like the people around me do, and his metabolism is insane. He can put away food like there’s no tomorrow, has a penchant for things like potato chips and Domino’s pizza, and doesn’t easily gain weight. I, however, have a completely screwed up metabolism from years of suffering from anorexia, so even looking at junk food can send it straight to my hips.

After three full months of being laid-up in bed with a severely broken foot and giving in to the temptations of junk food, heavy meals, and home delivery, I’d put on nearly 40lbs. It was quite devastating. I felt more disgusting then than I ever did at even my heaviest weight. Surely, the fact that I had more time to reflect on it didn’t help.

Once I was back on my feet, though, I was determined once more to actually get healthy. That’s when I moved to Australia, and as far as weight control is concerned, it’s been the best place for me my entire life. I’ve eaten quite reasonably the entire time I’ve lived here, sometimes a bit more than I need to, sometimes a bit less, never fasting like I did in University. I took up really hardcore exercising again, and basically got into the best shape of my life. After about nine months of living here, I’d worked off all the weight I’d gained while incapacitated, and I’ve maintained quite well since.

Unfortunately, I don’t feel like I’ve recovered, as much as my behavior and appearance might seem like it. The reason is, the mental processes are still there. It’s a genuine FIGHT to eat enough and not overdo exercising. And a lot of the isolating and deceptive habits I developed while at the mercy of full-blown anorexia persist.

At it’s core, an eating disorder is about lies. Lies you tell yourself, and lies you tell other people. Thoughts in your head telling you horribly untrue things about food, exercise, your appearance, and what other people must be thinking. Behaviors and statements you use to deceive people into believing you couldn’t possibly have those thoughts on your mind.

From the lies, isolation comes into play. In practice, it’s easier to give in to the disorder the less time you spend around other people. While psychologically it’s much harder, because the isolation breeds even more extreme entrenchment in the disordered thinking and eating, at least you don’t have to be weaving tangled webs of explanations. It becomes a truly vicious cycle, the thoughts leading to the desire to give in leading to isolating yourself from other people leading to even more thoughts and more desire and more isolation and so on…

I still have a lot of issues with eating, whether or not I’m spending time with other people. Anytime I’m faced with a situation where I can’t avoid eating with others, it’s impossibly intimidating (unless I’m drunk). I have absolutely ZERO tolerance for people obviously monitoring my food, and actual comments about what I’m making, eating, or not eating are about the worst thing for me psychologically. I have to try hard enough as it is to not overthink food because it’s the biggest trigger for me to either binge or fast, and if someone specifically draws attention to it, I can’t escape the inevitable train of disordered thinking.

Additionally, I still have problems with the lies. It kind of goes hand-in-hand with the food-monitoring thing. I can’t NOT lie about what I’ve eaten or not eaten when faced with direct inquiries. The vast majority of people just don’t get what I live with every day, being someone who still suffers from an eating disorder. There are very few people that I can converse with completely honestly about anything related to food without it dropping a nuclear bomb on my thought processes.

I’m hoping that finally putting it out there, a lot of the things I’d kept to myself these past few years, might help a bit with that. However, I’m quite convinced that even after reading these past two entries here, it’s not enough for someone to really grasp what I’ve been through if they haven’t experienced an eating disorder firsthand. At least maybe if some people in my life are aware that I’m still struggling, that every day is a fight to not give in to fasting or bingeing, they’ll be more sensitive about the things they say to me.

That’s really the best thing that could happen for me at the stage I’m in right now. The few people who I feel completely comfortable eating around and talking with about the nitty-gritty is enough. Everyone else, I just want them to be completely unconcerned. The less I feel pressured, the less I’m tempted to lie, the less I’m made hyper-aware of food and my habits, the better.

It would be truly nice if I could someday reach a point where none of this is affecting me anymore, but in the meantime, I’m happy I’ve made baby steps at recovering. I’m happy I’ve maintained weight for nine whole months for the first time in several years. I’m happy that I can actually think seriously about recovering for the first time EVER, even if I’m still not there.

Everything in time.

My Struggle With Eating Disorders, Part I

I was going to write about performing, since it’s something I’m considering getting back into when I return to NY for however long, but reading things around the Internet changed my mind. I haven’t ever written at length about my struggle with eating disorders–only ever a single entry in my LiveJournal years ago when I first admitted to myself that I was anorexic.

Growing up, I was always the Chubby One. As far back as both I can remember and have pictures to document, I was plump. It’s excusable when you’re very young–the whole baby fat thing, and generally people do grow out of it, but for some reason I was still conscious of my weight. Even as little as my 5-year-old Kindergarten self (with a September birthday, I was always young for my grade level), I can remember looking at the other girls in class and envying their thinner-than-I-was state. There was one girl whose mother bought her the smallest size pantyhose she possibly could (as I’m sure pantyhose are only made for people ostensibly at least grown enough to be in High School, even the smallest size was baggy on her), and for some reason I came to associate the right to wear pantyhose–apparently a marker for “fashion” in my 1988, Kindergarten mind–with being thin and thus, being beautiful. Since I only ever got to wear little-girl tights, and I was most definitely thicker than this girl who was so fashionable with her tiny knobby knees and saggy pantyhose, I felt awkward, unpretty, and fat. At 5. How I came to think about these things at only 5, how I had any awareness at all of fat-versus-thin, how I already associated fat with bad at just 5 years of age, I have no idea. But I did, and I hated being fat.

