Recovery

Survivors. Digging Deep. And the Exhausting Nature of Rage.

Content note: discussion of sexual assault, rape, depression

I haven’t blogged in months. Three-and-a-half months, roughly. On Monday, I wrote about how depressed I was most of the summer, and that’s part of the story.

There was actually a lot I could have written about this summer. I took an arts-intensive workshop with other K-12 teachers and got a lot of great teaching ideas, but also came away with a lot of questions and a desire to take it further, because, well, I think we can do more and expect more for our students’ ability to engage in the art-making process. I think the way we engage them is often insulting to both their cognitive and emotional intelligences (and I’m not talking about the way Powers that Be talk about “raising the bar.” They can shove their Bar).

I took a week-long graduate-level pedagogy seminar with Donaldo Macedo. It was life-changing. Career-changing. Did I mention life-changing? There was so much to unpack from the four-day seminar, and so many connections to what I’ve done, what I am doing, and what I will be doing in my classroom. I connected it back to the arts workshop, and made even more connections to what was missing from that experience. I will be writing about it later. But I could have written about it this summer, too.

Here’s what happened, and why it’s taken me so long to come back: I wrote about the Josh Duggar abuse scandal. And my post turned into a three-post series. And I had to dig pretty deep for part of it. And I had to word things carefully, and try to keep a cap on my rage, and not say too much. And then I was tapped out, and I could go no further. Before I could write more, on anything, I had to talk to my parents. There are issues too important, too damaging, too harmful, too caustic, too violent for me too keep myself partially shrouded. And some things are things too important for my parents to read for the first time on a blog.

So I took a break. And I drove home, 1200 miles, took my parents out to dinner, and told them something I’d kept from them for 11 years.

I am a rape survivor.

It made so many things make sense to them, that never clicked before. I told them I’ve been in counseling, I’ve been working on it, I’ve been healing. It doesn’t control my life. But I’m to the point where I want to write about it, to help other women, to help men and women understand, to volunteer with victims/survivors, to help the Church respond better.

Because that’s the part that made me so angry I had to quit writing– when I first started opening up to friends in the church I was revictimized by the responses, and writing Abuse, Forgiveness, and Casting Stones drudged a lot of that up. And it was exhausting. It was exhausting to write about it circuitously when I wanted to write about me. It was exhausting to know how feels to be a rape victim, and to have the response be about restoring purity or forgiveness, rather than on pursuing justice or making sure the abuser gets real help or is kept out of positions of authority so he cannot abuse again. (By the way, my abuser abused again. They do that. It’s a thing).

Now I’m back. I’m back teaching, back to grad school, trying to get a handle on this latest depressive cycle. And I’m “out” as a survivor.

There are more of us out here than you probably realize or know. That has to change. This culture of rape and abuse has got to change.

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Under the Bus

I’m going to cut right to the chase, for the first time in the history of my overly verbose soul.

sComm press release:

sComm Co-Founder and CEO, Jason Curry Issues Statement Regarding Communication Options for Deaf, hard of Hearing, and Hearing

Raytown, MO, April 9, 2015: sComm today released a statement regarding their commitment of enhancing communication options for the deaf, hard of hearing and hearing.

As CEO and Co-Founder of sComm, I would like to reaffirm our commitment to enhancing the ability of deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing people to interact with each other freely without barriers. A heartfelt and sincere apology to both the deaf, hard of hearing, and interpreting community for unapproved posts made by one of our new media staff. We are taking steps to assure it won’t happen again. It was never our intention to offend anyone.

As a part of the deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing community, we are working to ensure that our overall philosophy is properly represented, both internally and externally. We advocate all communication options which utilize the use of VRS, VRI, on-site interpreters and in combination with communication devices like the UbiDuo to maximize communication and timely interaction for everyone. In our 10 years of experience in the communication device field, this combination of communication methods has generated overwhelming success stories from people who are deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing.

We support communication options to maximize communication freedom and to help everyone live a full and satisfying life.

Curry threw a new staffer under the bus. That’s bad PR and bad business. It’s also dishonest, since the “Communicaphobia” video (and the ableist “crippled” language used therein) dates from several years ago. Curry is responsible for that, and when he issued that press release, the video was still active.

Curry threw a staffer under the bus. I don’t condone the action, but I understand the instinct. The minute I read it, my counseling bells dinged. I don’t know Jason Curry. I don’t know his history, his family, his experiences. I do know the heart-stopping panic, the debilitating anxiety, the soul-crushing self-doubt that sets in when I am challenged. When something I believe to be right and true and correct is held up as wrong or incorrect. The depression that looms overhead the instant my eyes are opened to the stark reality that I completely, totally, and in all other ways royally screwed the pooch.

