Broken Glass, Shattered Dreams, Becoming Whole

Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed of freedom, courage, and dignity for all people. It was along a street named for him that mine were so unjustly stolen from me on what was supposed to be my first day of high school 23 years ago this week. Due to a combination of healthy teenage rebellion, bipolar disorder which at the time included hallucinations and delusions (possibly the result of 12+ years of consistent prescribed codeine abuse to treat my allergies), and the circumstances of my life, I ran away from home seven times that summer. I was quickly heading toward either a living or a literal death. At the moment my life was threatened and I was attacked, my soul left my body and did not start to return, albeit in little unrecognizable fragments, until at least five years later.

At a recent Crime Victims Council of the Lehigh Valley training, the speaker lamented about a time when women were revictimized by the police. I lived through that time. The police suggested that I was raped by a friend. They scrutinized my clothing, suggesting that I provoked the attack even though I work a long sleeve shirt and long pants. The chief of police laughed out loud at me when I told him the perpetrator told me he was a cop. The detective told me he had a never-ending mountain of paperwork and that he didn’t have time to work on false reports. The police lost the evidence that could have been used in court. They manipulated my family into believing that I made the story up to get attention. They were skilled oppressors.

About 15 years later, I moved back to my home community after living in Philadelphia for the past six years. I started a job just down the street from the scene of the crime as an advocacy and outreach coordinator at a regional food bank. It was here that I both confronted my past and found my future. I passed by that awful place nearly day on my way to and home from work, a symbolically meaningful everyday act that gained significance over time. I was no longer a desperate teenager destined for death; I was a woman on a mission. I had the tremendous responsibility of advocating for some of the most vulnerable people in my community. People like me. I was excited about my work and felt truly alive. I realized that I lived so that I could be an example of compassion, hope, and love.

The police sent me a letter to tell me that they would put a copy of the emergency food resource guide I created in every patrol car in the city.

When I first thought of sharing this story on this blog, I felt a sense of personal shame. But really, I should feel ashamed that it has taken me over 20 years to share my story in a meaningful and helpful way. I feel ashamed that women and children are still at risk of being unsafe in my community. I am ashamed that people who suffer from mental illness are socially, culturally, and economically marginalized. I have a lot of compassion for people who are chronically homeless, addicted, or otherwise feel stuck in a tumultuous cycle. That was me. That is me. That is us.

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4 thoughts on “Broken Glass, Shattered Dreams, Becoming Whole

  1. Sonya Dollins-Colton says:

    Thank you so much of opening up to this awful crime and your “disorder.” People need to hear stories like yours and you are extremely brave to tell your story on your blog.

  2. Diana Frank says:

    This was a very courageous post. I find that the most important part of healing from any trauma is knowing that you are not alone. In her excellent book, “Trauma and Recovery”, Judith Herman, M.D. states, “Adolescent soldiers are more likely than their mature comrades to develop post traumatic stress disorder in combat. And adolescent girls are particularly vulnerable to the trauma of rape…Combat and rape, the public and private forms of organized social violence, are primarily experiences of adolescence and early adult life. The United States Army enlists young men at seventeen; the average age of the Vietnam combat soldier was nineteen….Similarly, the period of highest risk for rape is in late adolescence…three quarters (of victims) are between the ages of thirteen and twenty six. The period of greatest psychological vulnerability is also in reality the period of greatest traumatic exposure, for both young men and young women. Rape and combat might thus be considered complimentary social rites of initiation into the coercive violence at the foundation of adult society.”

    I read this book after reading about it in Alice Sebold’s, “Lucky”, a memoir (for lack of a better word) of her rape and the aftermath. It helped me to see that most of us walking around each other, never speaking, never touching, always fearful have been traumatized by the violence and neglect in our society. It helps to bring the personal trauma into the broader context of life as we know it. If you were from the desert and had never seen the ocean, it would take you a while to adjust to the sights and sounds – the birds, dolphins, waves crashing. You might be terrified by it. I had this experience recently when my husband and I went to Cherry Springs State Park to observe the Dark Sky. Potter County is surrounded by mountains covered with trees. The effect was like being surrounded by walls of dark green water looming over you. It was a little frightening for me.

    Freedom is a word that is tossed around so much that it has become meaningless. We don’t know what freedom is anymore than the person from the desert knows what the ocean is. We walk around thinking we’re free or that we could be if we won the lottery. Real freedom can only be achieved when we have recognized that we have all been traumatized by the brutality of a system that has historically favored repression over freedom.

  3. jrdreistadt says:

    Thanks so much for your support and for sharing those resources. Both sound really interesting and helpful. I think a lot about what freedom means; what it really, truly means. I agree that its meaning has been lost in our society. In fact, in another (not yet published) blog post, I wrote that many people think of freedom as the ability to buy whatever they want. This resonates with your idea about winning the lottery. It is all meaningless if we live in an oppressive society.

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