Listening to Rapists, as a Counselor

I just listened to two men disclose the details of their sex offenses—rapings of minor girls. I feel jittery—my blood is buzzing even now, sitting in a bar before a comedy open mic.

What is there to say? What insight do I have as a result of this?

My fingers gripped my other fingers in my lap and twirled my ring during their readings. By my own doing, I turned my skin white. The pressure kept me calm enough to stay seated, my only duty as a counselor in those moments—not to run out of the room or scream.

The humanity of it all and how far we fall… These men had remorse. They hurt. They wonder why. One—who didn’t even disclose tonight—cried, talking about how frustrated he is not understanding why he did what he did. Others reminded him that he’s new to treatment and that he’s here to learn. But later one of those same group members expressed that he didn’t know what motivated him to take the actions he did or what had “clicked” in him as he put it.

After working six months with these men, I thought I had become desensitized to what they’ve done. Every week, they check into group therapy by stating their charge and then describing it in plain terms. I hear it from their lips every week.

So what makes disclosure statements different? They give a voice to their victims; they leave a crack—through which we remember them—though we work with the sex offenders (SO’s).

But it’s more than being triggered with rage for victims. It’s different from my one self-destructive night back in November after I read one of their case files in full for the first time.

It’s them—the offenders—they’ve gotten to me. Their humanity and shame and the divide they stand in now after the irreparable damage they’ve caused.

They’ve considered suicide. None need to explain why.

Nothing can be fixed. Only forward motion.

They encouraged each other to forgive themselves—and each time that idea was rejected by the one receiving the advice. “How could I possibly?”

And it’s just that kind of situation, isn’t it?

About the sexual crimes: “How could you possibly?”

About moving on: “How could you possibly?” And yet, that’s what needs to be done.

I’ve recently adopted the idea of “Always Forward Motion” in my life, no matter how small, no matter how insignificant or messy. Progress. Ever better. Moving on. Again and again. Onward.

Until tonight I hadn’t thought about my SO clients and how this must apply to them as well.

It’s not that I’ve been self-centered or self-serving. Just self-improving.

But this is what the least of us (are SO’s the least of us? I don’t know; society might think so) do as well. Right?

If society—if (hu)man—is to improve, then all of us despite our pasts must keep going—always forward motion. Improvement. Not matter from how far away we’re starting.

So I find myself wanting the best for my clients. Not because I’m on their sides. Not because I have more compassion for them than I do the victims. But because I believe we are all and only human.

I don’t feel good hearing the details of their sex offenses. Tears sting behind my eyes even now hours later, threatening to ruin my comedy set tonight.

But details don’t change what I already knew. They don’t even bring clarity.

These men are flawed—and perhaps they’ve done something in their past worse than anything you’ll ever do—but aren’t we all? Aren’t we all flawed?

Maybe “always forward motion” begins with confession, guilt, and what reparations/amends can be made. But it begins.

And we all have to begin somewhere to move forward.

AAOH

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Touching People and Teaching Others to STOP TOUCHING PEOPLE

Life is a bit touchy. So am I.

Currently I’m working part time as a caregiver and part time as a counselor.

I support a client who is 95 and face the reality of mortality every time I see her. She’s lived. And lived. And lived. Soon she will die.

She is precious, resilient, stubborn, and needs me to help her pee.

I counsel sexual offenders who are adolescent boys and “men.” I face the reality of rape and violation of children’s and women’s bodies every time I see them. They’ve hurt. They’ve destroyed. Soon they will learn the concept of empathy.

They are not horrible at their essence but have done horrendous things. This I have to believe.

I sit with my elderly woman, while she munches on the oatmeal I made for her. I learn about WWII and what it was like for her to feed 8 mouths for dinner every night. I learn about what it was like to be a secretary (because what else is a woman going to be during her time?). I am told to not marry out of comfort right now.

My elderly woman is impressed by me—a young woman who moved across the country by herself.

“Do not marry. Don’t make that mistake. It is comforting to have a man there. But don’t marry until it’s right. Take your time. Remember that.”

“Alright. Hey, remember to chew with your back teeth. Yeah. There you go. Good.”

I sit with my adolescent sex offenders. I learn of the cluelessness and crazy manipulation that man is capable of. I counsel, but really, I’m teaching relapse prevention.