Something I’ve been tackling in counseling is my fear of authority figures, my fear of angry people, and my fear of personal criticism. I also isolate myself when I anticipate one of those things on the horizon. Watching this sComm situation unfold is like watching old Danielle in a tailspin. Criticism –> anger –> silence –> carefully constructed deflection.

It took a lot of energy to keep my brain fired up like that. It takes a lot of energy to for me to step back, breathe, and own my mistakes, too. But my attempts at Shut up and repent quickly seem to cut the cycle off a lot sooner, and it’s amazing how the anxiety and the fear and a doom lift when I just. stop. Stop denying. Stop deflecting. Stop casting blame. Stop making excuses, passing the buck, controlling the narrative. Put on the gosh darn brakes and for the love of mother do not run over whomever it was I just threw under that bus.

Sometimes in business, in activism, in feminism, in relationships, in ally-ship, in recovery… in life… 

just. stop.

The Boundary with Problems (Part 2)

I’m a Twelve Stepper.

I’m not going to share my whole story, but I’m not going to pretend unhealthy thought patterns and codependency only affect my personal relationships. Problems with boundaries, responsibility, and authority bleed into my professional relationships, too. Right before my divorce, I said to my friend-and-now-sponsor It’s like every argument I have with my husband is a parallel of a fight I had with my mother.

I started attending meetings that week.

I’ve worked on replacing a lot of my scripts: I do not engage in body talk. I am not playing that game any more. Failure to plan on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.

One of my hardest tasks has been setting boundaries. I think this will be true forever, because there are so many boundaries to be set. The boundary between home and work and home is one that I have set and reset. This is not unique among teachers; it’s a quality many of us share. Honestly, the willingness to break that boundary (at least in regards to bringing work into our home lives) is held up as a quality of an exemplary teacher. It means we go above and beyond. We go the extra mile. We show unwavering dedication to our students.

Also, we burn out.

There is another kind of boundary I want to discuss today. The one between my students’ parents and me.

I know far too many teachers who are codependent. Codependent relationships are a type of dysfunctional helping relationship where one person supports or enables another person’s addiction, poor mental health, immaturity, irresponsibility, or under-achievement (source). We think we’re helping. Helping is what we do; it’s why we became teachers. If we can help parents while we help their children, all the better, right?

This is in the front of my mind right now, in part because I am taking a course on parental engagement in schools. The dominant paradigm for parental involvement is heavily school-centered–the school plans the activities, invites the parents, and decides what constitutes adequate involvement. This paradigm needs to change if we genuinely want to improve and transform our schools; it is critical to change the boundary between parent and teacher. This kind of transformation involves deconstructing the power hierarchy between school and home. It requires seeing parents and teachers as equal allies in a community of change. It’s about empowering parents and families. It requires the opposite of a codependent relationship. 

Home visits can be a part of a powerful school program. It can be included in the conversation when we talk about teaching the whole child. In my field of deaf education, it is a critical component of helping parents understand their child’s hearing loss. It is instrumental in demonstrating language-modeling activities and coaching parents in how to include a deaf or hard-of-hearing child in daily activities like baking or doing the laundry.

Phone conversations have long been part of my repertoire of parental engagement techniques. Also meetings and conversations with parents and PSR (psychosocial rehabilitation) counselors. Some of my most successful brainstorming sessions happened during my first two years of teaching with a parent and a student’s PSR worker. We saw each other as partners, we respected each other’s experience and expertise, and we honored each other’s contributions to the conversation. We tackled some pretty uncomfortable situations together. It was helpful to be part of a team.

In the same environment, with the same teacher (me), but with a different parent, home visits, phone calls, and meetings can become unhealthy very quickly. I have been asked and/or expected to cross my personal boundaries in several incidents. I had typed them out, but I decided against posting them. I am honestly not sure how much I can or should divulge, even though it would be anonymous. The Readers’ Digest version: I used to make any and every attempt to do whatever was needed for my students to show up and be successful in school. Now I see that by over-helping, I was disempowering the parents, and that some of those things could garner me a screen credit under the title Enabler. It makes me very uncomfortable, as I now understand it runs contrary to the work I’ve been doing in ACA; one of the characteristics of Adult Children is that we have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility and it is easier for us to be concerned with others rather than ourselves. It makes me uncomfortable because I now understand that I was reinforcing power hierarchies, which is the opposite of what I want to do with my graduate program.

Part of doing recovery is anonymity; I get that. So is being in recovery like having an invisible disability, similar to my migraines? I don’t know. I imagine there are people with opinions on both sides of that question. Do I have a right to ask for accommodations or considerations in regards to my recovery? Can I tell a supervisor that I need to maintain boundaries, even though I used to be willing to cross them?

If I draw the line and refuse to enter into a codependent dynamic, or in some cases, choose to scale back a relationship to eliminate codependency, I may very well be viewed as no longer going above and beyond. My evaluation may look less shiny if my supervisor decides that I am no longer performing satisfactorily in the area of parent involvement.