Since I’m now 26, that makes over two decades of criticizing my body. Since I can’t really remember much of anything before Kindergarten, it’s essentially my entire life–I honestly can’t remember not feeling fat or otherwise displeased with something about my body. Even now, while third-party opinion has confirmed my hotness for years, and I will most certainly go on about being damn sexy and confident and mean it, I still compulsively weigh myself and critique various “trouble spots” on a daily basis.

I’ve tried to be accepting over the years. Considering it’s how I always was until after I started college, I did eventually reach a point where I just gave in to being fat–resolved that it’s how I was meant to be and should just deal with it. I’d tried exercising, dieting, willing the fat to go away, anything to be “thin” and “beautiful.” The only good thing about my first relationship was the fact that he never complained about my weight or told me I should be thinner. Oh, he definitely had criticisms of my body, but at least I felt okay being fat. Not happy, mind you, by any stretch. But at least relatively accepting of it.

When I had to do a physical before starting college, that’s when things changed dramatically for me. Stepping on the scale and seeing 250lbs was truly an eye-opener. Aware of the fact that my dad had his first heart attack at the devastatingly young age of 32, I did not want to wind up in that same boat–even if my vitals were otherwise all healthy (which they were), the clinically obese weight I was at meant it was frighteningly likely I’d suffer a similar fate if I didn’t do anything about it.

So armed with the best weight-management advice I ever received, even to this day (“Only eat when you’re hungry”), I started on a quest to get to a healthy weight. It began very well–I ate reasonably healthy choices and limited my eating only in the sense of that mantra: any sort of food was fair game, but it would only cross my lips if I was actually hungry. Over the course of my first year eating mindfully as opposed to mindlessly, I managed to lose a very healthy and respectable 80lbs. I wasn’t counting calories, exercising excessively, or otherwise thinking about it much at all. I simply asked myself anytime I went to eat something: Am I genuinely hungry right now, or just reaching for this food because it’s there?

It was over the course of the next year that things started to go downhill. Still, it wasn’t a very dramatic decline, but it laid the foundation for what became anorexia. It started with actually counting calories. My weight loss had plateaued a bit, so I had looked into how I could make a change to jump-start it again. I came across advice on calorie-counting and daily limits. Diet tips suggesting limiting yourself to 1500 calories a day when wanting to lose weight, so I began to do that. Being a type-A, perfectionist personality, it was a breeze for me. The counting and tallying and planning was like second nature and became actually comforting as the realizations of the extent of abuse I’d suffered during my first relationship hit me and the emotional roller-coaster of a long-distance relationship that ultimately failed took its toll. The numbers were sanctuary. In a world that was seemingly getting out-of-control and overwhelming, I found security in keeping track of my calorie intake and religiously abiding by my daily limit.

My weight started to drop again, and I started to really challenge myself. Rather than adhering to the new 1500-calorie rule, I started to see how little I could get by on and how long I could go without eating. During this year, it never got too severe. The littlest I ever ate in a day was about 800 calories, and I never, ever went a full day without eating anything. While it was the beginning of transitioning from healthy, aware eating to disordered eating, I only slowly dropped another 30lbs. By the end of my Sophomore year in college, I weighed a very-healthy-for-my-height 140lbs, and I decided that I should make an effort to stop losing and start maintaining.

Unfortunately, the satisfaction of seeing the number on the scale going down had taken hold, and an unfathomable fear of regaining the weight crept in. I found it impossible to convince myself to eat more than 1500 calories a day, and I began to exercise (lightly) most days of the week in an effort to make sure my weight wouldn’t go up again. I was literally mortified of being faced with the temptation to eat more than my self-imposed limits, and meals had to be concretely planned in advance. If an invitation to go out to a restaurant wasn’t extended or anticipated at least a day in advance, I would refuse. I’d gotten so strict with my eating that a surprise meal out couldn’t be compensated for in my plan unless I was aware of it well in advance. I became the Queen of excuses–I’d just eaten, I’d be eating with friends later, it was too close to when I’d be working out/dancing/otherwise doing something physical, I simply wasn’t hungry, those two little bites did indeed fill me up, etc. etc.

Maintaining didn’t work, and by the end of my Junior year I weighed a shocking–at 5’9″–120lbs. I’d had a couple of minor binges at Thanksgiving and Christmas and my first mini-fasts of a couple of days with no food afterwards, but for the most part I made a point of eating an excruciatingly well-planned 2,000 calories a day during that year. I just made up the difference with an unbelievably intense workout schedule: during the second semester, I was spending a minimum of 7 hours a week in competitive ballroom dance practice, along with at least six solid hours in one of the campus gyms every week, and that was in addition to all of the walking I did around campus (I utterly refused to use campus buses, no matter the weather, and took every opportunity to make the trek back to my dorm room during the day between classes–at least a 20-minute walk each way, depending which class I was going to). It’s really no wonder with that level of activity that 2,000 calories still wasn’t enough to maintain my weight.

The summer before Senior year is when I really started bingeing and subsequently fasting. At some point my body just rebelled, and I spent a night eating everything I could get my hands on until I was so bloated and sick to my stomach, I literally couldn’t fit another bite in. Admittedly, it was nowhere near the amount of food a long-time bulimic is capable of consuming, since my stomach had shrunk considerably from my constant under-eating. It was enough to send me into a guilt-ridden tailspin, though, and I went the next few days taking in nothing but water. My weight balanced out, but my sanity deteriorated, and a cycle of days where I’d eat something normal and suddenly have to eat everything I could find followed by as many days as I could stand not eating a thing began.