“I didn’t know incest was wrong, really.”

“I mean, yeah, she was drunk but we were going out so, like…”

“She was coming on to me. Swear to God.”

I teach them what true consent is, what thinking errors are and make them identify theirs, how to deal with anger more effectively/healthily. I ask if they’ve been abstinent from drugs, alcohol, and porn. (They have polygraphs every 6 months done by the county, too.)

Every group therapy session they check in by sharing what their week was like, how many times they masturbated, and of that the percentage of appropriate fantasies.  (I guess we’re really trying to get them to work their imaginations because they can’t use the porn anymore, making getting off a little harder.)

I go to my next caregiving shift and give my client a shower. I wash her, gently in circles with a soft washcloth and her special soap. As I rinse her back I realize how precious these moments are.

I’m touching the skin of a woman 70 years my senior. I’m taking care of someone through touch.

My clients of sexual offenses have destroyed others through touch.

Touch can heal, or touch can hurt.

I’ve chosen to do the former and teach others to never do the latter again.

What My Mother Doesn’t Know

I cry every time we part at the airport. I never let my mother see. I always wait until I’m alone on my short, short tram ride from where she is to my gate and security check.

She must stay. But I must go.

My mother hugs me tenderly—Once. Twice. Three times—every time I’m about to make the decision to fly away, back to my life I’m building in another state, one far, far away.

“I love you,” she whispers near my ear, her arms clinging softly to my back.

“I love you, too,” I stammer and pull away to find her face streaked with tears.

I’m not graceful in my turn to walk away. I’m not delicate in my “good-bye!”

I barely make it to the safety of my tram ride to break down, if only for a few seconds.

I feel the maternal gravity pulling me back to her, my mother, the woman who gave me strength, the one who showed me that ‘woman’ can do all things, the one I’ve rebelled against, found great fault with, and even greater annoyance. My mother is far from being a perfect woman. But she is my mother. And she is my advocate. She ultimately is the one human who I believe would not turn away from me.

I know this, I trust this, because she fought for me when I hurt her the most.

I did not go home for Christmas last year. I chose not to go home for Christmas last year.

I resented my mother wildly for things decades past. I resented my family. I resented that I never had a true childhood. And I could not handle the thought of being associated with any of my past.

So I didn’t go “home” to Florida. I spent Christmas in New York State. Entirely alone and by choice.

One evening a week or two before that Christmas (2014), my mother called me to confirm in confusion that I would not be flying to Florida.

I was parked in a Target parking lot when she called. My feet got bitterly cold in the car for we talked for an hour and half. I’ll rephrase for honesty’s sake: she talked; I screamed at her. Not the whole time but in large part.

I shook violently as I accused her of things I never had before or at least not with this passion and volume.

I shook even worse when she told me that she didn’t believe me.

I shook because I realized that either I was psychotic and she was right or that I was right and it was too tragic for her to accept. Both possibilities were terrifying.

I held my ground. I think we both realized that the conclusion of this phone call—this, our most epic fight—would define how our relationship would shift. It would shift into a new space, or it would die.

And that’s when it happened. My mother chose me. She chose to not only believe me but to fight for our relationship.

She told me that if I needed one year (one Christmas) away, then she would accept that. I’m not sure if she fully understood my pain, or the five-year old me that was screaming through me, the 24 year old. But she chose to love me.

When I needed her most and when I fought the hardest against her, she chose me.

This year I live in Oregon. I flew “home” for Christmas. I couldn’t imagine missing it. I needed to see my family, no matter the (horrifying monetary) cost.

My mother stood there in the airport two days ago, crying vulnerable with her feelings for me.

And I left her, flying back to the life I’m building in Oregon.

What my mother doesn’t know is that it was hard for me, too. The tears she cries are the tears I cry.

She must stay; I must go.

Getting Lost in the Wilderness [Mt. Hood]

I thought I might die. The thought occurred to me over the hours I spent alone on Mt. Hood–first while I borderline rock-climbed faces of Mt. Hood to get to ridges and high peaks to get the ultimate perspective of its peak, then more often while I was lost in its wilderness.