So where is the line? Where is my boundary with parents who have mental health diagnoses that impact their parenting? Where does my influence end?

How can I teach the whole child if it means not caring for the whole me?

Photo description: A close-up photo of a pencil tip drawing a straight line on a white backdrop.

The Problem with Boundaries (Part 1)

I do not have a good record of setting and keeping boundaries.

Work bleeds into my home life. My personal life bleeds onto the roller derby track. Roller derby sometimes makes me literally bleed (or, you know, sit on an ice pack at my desk for a week). I take on the problems of my friends when my own issues should take precedence. I even helped two friends resolve their needs to find new roommate situations by helping them move in together when I actually needed a roommate, too.

It’s a sickness, I tell you.

For real. I’m in a 12 Step program and everything. Sometimes I think it’s too little, too late. My first year of marriage, I worked between 50 and 60 hours a week. I also read the books Teach Like Your Hair is On Fire and The Freedom Writers Diary; I was definitely in my Idealistic Teacher Saves the World phase, and the hours I racked up in my classroom were a demonstration of that. I came early and I worked late, every day, all year long. I knew in my gut that’s what it would take. Rafe Esquith (the teacher who wrote Teach Like Your Hair is On Fire) came early and stayed late, too. My classroom observations were pretty solid that year.

Work was my life. I had no friends; my husband and I were homebodies. My husband asked me to talk about work less at home. And I read that Erin Gruwell (the Freedom Writers teacher) ended up divorced because of her above-and-beyond devotion to her job (though now I can’t find a credible source for that). So I stopped talking about work. But I didn’t stop bringing it home, so it festered in the form of major relapses in my reflux and weekends of long sleeps.

Spoiler alert: I ended up divorced, anyway.

One of my big goals in my 12 Step group is setting boundaries. We call our list of characteristics The Laundry List. There’s a more specific list that delves into our workplace behaviors, and one of them specifically says We become workaholics. The culture of our schools encourages this tendency, and the language surrounding school reform is very black-and-white: there are good teachers and bad teachers. “Increased accountability” is meant to separate the wheat from the chaff. We are expected to do more, with less. We spend our own money on books, materials, manipulatives, and craft supplies. We have profiles and projects on Adopt-a-Classroom and DonorsChoose. Our certificates and licenses must be renewed with a specified number of additional credits after an interval of years (currently in Idaho, it’s six credits every five years), but many of us have to pay for these credits out of pocket. So it is easy to see how it might be difficult to leave school at school.

Esquith said that other teachers cannot be expected to adopt his model of teaching. But it seems like any time there is a teacher who writes a book about how he or she transformed lives by rejecting the system, someone tries to turn it into the next system. Esquith’s mantra “Work hard. Be Nice.” became the slogan for the KIPP schools. KIPP was founded by two Teach for America alum. TFA prides itself in upending the “status quo” in American schools, but its model is hardly without critics. A quick trip around blogs and articles reveals that the TFA model includes a heavy workload and long hours; KIPP teachers (often TFA corps members) work 60 to 90 hours a week. The only way that can happen is to bring work into the home life. Work is the home life.

During my divorce, my supervisors had a conversation with me about leaving my home life at home because it was affecting my job performance. I understood what they meant, but I had no idea how to execute such a feat. How do I forget that between the hours of 7:30 and 4:30?

I readily admit I dropped back to 80% functioning during my divorce. I was a mess, I couldn’t focus, and I cried a lot. Eighty percent is a far cry from putting in 120% every day. It’s noticeable. I don’t ask my students to leave home at home, but I understand the need for me to do so, at least in some situations. My students know a lot about my life: my migraines, my backyard flock of hens, my daunting list of eating restrictions. But I didn’t tell them about the divorce until this August, even though it was finalized in January 2014. I didn’t even change my name back until this summer, because I didn’t want there to be a big change for them mid-year. As far as it affecting my job performance, I don’t know what the solution could have been, besides setting boundaries. But, alas: I am a workaholic, and it’s a safe guess that boundaries that bleed in one direction (work —> home) are probably permeable in the other direction, too (home —> work).

I don’t have a solution right now, but something about our school culture has to change. If we teachers are expected to put in as much effort as we do on a daily basis, to come in early and work late and procure extra funding and plan outside learning activities and use our own money to purchase supplies and take advantage of opportunities to continue our education (usually at our own expense), how are we still supposed to have the energy to maintain relationships and sleep and eat and exercise? How do we make it past the 5 year mark in our careers or our marriages? How do we not get ulcers? Because my wall between home and school is not the only permeable boundary affecting my health these days.

I get my 18-month chip in February. I still have a lot of work to do.

Image Description: A stick person pushing a black pencil across a white space, drawing a line upon which the person is walking.