Despite the frequent compensatory fasting, I managed to put back on about 15lbs that summer. While officially just barely back into the healthy range for my height, I felt absolutely revolting–both with respect to my eating and my fuller (but still extremely thin) shape. I vowed that returning to campus meant returning to controlled eating, and I succeeded. The first three weeks I was back, I ate only once a week. After that, I resumed daily, but severely restricted, eating. By the end of November I had not only dropped all of the weight I’d gained over the summer but even more, down to my lowest and most-truly-emaciated weight of 113lbs. If it wasn’t for the fact that being on birth control ensured I got a period, I met all of the diagnostic criteria for anorexia.

During finals, my body took control again and I returned to the cycle of bingeing-and-fasting. I’d get out of my mind with the desire to eat something, anything as a result of being so deprived, and I would. I’d make up excuses to go on long walks and came up with convoluted ways to eat as much as I could along the way. I was embarassed by my uncontrollable desire to consume so much food, so I would stop at different places and buy reasonable amounts at each, standing in empty stairwells to eat what I had just purchased before moving on to the next place.

I’d memorized the hours of the assorted dining halls on campus for the winter break and the locations of various vending machines in relatively-secluded areas so I could get something hopefully without being seen, find a stairwell, eat, and then go to a dining hall and not have someone know I’d just eaten a bag of chips and a whole candy bar right before walking in to get a full meal. I’d then stop someplace else to take food back to my room and eat even more.

I also took great advantage of the weekend buses that brought students to the nearby mall. Especially since it was Christmastime, I could eat up a storm there and not feel concerned about anyone noticing amidst the throngs of people thoroughly absorbed in their holiday shopping and navigating the masses while juggling bags and bags of gift purchases. Plus, I could take a route that was quite spaced out–the food court was at one end of the mall, so I could start there with some sort of fast food, and then there was an Auntie Anne’s pretzel stand in the middle, where I could grab something and sit on a bench to eat before making my way to the exit at the opposite end from the food court where there was a Cinnabon that could supply more food for the start of the bus ride back to campus. I could then get off at one of the stops along the way and go to Starbucks for a Venti-size sugar-laden coffee drink before stopping at a grocery store to get food to take home with me all in the time before the next bus headed back to campus would be going by. Back at my room, I could prepare whatever I’d just picked up at the grocery store, and sometimes if I could still actually walk and it wasn’t too late, I could make one last outing to a dining hall and bring back more food to my room.

Of course, I didn’t do that every day. Usually the day or two after such binges, I’d be in a terrible food coma of sorts, unable to do much of anything but lie around and let all that I’d eaten slowly digest. Yes, I eventually reached a point where I could eat so much at once I’d feel full for days afterwards.

Fortunately I’d gotten to a sort of tipping point by the time the second semester of my Senior year commenced and people returned to campus. It would have been impossible to hide my massive, entire-day-long binges with my suitemates back on campus and other students milling about everywhere. I still managed to get in occasional double meals and extra snacks, courtesy of the vending machines and stairwells, and a schedule that often let me have an hour or two to myself in the suite to eat whatever I wanted.

To this day I have no idea how I didn’t run out of money, eating food at the rate I was. I didn’t even come close, though. It was unbelievable.

By the time April rolled around, I’d climbed to 150lbs, and that’s when the all-consuming desire to eat until I couldn’t eat anymore petered out. My eating normalized, and I managed to get back to a healthy 140lbs without restricting.

At this point, I’d gotten a job at a bakery. Probably not the best idea for someone with an eating disorder, but the part-time schedule to start didn’t get to me, and I maintained weight for a couple of months. Once I moved out into what became an incredibly dramatic house-share situation and was working full-time at the bakery, though, it did become a problem. I returned to mindless eating and occasional binges on bakery food I got to take home with me. Leftover bread, old pastries, and various things I bought to bring home…over the year and few months I worked there, I fluctuated up and down, topping out at about 185lbs by the time I quit. It wasn’t nearly as bad as my binge-fasting, by all accounts my eating wasn’t really all that abnormal, but the combination of stress from the bizarre living situation, the types of food I had access to, and the havoc I’d wrought on my metabolism from the years of anorexia added up to a predisposition to put on weight no matter what.

It was at this time that I had the wonderful opportunity to move to San Francisco. Like when returning to campus after that binge-fast-ridden summer, I made a new vow to eat healthier and return to a healthy weight that I would truly maintain for once.

And here is where I’ll take a break…I still intend–really, need to tell the whole story, but this particular entry is getting massive and my move to San Francisco is a good place to interject a To Be Continued…

Home

It’s so obious to me that I’ve finally found a place that feels like home. Plenty of times over the years I’ve felt like I was home, but never AT home. People felt like home, never places. I was never itching to get back from a trip or that I’d miss a place when gone.

And I haven’t–I haven’t missed any of the places I’ve ever been except Sydney. Whenever I’ve left on a trip, no matter how brief, I’ve been anxious to get back here and so happy to be HOME. The memories of all the places I’ve been around the States (where I grew up in New York, lived in San Francisco and Portland, and all the other cities I’ve visited), other countries I’ve been to since leaving (Thailand and New Zealand), and even other cities in Australia (Brisbane and Perth)…it’s enough. More than enough. Just remembering I’ve been there is plenty to keep me happy.