When my plan had been to go to Mt. Hood on Saturday, the plan was to drive to Mt. Hood and then stare at it. I love mountains. I like to stare at them.

Let’s do that, I said to myself. Great, let’s do it, I responded to myself.

I didn’t plan the hike. I didn’t plan anything. I told my GPS to take me to “Mt. Hood,” wherever that would mean for her specifically, and she did.

Therefore, I don’t know where I parked. I didn’t have water (on me/out of the car), nor a compass, food, first aid, a knife, or a map.

I did have sunglasses, my phone, a case of glucose tablets (hypoglycemic), my wallet, a journal, a notepad, and a pen. That’s the kind of day I thought I’d have.

Nope.

I’m almost* thankful to have been brought to that place of complete desperation.

Three hours in, two hours into being lost, I drank from a creek. The water crashed along so smoothly. Its clarity summoned me. Its sound was a siren call to drink. Undeniable. I knew the risk. Bacteria. Tape worms? But it looked so good. How harmful could it be? How harmful was my dehydration? I squatted beside the creek and cupped my hands for a handful. Then another and another. Four handfuls and I thought, Okay, I can move on. (*or I am, or I actually am thankful; fickle feelings.)

I remember thinking about my legacy. Was there a strange order to things? Had I actually made so many recent videos for friends, a new thing, to have a way to live on? Or my writing? Had I done enough writing to be remembered or discovered? If I die, these things will be.

I remember seeing a couple people flash by in my periphery. I’d turn. Just tree stumps. Was I losing sanity?

I knew I was most probably alone. Especially in the thick of the woods, where I never should have been, I was alone.

When I was certain I was alone, I was terrified. When I was uncertain, I was even more terrified. If someone wanted to harm me, I was free bait. I was a goner.

I like having control of situations. I like knowing the outcome and understanding just how much control I have in that outcome. I want to know goals, timelines, and I’d like to make a chart on the matter. I have faith in situations because I’ve analyzed their precedents, similar past histories, and reliability on the study (I’m still taking about my personal life, not academic research).

And then it happened. I lost my orientation. I didn’t know what direction I had been. I didn’t know which way was “up.” All around me were fallen limbs, teenage trees and big ones, with all their arms and leaves hiding any sense of outside this forest they had created. I was lost.

My cell phone was not dead but was worthless nonetheless, and despite that I kept it in my left hand, with the deluded sense that maybe maybe I would get enough reception once there were less trees. (Bahaha. Listen to the Floridian speak. Hilarious.)

Branches scratched my legs and I didn’t give a shit. I walked this way, then that way, and then realized I was doing this…Oh God, no. Choose a direction, I told myself. That’s what they say. Just choose and stick with it.

In time I found a trail that I had been on before the time of being in the mass of trees. This was a bad trail. But a trail it was.

“Is this a trail? Then you’re okay. Follow the trail. Is this a trail? Then you’re okay. Follow the trail.” Repeat back. Repeat back. Repeat back.

I remember climbing back up the mountain, a scrap of hope restored in now knowing that I was in the Mt. Hood National Forest “Wilderness,” knowing I was retracing steps back to where I first got off track—or so I theorized. I had no trail to follow back for I didn’t take a trail to get out. F—ing damn it.

Daunting it was, so far uphill. I felt so weak, never, ever knowing how much further. Spending most steps imagining collapsing in the drivers’ seat of the car and sucking at my water bottle (that I left in there) like a piglet kept me going and kept me wondering if I’d be able to experience that magnificent time.

What did my future hold? It was in my hands. It was only in my hands. Terrifying. I am all and only human.

I had no internet. I had no ability to call or call out to anyone. It was so quiet. Still. Haunting. Just the occasional bird chirp and fly buzz.

I remember taking a break a few times in the hike back uphill resting, putting my hand on a fallen tree trunk and resting my whole weight into it, breathing so fast, so heavy, my heart doing the same—racing while I moved at a slow pace—up, up, up, engaging all the muscles of my legs, all the sugar in my blood, all the faith in my soul to just. Keep. Going.

But am I capable? I cried in my mind. You’re here; you have to be, I responded back to myself. I had this conversation so many times, earlier while looking down from steep angles and rocky ground.

I am human. I am not enough. I wanted to breakdown. I wanted the relief tears would bring, wetting my face, setting free the terror in my soul. But I couldn’t. I would break down in the car. I would get to break down when the nightmare is over, when the goal has been reached.

I didn’t know how to get to the goal. But it was my only option.

I wasn’t spending the night in the woods. I wasn’t staying lost. I was entirely disoriented for a half hour, maybe an hour, with no idea of cardinal directions (even if I did, N was going to be a letter, no better help). Eventually, I decided upon no rules: I would no longer believe I was wiser than trails. I decided that I knew nothing. Humility—this time it wasn’t going to take me down. This time humility would save me, or so I did hope.

Hope, itself, is scary. Hope can be crushed. Doubt can be helpful. Certain dread can kill you. So can lack of preparedness.

Hope! Hope crushed. Hope! Hope crushed. Over and over. I had less energy each time I thought I found direction and didn’t. Less faith that my human body wouldn’t give up.

But staying in the wilderness wasn’t an option.

I prayed. I leaned against a white tree trunk that came up to my waist. I felt its texture. Both smooth and rough under one palm. The bark didn’t reach the slice. There was an inch of smooth white wood around the rim. Strange, why, I wondered. But that was a different level of thought. My deepest level prayed. And hoped with everything I had left.

My mind considered, desperately, of the possibility of there being a God. One I could lean on. One to pull me through this. If I wasn’t enough, a God still certainly was.

To be brought here, to cling to Hope, all or nothing, felt like the greatest bittersweet gift. Two hours prior I had been sitting on a large rock, staring at Mt. Hood close-up with all its majesty—a jagged dichotomy of its rock surface layered in large spaces by startling snow, considering God. It was still up there. I was on top of the world, with a display of three mountains in the distance behind me amongst the ranges of blue of the less prominent hills. A slight breeze up there felt like if it tried, could knock me down (where I’d fall and die). Subtle and powerful were the moments I spent sitting in contemplation, wondering why a mountain offered me pure peace.

I had no idea how I was going to get off of that ridge safely, but I knew I had a case of glucose tablets, and I learned to sit in the peace and to allow peace to wrap itself around me in that slight breeze.

God. Was my God this mountain? Perhaps. This mountain, I can put faith in—I see it. There is no way to doubt (sanely) its existence. But then, truly, that isn’t faith within me at all. Uncertainty is a key ingredient in faith. Knowledge is knowledge. Faith is risk. But a mountain, a mountain is majestic and helps me—it grounds me, reminding me of my place, that while small, I am significant. That while temporary, some things will carry on and have carried on for thousands of years before I existed. I need something bigger than me; we all do.

“God, I need you. I need you. Please help me find the car. Please give me the strength and ability—whatever that’s going to mean—to get to the car. God. Please. I need. I need you.”

I didn’t make the prayer about our relationship or lack there of. I didn’t apologize for not believing, for not having faith, for not praying more often. If God is God, then God is not human and doesn’t need my pathetic pleas that I’d use to possibly appease a human.

If God is God, then God will act or God won’t act. My desperation was not going to be churned into plea bargins and deals offered. If God is God, then God knew I still wildly doubted Its existence even while I whispered those words into the forest. I wasn’t going to pretend that wasn’t true. What was true was that I needed something greater than me and so THAT’s what I said. Honesty.

And so finally, if God is God, then God already knew I needed It and that humility was in the prayer. My act of praying and asking and considering and badly wanting so much for God to exist was enough, I believe, as a human. As a fallible, weak, loveable human. But I am not God, so really, this is all what I hoped was true of God.

I had three glucose tablets left. I climbed up more with plenty of breaks now, to slow my breathing, to eat snow.

Deep breathing felt almost as good as water. I felt peace rush through my body after a few intentional inhales. I felt the control I did have over the situation, and that was with my body, even if only in this small way. I could control my anxiety, my heart rate, and to some extent my sense of peace.

Two and half hours before the sun went down.

The huge drop off was to my left, which was good. This giant landmark was one of two I had. I reached higher and came to land with large patches of snow. This was new. New isn’t necessarily bad. Time went by, I munched on snow, and suddenly snowy Mt. Hood came into view. Hope soared. My sneakers crunched into snow as I made my way right.