But Sydney…I love it here. I’m starting to miss it already, just knowing I’m leaving in less than a month. It certainly doesn’t help in the slightest that there are people here I’m going to miss so much. I’ve been lucky to have seriously some of the happiest moments of my life to date here in Australia. The kind where it’s impossible not to smile when thinking about them.

Nothing can take the memories away from me, and I really hope to make even more during the next 28 days, but after that? I hate that opportunities are being taken away from me. I had so many things I was looking forward to, things I never, ever knew I could look forward to in the States. And now I’m back to hoping someday I can get the fuck out of that godforsaken country again and get back to looking forward to things.

It’s horribly frustrating to absolutely and so intensely hate something about yourself that you can’t change. I’m American. And I truly wish I wasn’t. I wish I was anything else in the world but American. It would all be so much easier.

Everything else I’ve disliked about myself in the past, I could change. And I did. And now I’m faced with something that just IS and ALWAYS WILL BE. You can’t change where you were born. Fortunately for most people, they actually LIKE where they were born and are quite happy to stay there. Unfortunately for me, I don’t, and I don’t have a way to be anywhere else right now.

I’m trying to come up with a plan, though. If I can get my debts under control, I want to be out of the States again before Christmas. Heh, I’m not even back yet, and I’m already trying to come up with a plan to leave! I’m thinking I might try to give Europe a go. I can’t work there, but if I can make freelancing work, then I might be able to make enough money to live there on that. If I can’t manage that, then maybe southeast Asia. Thailand or Malaysia or something. I don’t think I’d be terribly happy there, but at least I’d be closer to Australia.

Closer to home.

Immigration

The past month has really taken a toll on me mentally. I had been in the process of applying for work sponsorship through the job I’ve had here in Australia since last October, and the end result was that I didn’t qualify. The waiting alone had taken a real toll on me–I don’t do very well with not knowing things. Positive or negative, I can deal with whatever the facts are once they’re made clear, but wondering never sits well with me.

By all accounts, it was entirely unexpected that I wouldn’t get the job and sponsorship. However, new Immigration regulations came into effect last month that effectively make it impossible for me to get sponsored by any job here in Australia.

Thus, my only option now to ever obtain Permanent Residency is through marriage. That’s not a route I’m interested in taking.

I understand the motivation behind the Immigration policies in place: Australia’s primary concern and duty is to give its citizens everything they can and maintain the resources to allow support of its residents to continue. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this intention, and I completely respect it.

That doesn’t mean I can’t resent it, and I most definitely do. I absolutely love this country, its people, its policies. And I want to contribute to it like any citizen does–work, live, and pay taxes. I honestly don’t care about a lot of the benefits citizens get: unemployment payments, healthcare, and student loan access are all things I would happily sign off on if it could get me the right to stay here and work. Unfortunately, Immigration is a bureaucratic process and not a personal one, so my motives mean absolutely nothing.

Upon finding out my time here was now limited, my first reaction was to have a total breakdown. I cried for days. And through the tears, I combed Immigration pages–for Australia, to see if there was any other option for me to stay, and when that came up fruitless, for any other country so I wouldn’t have to go back to the States.

Even over a year out-of-office, the destruction of Bush’s Presidency continues to make waves. Thanks to his tightening of Immigration policies in the States, I cannot even get a Working Holiday Visa to Canada. Canada! America shares the longest undisputed border in the world with them, and I can’t get even a restricted working visa to go there.

My only option right now is to go back to the States. I don’t like having this decision forced on me, and I don’t like feeling hopeless to getting back to Australia. At this point, the best I can hope for is to get my old job back at some point so I can visit often. And then hope against hope that some miracle of Immigration happens and a Melody Can Come Back to Australia Visa is created.

For the first time in my life I’m regretting choices I made: why did I get such useless degrees as Fine Arts and Art History? why didn’t I try to make a career in a useful field instead of doing jobs that I simply enjoyed and paid the bills at the time? why did I have to cultivate enough pride and self-reliance that getting married would feel like a cop-out and settling?

Of course, the regret is transient and insubstantial. I love my degrees and the experiences I had obtaining them, I love the jobs I’ve had and the experiences I had there, and I love that I have the sense to actually criticize conventions instead of blindly bowing to them.

I just wish there was a way for me to stay here. Arguably, I have the skills to do freelance graphic and Web design. Arguably, I could make money on that and try to just get by on visitor’s visas. Practically, I don’t think either is a real solution. I’m far to active and social a person to spend my life sitting at my computer to earn money, and I’m sure at some point they’d stop issuing visitor’s visas to me if I’m here long enough. Immigration is already concerned I’ve been working on my current visa (I most definitely haven’t), and the more time I spend here on such a visa, the more critical they’ll get.

I keep trying to look at this positively. I know from past experience that everything happens for a reason, even if I can’t see it now. Everyone I’ve told back in the States emphatically goes on about how happy they are to be getting me back. Even people here have gone on about how lucky I am that I can just up and go to the States, and why would I be so upset about it? It’s all a bit superficial to me at the moment, though, when every fiber of me loathes the country I was born in and doesn’t want to leave the country I’ve spent the past 18 months of my life in.

Australia’s breaking up with me, and breaking up is hard to do.

Emoting and Trusting

I generally tend to wear my heart on my sleeve as far as my general mood and emotions are concerned. I actually find it pretty difficult to contain myself, really, when I’m excited about something, upset, angry, and so on. Though angry is an extremely rare occurence–as Leonard described Penny in an episode of “The Big Bang Theory” once:

Leonard: Dont take this the wrong way, but you do seem to have that overexposed-to-gamma-radiation thing going on.
Penny: Excuse me?
Leonard: Its just that usually you’re sweet Bruce Banner, but when you get angry, you get all… Grrr!
Penny: I turn into a bear?
Leonard: Seriously? Gamma rays? Bruce Banner? How can you not get The Incredible Hulk from that?

I can also get Shakespearean when angered. When a co-worker at my last job commented once on how I’m always so cheerful and pleasant that he’s become convinced I simply don’t possess the ability to become angry, I explained that it’s simply a rare state of being for me, but when it does happen–look out, because I can craft some pretty confusing-on-the-surface-but-truly-vicious-once-you-get-it insults. He subsequently took it upon himself to find a way to make me get Shakespearean on his ass. Alas, he never succeeded…testament to how truly difficult it is to anger me, if someone dead-set determined to do so never could!

Anyway, I digress a bit.

From a combination of things, while I have actual trouble containing my general moods, I find it quite near impossible to express things I’m feeling deeper. Things that are a result of a lot of thinking or that just have more significance than my current overall state-of-being.

It takes a lot of building up for me to mention things I want. Even when directly asked, I deflect the question and leave decisions up to the asker. In most situations at this point, that can be explained by my easy-going nature, and I am a strong enough person that if I have a really solid opinion on something, I’ll voice it. But there’s a definite grey area wherein I have a slight preference for something that I find difficult to mention.

I know exactly what this primarily stems from: the emotional abuse of my first relationship. It was fundamentally manipulative, and one of the most prominent manipulations was belittling and obliterating my wants and preferences. If I asked for things, no matter how truly significant or insignificant they were to me, I was berated for being “needy,” “silly,” “stupid,” “inconvenient,” etc. Over time, I learned to simply stop asking for things or voicing preferences, because if they weren’t the same things my boyfriend wanted, then they were on some level Wrong.

It’s been the most difficult thing to overcome from that abuse. While I’m sure plenty of people would say I haven’t improved by virtue of the fact that I still have trouble talking about wants, desires, preferences, and the like, it’s not obvious from that how much I’ve progressed since ending that relationship. I have recovered quite a bit–at first, I couldn’t voice things at all. Getting an opinion out of me on anything was a full-on process. Trivial preferences still are, but at least I do now talk about things I feel strongly one way or the other.

Other feelings equally suffered blows at the hands of my first relationship, but they were easier to recover. It didn’t take much for me to bring up liking, missing, or even loving people shortly after that relationship ended. However, at this point in time, a long string of friendships and a couple of relationships that have ended in me being hurt and feeling tossed aside after a lot of effort and vulnerability seem to have turned that back around. The only people I now feel comfortable telling how much I miss them are ones who’ve been there effectively forever: my sister, other family, and friends I’ve had since high school or even longer. People I’m quite confident won’t be dropping me like a hat, because they’ve quite obviously had plenty of opportunity and haven’t done so.

Living alone for the first time in my life, I’ve gotten to missing people more. I definitely need social contact; I get quite hard on myself and overly-critical when I spend too much time alone and have too much time to think. I’m in a much better mental state when I interact with friends, even briefly, as close to every day as I can. And I’ve made some pretty cool friends here in Australia, but I have trouble telling them that I miss them or like them or anything else I feel because I’ve become so terrified of being vulnerable to people.

Admittedly, I’ve put myself in some of the most vulnerable positions possible with respect to interpersonal relationships the past year or so. Moving to another country with someone, relying on them for my ability to stay in this other country. Having that all dashed to pieces and trying to find my own way to get by as a result… That’s some pretty tough shit. Immigration, in my opinion, is right up there with American student loans as some of the worst things a person can have to deal with.

Beyond feelings and emotions, even my ability to trust has been whittled down to a toothpick. I’m finding it so hard not to be cynical about people’s motives. My immediate internal reaction has gone from thanks and appreciation and warmth to questioning what it is someone wants from me when they’re doing something nice. I’m starting to expect strings being attached to everything people do and say, and I can’t get over the disbelief when people are genuinely nice. I keep wondering what I did to deserve such treatment and when it’s going to all be turned upside down; I’ve lost my ability to accept that anyone can be kind to me without expecting something in return, and the few situations I’ve been in recently where it’s quite simply impossible for me to interpret them as motivated by something darker have left me thoroughly confused and on edge. It doesn’t make sense to me, and I can’t make it make sense in any way.

I don’t like that I’ve become jaded over my emotions. I don’t like that I used to just tell people what I think quite freely and now I just can’t. I don’t like that I can’t trust that people will be nice to me without wanting something out of me in return. I don’t like that some careless and thoughtless people have managed to affect me so deeply.

How do you get over things like that?

Victim-Blaming and Rape Apologists

I’ve been mulling over this post for a week now, and most of the waffling has been over the fact that posting here is public and much of my opinion on the subject of victim-blaming is grounded in the fact that I am a victim, have subjected myself to internal victim-blaming, and these are things I haven’t ever admitted publicly. In fact, I’ve only admitted them privately to very few people.