I realized I didn’t know Mt. Hood’s face that well but knew I was seeing a different angle. Good God, how far did I walk to the “left” earlier??

I get onto more rocky ground. Familiar. Sort of. I’m realizing I can’t remember all of what I’d previously seen. Nature is so intricate, so different and all the same. Slight differences were not to be discerned. So tired and thankful for going downhill I continued with the occasional threat of rolling my ankle. Never happened. I convinced myself it wouldn’t—that getting injured wasn’t an option.

One hour before the sun would go down.

“You are precious; you are loved. You are precious; you are loved. You are precious; you are loved.”

I got on trails. I got off trails, to forge a path to more “left” trails that I believed existed. I found one. I followed it. I was going to follow it to the bottom of the mountain if that’s what it took. What else could I do? I was done. This was it, as close as I thought I could get to getting back to the original trail I started on. And I thought I was wrong.

Then I saw a moving car through the trees. No! Yes?! I bounded down, faster. None was familiar. But damn it, there was a car, a road!

Picnic benches, yes! Then the dirty red of the back of my car.

Relief flooded my body. It’s weight and it’s weightlessness. I marched boldly, quickly to my car. A few campers noticed me; I pretended not to notice them. This was a moment about a girl and her car.

I collapsed onto the drivers’ seat. I suckled on my water bottle like a piglet, just like I imagined.

Future Hiking Rules for You, Kristen:

READ ME.

Are you alone? Don’t go off-trail.

Are you water-less? Don’t go for a hike longer than 15 min. out (ON A TRAIL).

Are you compass-less? Seriously, invest.

Are you mapless, knifeless, food-less, first-aid-less? Stay home!

The Story of Us, Rochester

***My story from my last New York story slam (until I visit) at First Person Singular***

THE BEGINNING

The story of us, my darling Rochestarians: I suppose it’s only appropriate to start our story at the beginning when I moved to New York almost 3 years ago. If you saw my video, if you saw me in January, you know the first year was rough. This is not that story, but we must start there.

I floundered. I faltered. I fell. A lot.

The truth is: I didn’t want to really live. New York was my resting place. I had no plans. Oh sure, yeah, so the world wouldn’t ask questions, I had graduate school and some stupid job.

But I didn’t care. This was the last destination on my roadmap. I escaped Florida. I “escaped” my history.

Mission accomplished. Job completed. Roadmap trashed.

RAN AWAY/INNER CRITIC

I had run away. And I lost everything.

My confidence was somewhere on the campus of UF. (Go Gators.)

My wit and humor sunk down to my toes and refused to depart my mouth. Meanwhile, my inner critic was roaring. My inner critic had no problem speaking up. I was my only enemy, while I thought I saw thousands more.

I didn’t trust New Yorkers. I wasn’t sure I liked them. As a whole.

TRUE FEAR

But really, I was so afraid you weren’t going to like me.

I shut down. I wouldn’t show you me. Later I would hear from classmates that I was standoffish. Which is fair.

They had their lives here. I would hear them talking constantly about their friends, boyfriends, and families. In my eyes, they had it all. And I had just thrown it all away.

If I opened my mouth, I was so afraid that the truth would come tumbling out.

MADE A MISTAKE/ALL WRONG

That I made a mistake. That New York felt wrong. All wrong. But that I couldn’t go back. I said I would never go back! And I didn’t want to go back. Maybe miserable was what my life was to be anyway. They say that if you expect disappointment, you can’t be disappointed.

You’re already there.

That sounded safe. And that was my mantra on Florida. Why should it be any different here?

SARA/SOARED #1

And then I went to a housewarming party of a couple classmates. I met Sara. I already knew her. But I ‘met’ her that night. We ended up talking on her bed at 2 in the morning about our similar struggles. She saw me. I was finally seen here. And then I soared. 

Summer came and went. A relationship came and went. I struggled to find balance, a life that worked for me. Another year of graduate school came and went. I succeeded; I graduated. Another relationship came and went. I finished my thesis. I waited tables, waiting for another job to start.

HANNAH

And then I met Hannah. You met her last story slam. She’s my upstairs neighbor with an awesome punky hairstyle. She seemed to not give a fuck about me the first month we lived under the same roof, and I wasn’t sure if I was projecting. Then one night she knocked on my door, to ask if I had an egg, because suddenly we were living in the 50’s. And I did not. But we talked in the hallway for over 4 hours that night. She saw me. I soared.