I think part of being the victim of anything, though–whether it be rape, emotional abuse, a disease, or anything else–is by not talking about it you allow it to carry far more weight on your life than whatever inflicted the violence on you deserves. You internalize more of the backlash from the event than is healthy.

The few times I’ve brought up my experiences to people, it was a very stressful decision. Actually admitting the truth took so much effort, so much thought, and every time the result was the same: quiet digestion of what I just said, and acceptance. Part of what makes admitting the truth so difficult is sifting through all of the potential responses I expect; you hope for what I’ve been fortunate to receive, but you fear much worse.

So in an effort to relieve a lot of the internalizing I’ve done and continue to do, I’m going to discuss my thoughts on rape apologizing and victim-blaming here. The first step is admitting that I’ve been raped. Three times, twice by the same person.

The most difficult part of dealing with it is first recognizing the fact that what happened was, in truth, rape. Because of the fact that our culture treats women as instigators of sexual violence and all men as perpetrators just waiting around to be incited by women that are “asking for it,”* my initial reaction to all of the cases of rape I’ve experienced was to blame myself–for not recognizing the potential the situation had for me to be raped, for not putting up enough of a fight in response to the attack, for essentially allowing it to happen. I convinced myself that in some way, shape, or form, I’d been one of those women “asking for it,” and how could it be rape if I was at least partly to blame?

It wasn’t until I had input on a breakdown of the things that have happened from a third party that I was able to realize that under no circumstances was I ever “asking” to be raped. First of all, the very essence of that sort of violence stems from the fact that it is unwanted–how can you be asking for something you vehemently do not want? And in response to my particular set of experiences, the following would have to be made Potential Victims’ Rules for Not Getting Yourself Raped:

  1. Do not fall asleep around your boyfriend. If you do, you’re asking him to rape you.
  2. Do not ever consent to doing anything with your boyfriend. If you do, you’re asking him to take it further, do things to which you are firmly saying “No!”, and then rape you.
  3. Do not ever go someplace alone with a male friend. If you do, he will suddenly and out-of-the-blue pin you down, lift your skirt, and rape you.

I think my anecdotes are perfect examples for refuting the logic that women can actively do things to prevent being raped. This concept is at the heart of victim-blaming; you can’t blame someone for having caused something if there was no way for them to prevent it. As soon as you can come up with supposed means of prevention, then if someone doesn’t follow those rules to a T, they must be to blame for what happened.

As I’ve read elsewhere, the only surefire way to not “get yourself raped” is to not be in the vicinity of rapists. And since last I checked, being a rapist doesn’t go hand-in-hand with having a neon sign above your head flashing “I AM A RAPIST” in big, bold letters for all the world to see, I don’t see how a potential victim is supposed to know they’re in the company of a rapist and subsequently take steps to avoid them.

The men who raped me were a) a boyfriend and b) an acquaintance-type friend; both relationships that have a certain degree of inherent trust. Implied is the simple fact that I am not expecting them to be rapists, and I am trusting them to not rape me. The only way I could possibly avoid the scenario of placing this level of trust in someone who is actually a rapist is to by default assume that every single man is a rapist, and I should never spend time around any of them.

I don’t think it’s a far stretch to say that would be a pretty ridiculous and unfair attitude to have. However, this is what victim-blamers expect women to do: treat all men as though they are rapists, otherwise if you don’t, it’s your fault if you are raped by one.

My experiences clearly illustrate that skimpy clothes, alcohol, and hanging around with strangers have no real correlation with being raped, and directions for women to avoid those things or else accept the fact that they invited the attack are just abhorrent. Every time I was raped I was clothed head-to-toe (the skirt in the one instance was floor-length), completely sober (as were my rapists), and in the company of people I knew (in one case, a boyfriend I was dating for years). This is absolutely not an exception to the rule: most victims of rape are attacked under those same supposedly safe circumstances. And for all the times I have been scantily clad, drunk, and hanging around a bunch of strangers, I was never once the victim of even attempted rape.

The only person to blame for rape is a rapist. The only thing a victim can do to put themselves a risk for being raped is to be in the presence of a rapist. And since as I said, it is not mutually inclusive for someone to be a rapist and simultaneously conduct their lives while announcing that they are a rapist, there is absolutely nothing anyone can do to prevent getting raped. It doesn’t matter if a woman is running around the streets stark naked, drunk, and high, if she never comes across a rapist, she will not be raped. It doesn’t matter if a woman is dressed in full hijab, stone-cold sober, and never leaves her home, if a rapist is in the room with her, there’s a chance he might act on his intentions.

There is absolutely no excuse for claiming someone instigated a rape. There is no excuse for a man who commits rape. The victim was attacked, and the perpetrator is a rapist–plain and simple, end of story. All of the responsibility for the crime lays with the person who committed it, and people seriously need to get over themselves, stop telling women that things they do “invite” being raped, stop mitigating the crime by giving the men excuses for their dispicable behavior, and start telling men that they shouldn’t be rapists.

* Worth noting: I only refer to adult, male-on-female instances of rape here because that is all I have experienced and what gets the most attention in our culture. I recognize that men can be raped, women can be perpetrators, and not all victims are adults. It doesn’t matter the exact circumstances of the people involved, rape is rape, it is always a terrible crime, and no victim is ever to blame at all.

Giving a Damn

I’ve signed up for the Give a Damn campaign. Because not only do I hope for a day when other people can be themselves without being judged, restricted, and even harmed by others simply due to who they are, but I’d like to see that day for myself.

I don’t like having to censor what I say here, to think of topics I’d like to discuss and then toss them aside for fear of what certain people reading will think. I can relate to the people the Give a Damn campaign aims to help. It would be indescribably wonderful to be able to write freely at some point, either because I have the confidence to stand up to the judgments and be myself in spite of them, or because–even better–the judgments are no longer passed.

I Give a Damn.

Chivalry vs. Respect

Yet again, a fantastically entertaining and insightful piece by Jill is serving as the backdrop for some of my own musings. The topic of the day: chivalry, its relationship to feminism, and the ever-hilarious Plight of the Nice Guy™.

At this point in my life, I can say that I’ve had both the pleasure and displeasure of experiencing a great variety of points along the spectrum of male-female interactions. I’ve been subjected to both emotional and physical violence, I’ve been treated with traditional notions of chivalry, and I’ve been the recipient of respect.

Given the choice between all of those, I would hands-down chose respect any day or night.

Why discount chivalry so easily, you ask? After all, isn’t that something women so often go on about as a key lacking quality in today’s men? It’s really quite simple why I have no interest in a man professing his chivalrous ideals to me: inherent in chivalrous acts is the belief that women are intrinsically more fragile and delicate than men, thus requiring exceptional support and protection from the men in their company. Essentially what it boils down to is sugar-coated, low-level misogyny. Chivalrous men espouse a view that women are by nature not equal to men on very fundamental levels and therefore in need of men to stand between them and the rest of the world. Which, don’t get me wrong, does lead to a man behaving “nicely” towards women, and quite obviously that means they would not be inflicting the sorts of emotional and physical violence I’ve experienced in the past. I can’t argue that, superficially, that’s not a good thing.

Jill does present an extension of this hypothesis on chivalry that I don’t entirely agree with, though. Unlike her, I do not believe “[i]t always demands something in return.” Oftentimes, yes, it does operate on the assumption that doing chivalrous things deserves a reward. However, some men do extend chivalry without a constant expectation that they will receive a token of appreciation from the recipients of their gestures. I had an interaction with such a man; I never got a sense of expectation from him that his Knightly behavior warranted something in return from his protected Princess, but I did still feel…small, in some way. As though some quality tied to my pairing of X chromosomes left me wanting for certain aspects of being a fully realized human being, and that all I needed was for him to come along and make up the difference. He could insulate me from the terrible effects of my shortcomings, ensuring I am always safe and comforted, and this was such a “nice” thing to do!

Evidently, “niceness” is not necessarily inclusive of respect. And respect is infinitely more appreciable than simply, say, waiting for a girl to broach the subject of coming home with her instead of just inviting yourself. Ahh, the Nice Guy™…always there to listen when their female friends need a shoulder to cry on after their latest escapade with an eternal jerk of a guy, and then also always there to complain after the fact that their ceaseless openness to the tears never culminates in them getting laid by those same poor, damp-cheeked women. Why, oh, why do those girls never realize what a Nice Guy™ he is? To quote Jill’s incredibly appropriate summation of a good, solid Nice Guy™ whinge:

Dear [friend],

Please touch my penis.

Yours,
Josh

See, he says please! Because, you know, by not point-blank taking what he really wants, that makes him an advocate for all the mistreated women in the world! If he wasn’t a Nice Guy™, that’s exactly what he’d do! And since he didn’t, that clearly means he must be Nice!

The only guy to ever openly profess his Nice Guy™ status (along with the requisite whining about how they always finish last and never get girlfriends) is the same guy to whittle me down with extreme emotional abuse to the point that it took me years to recover any semblance of self-respect and to this day has left me with a certain fear of asserting myself in relationships. Thinking about his sense of entitlement thoroughly disgusts me now; by simple virtue of the fact that he asked instead of outright taking, I was obligated to comply. While he didn’t qualify as chivalrous for the fact that after belittling me enough, he nurtured a tolerance in me of blatant abuse and disrespect, he still attested to his membership in the Nice Guy™ Club because of his lack of stereotypical Bad Boy behavior. He never cheated on me, and he didn’t pretend to want a relationship or string me along in that vein. And so, apparently, a Nice Guy™ is defined by virtue of his non-participation in a specific assemblage of negative qualities. Not, you know, by virtue of actually being nice.

Now, this isn’t to say that I don’t believe there are genuine nice guys out there. I wholeheartedly insist that there are, and I have the pleasure of being able to name a few I have in my current circle of acquaintances and friends. For me, the distinguishing mark of a truly nice guy is this all-important respect I keep bringing up.

My second relationship was loaded with it. He was both respectful and decidedly nice. While he would open doors for me if I happened to linger in the car gathering my things long enough for him to get to my side before I got out or if he reached a door before I did, it was always motivated by veritable politeness, and he likewise didn’t think twice of leaving me to my own devices quite confident I could look after myself just fine without his ever-protective presence. He was so entirely respectful, in fact, he was 100% honest with me: the end of our relationship came about when he truthfully acknowledged he didn’t miss me when we were apart. While I wouldn’t say that’s exactly a nice thing to say to someone, it’s actually far better than merely being nice. Rather than sparing me the hurtful truth, knowing that withholding the information was a surefire way to maintain the relationship and all the benefits of it, he gave me the honor of respectful honesty.