CATALYST #1

Two catalysts triggered a reaction in my life then.

One day at Hannah’s kitchen table she went off on a rant of how hypocritical it was for my counseling program to no longer require its counseling students to go to counseling. She was loudly passionate. “How can counselors tell their clients to do something that they’ve never done?! They need to work through their shit!” The thing was: she was yelling at me. She didn’t know she was yelling at me…but she was yelling at me.

CATALYST #2

The other catalyst was that I reached a point where I couldn’t stand myself anymore. The ceaseless criticism. The constant critic of my every performance, and everything in life was a performance. My self-relationship was horrendous, and I wanted out.

COUNSELING/CARING FOR ME

And so, I started going to counseling for me. I finally took care of me instead of everyone else.

I got to a funky place. Because counseling is like treating teenage acne: it gets worse before it gets better. As the counselor, you know the funk ends; as the client, you’re not so sure.  I skipped Christmas last year. I waded through the funk.

STANDUP COMEDY

I dared to put myself out there, when I wasn’t perfect, knowing perfection would never come. I attempted standup comedy. My first set was the night of Jacob Carney’s birthday so we had a huge audience consisting primarily of his family and friends, who wanted to laugh, which helps.

I felt like I rocked it. I got a sober high. And so I was soaring.

SHAME STORY/AMIE

I also told a story that December at Wham Bam Story Slam. I shared something that used to bare the weight of shame. I did it for me. And then Amie came up to me afterwards to tell me how grateful she was for me sharing and how it resonated with her. And you can bet I was soaring. Because not only was that the beginning of another beautiful friendship, I knew in a new way the power of human connection and the healing our stories can bring each other, if only we’ll be honest.

TRUST MYSELF

I learned to trust myself. I started writing for the world to see, fighting the lifetime rule that I must hide myself: “Don’t been seen; they can hurt you.” I want to be seen. I want the strength to state who I am and to withstand the disapproval and rejection.

FRIEND TO SELF/SELF-LOVE

I learned to be my own friend, to actually love myself. And not because I’m working towards perfection or that that’s even an expectation that I will one day will reach and then clasp on to forevermore. No.

Perfection is impossible; we are all and only human.

It’s not something to be obtained. Also, where would our beauty be?

I used to think that to take care of oneself was selfish. Now I see that it’s the most responsible thing I can do every day.

When I love me better, I love the world more. And I have more to give.

SCHROEDER

Last January I adopted a kitten. I named him Schroeder. He was an asshole. But he was my asshole. He was super stubborn, just like me. We’d get in each other’s way a lot; him for fun, me for revenge on that fun. We had a special relationship. I’d sing to him all the time or just generally tell him what was up.

On January first of this year, I had the honor of holding my little Schroeder-bot in my arms as he shuddered and died. My worst fear when taking ownership of him was realized not even a year later.

I wrote about it. I put it on my blog—AllandOnlyHuman—and linked it to Facebook. Over 150 people read my piece. I expressed what it was like to lose an animal of my own and to lose a dad 19 years ago.

It’s not the same of course. My God is it not the same. But the overwhelming lesson is: the love was. The love was worth it.

The risk of life, of really living, the risk of caring, really caring, and that guarantee of losing–sooner or later (and in my cases it’s been sooner), it’s all worth it one hundred percent.

It hurts like hell, all forms of loss, and it’s worth it.

Ernest Hemmingway said, “Write hard and clear about what hurts.” I did. And then I soared. Because it’s healing, but also because you read it and you cared.

There’s a lyric by Switchfoot that goes: “I believe there’s a meaning to it all, A little resurrection every time I fall.

I told you at the beginning that I fell a lot here. But you, you not only got me on my feet, you made me soar.

I will miss you terribly.

New York was not a mistake.

But it’s not my resting place either.

I’ve got to see what Portland’s got in store for me.

It’s been an honor, Rochester.

You’ve taught me SO MUCH.

This poem is for all of you. [“You’ll Always be” https://allandonlyhuman.com/2015/04/01/youll-always-be/]