If it wasn’t for that fact, I’m certain that after recovering from the pain of that loss, I wouldn’t have been able to move on to consider him a friend as I do now.

To illustrate the nice/chivalrous vs. respect dichotomy quite plainly, I have an anecdote concerning riding as a passenger on motorcycles. For a certain amount of time after first getting a motorcycle license, the licensee is prohibited from carrying a passenger with them. Quite reasonably so, as it isn’t terribly prudent while the new motorcyclist is him- or herself still getting used to riding.

Aware of my penchant for being a passenger, a guy offered to take me along on his motorcycle a few times. While exhibiting a certain level of concern for my safety by ensuring I had a helmet and proper jacket and clothing to wear, I found out by coincidence that he was still on his Provisional license and thus not actually permitted to have me on the bike with him, but only after I had pillioned on more than one occasion. He is quite positively a victim of being a Nice Guy™: under the banner of treating me to something I enjoy, while simultaneously impressing me (*hint hint wink wink* chicks dig dudes with motorcycles!), he also broke the law–discounting my safety while also putting himself at risk of at least getting a ticket and at worst losing his license altogether.

In direct contrast, I recently was discussing riding with another male friend who was completely transparent about not yet having an unrestricted license. In light of the opportunity to take me riding, despite an opportunity to Impress a Chick, he was honest with me about not actually being allowed.

And that is the difference between niceness and respect. It would have been perfectly nice of him to offer the chance for me to do something I enjoy. To take a chick for a ride on a motorcycle, such a stereotype of Bad Boy impressiveness professed to be a surefire way to Get the Girl. But no. He respected my right as a passenger–as another person–to know what I’d be getting myself into. Morever, he paid me this honor so nonchalantly, so naturally, that it carried even more weight; not only was I fundamentally deserving of this respect, it was so patently obvious that responding in any other way just wasn’t an apparent option. That’s simply the only manner in which you behave with another person.

And that feeling like a person thing? It’s a really damn good feeling, and it’s exactly why I think respect is worth entire universes more than chivalry (or supposed niceness).

Tipping in Restaurants

I stumbled upon a blog post by a waitress with regular contributions to Slashfood over the past few days. After perusing the comments on that entry, I was inspired to read the entirety of Hanna’s “What Can I Get You Folks?” series along with most of the comments, and as a result I’ve been left extremely disillusioned with restaurant servers.

The vast majority of industry commenters, and the author herself, express a level of entitlement to a minimum 20% tip that I find absolutely disgusting. While I acknowledge that a vast number of states in the US are permitted to pay their employees below minimum wage (often as low as $2-and-change per hour) and subsequently do literally live off of the tips they receive, there are plenty of states that are required to pay at least minimum wage and those servers still seem to feel they deserve a 20% tip for simply showing up and doing their job. A quick calculation puts their earned income then above my most well-paid job in the States–a job that required of me a level of responsibility holding me accountable for government records and the possibility of testifying in Federal Court. While waiting tables is admittedly no easy feat, it certainly doesn’t impose anywhere near that degree of accountability, and it deeply peeves me that a waiter or waitress would feel entitled to that standard of salary based on tips.

When I worked in a bakery, I would say the level of physical and mental demand of the job was very similar to that of a waitperson, and I made just a bit over minimum wage with no tipping–it was flat out not permitted by our owner to have a tip jar on the counter. Even if it was allowed, I would never have expected tips because my job was to provide a service, and that is exactly what a waiter or waitress’s job at a restaurant is to do. The fact that so many apparently feel entitled to at least 20%–even in the cases where they are already paid the same wage as any other “unskilled” labor–is absolutely abhorrent.

It is an entirely different attitude to view tips as exactly what they are: a gratuity given as a token of appreciation and thanks for a level of service that goes beyond what is expected of the employees at an establishment. There were occasional times when I was handed a dollar bill or other relatively small amount (compared to this expected 20%) as thanks for carrying a heavy cake out to a customer’s car at the bakery; this task was not part of my job, and the customer chose to acknowledge their thanks for my added service with a tip. I always viewed that as a truly genuine gesture, and I never had a problem with helping a customer out by offering the same service of carrying products without receipt of a tip. I did my job because that was expected of me, and I would go beyond the expectation because I enjoyed my work and helping people. I expressly did not show up for work because I expected customers to pay me extra for providing them with the service I was there to provide and more specifically felt entitled to a particular percentage of their total purchase.

Tips should not be an expectation. They are not something a customer service provider is entitled to receive. Waiters and waitresses do not have a right to 20% of my bill simply for showing up for work and doing the job they are paid to do. While I will happily entertain the idea of a 15% tip as a starting point in states like NY where waitstaff are not paid minimum wage (something completely inhuman and worthy of discussion in its own right), that is a baseline for simply doing one’s job there. After being enlightened to the attitude it seems most servers possess, I’m completely disinclined to ever consider leaving a 20% tip anywhere. I’m now also inclined to start at a 0% baseline in states like Oregon and California where the servers are in fact paid at least minimum wage. They can earn a tip by doing more than what is expected of them at their job.

It’s particularly astounding because it is quite clear when one is hired what the wage will be. These people are fully informed and choose to take the job at the rate of pay that is offered. They then expect to be paid more. At what other job is this considered reasonable behavior? Where else can one have the luxury of feeling entitled to more than their offered salary? Nowhere.

Tips are not an entitlement. They are a gift. It would be nice to see these servers treat them as such.