I don’t think actors body of work should be written off because they are rapists and sexual abusers.

Yes, you read that title right. From the surface it sounds as if I am excusing actors for their predatory actions, no? Or perhaps it sounds as if I’m saying I don’t believe they should be held responsible for their actions and shouldn’t be condemned for what they did simply because they are famous? That might be the assumption you are making. You might be thinking “who the fuck is this moron?” From the surface I can understand why you would think that and question who I am. It’s a bold statement to make in such tumultuous times. But dig deeper and you will discover who I am. What you don’t know or realize is that these words, that declaration is coming from a sexual assault survivor. I was sexually assaulted at Coney Island on September 5,2015 and I also have an extensive, dark, scary, shrouded trauma history dating back to childhood. I am not a nobody- my eyes are not veiled by ignorance and innocence- I know first hand the effects sexual assault has on a person. I am a fucking warrior who has weathered the storm of abuse and the consequences that follow it. I have stood in the pouring rain, that eventually began to drown me and carried me away into a sea of despair and loss. Seemingly helpless I watched my life fall to pieces right before my (and those who love me) eyes. I have weathered the storm and in the end, (which is my present) I managed to come out on the other side finally. But to come out on the other end of that trauma I had to go through 2 years of abusing alcohol, cutting my skin nightly and complete decimation of any sense of self. It is now on the other end of that darkness that I feel competent enough and have the lived experiences to make the statements I am about to.

All the different parts of my identity—sexual abuse survivor, former cutter, peer counselor, animal lover, pizza fiend and overall human being who has compassion and empathy begin to make up the tattered fabric of who I am as a whole. In addition to these facets of me, I am also an actor and for the purposes of this post, I am going to separate this complicated issue into looking at this from an actors perspective and as a sexual assault survivor.

The reason I am writing this in the first place is because of a recent facebook status I made lauding Casey Affleck for his performance in 2016’s Manchester By The Sea, that I just watched last week. This film garnered him best performance by an actor in a leading role at the oscars, as well as the film winning best original screenplay. I expressed my admiration and shock of his seamless performance of a repressed, struggling, and under the external guise of put-togetherness a truly broken, hurt, vulnerable human. I didn’t expect to be so inspired and taken by his performances, I told the 556 friends on Facebook that I have how much I admired him and was inspired by the subtle complexities of his performance. Within minuets I received a few comments on my status, the first being “didn’t he assault women” in which I *truthfully* admitted I was not aware of. 2 other people chimed in, confirming the allegations made against him. I also had someone, a fellow acting teacher in fact, send me an article via facebook messenger that explained the accusations of sexual harassment made against him, in which this particular person lamented remarking “ Yeah. It’s pretty bad. Disappointing, to say the least” in my response to “oh man, I didn’t know!”

By the time the movie had come out ( now almost 2 years ago) there were allegations against Casey by a few women stating he displayed inappropriate, unwanted sexual harassment, although no formal rape allegations were made. When presenting Affleck with the award at the Oscars, former best actress in a leading role, Brie Larson made it a point to not hug, clap or touch him while presenting him the prestigious and sought after award. In an interview after the show she was quoted saying “I think whatever I did onstage kind of spoke for itself. I’ve said all I need to say about that topic.” The world had its opinion on whether or not he should have won the award given these accounts from women. Twitter blew up from people all over the world reprimanding the Oscar’s for giving him the award. A very outspoken Chrissy Teigen pretended to be asleep on her husband, John Legend’s shoulder while Casey awkwardly accepted the award. Currently, there is uproar about whether or not he should be allowed to attend 2018’s Oscars in which he would present the award of Best actress in a leading role.

Given this new information I felt shame that I had admired him so openly when others had such staunch opinions about him and his actions. I am not blaming those people, or pointing fingers and saying “You made me feel bad about myself, so heres an article! Shame on you!” The reason I write this is because, despite the fact that I know that was not the intention of these people, I still did feel shame, to the point that I felt obligated to delete my status as a whole because I didn’t want it to seem that with the new knowledge of what he had done I was still supporting him-even though I still do.

And that, that right there is the root of the problem in my eyes, or rather my question I pose to you is this: should we disregard, belittle and erase an actors work because of sexual assault or harassment allegations? Do actors like Kevin Spacey or comedians like Louie CK (and the laundry list of other abusers that have been exposed in recent months) deserve to be written off as performers and erode their past work? Or should we just look at their (despicable) behavior and “judge” solely their character and poor choices and dislike them as a human because of said actions and leave the work out of it? Does it make sense to take away the weight of inspiring, moving, heart wrenching performances that these artists were able to conjure because of something disgusting they did that clearly caused their victims discomfort and peril? Do we throw away all the brilliant performances Kevin Spacey (or in this particular case, in relation to me, Casey) demonstrated on film? Don’t get me wrong, a completely separate issue is whether or not they should they work again after their abhorrent actions were brought to light- but that is not what I am here to talk about.

I question whether or not this concept of discounting the totality of their work after their actions surfaced makes sense or is warranted. I will speak solely for myself and this whole “Casey situation.” Personally, I am saddened and disappointed to hear that Casey would sexually harass someone. And I lament the fact that the other victims of other high-profile entertainers lives are ( and forever will) be changed, and they too will experience the lost sense of self and inevitable implosion that happens after someone decides they have agency over your body. For those women, or men- I truly empathize with and stand beside them because to continue in the face of violence takes a strong person- a warrior.With that being said, I do NOT believe his, or anyone else’s performances in films (more specifically this case, Casey in Manchester) should be thrown away into the trash and blacklisted. His talent and what he dug down and into to reveal about the human condition in this movie should be respected and honored. I say judge him for his actions, not his accomplishments as an actor. Hate him, curse him, hell- throw darts at his face on a wall if you want to, but I don’t think his lack of decency should overshadow what he did in that film.

Now! For the flip side of this- the victim viewpoint. What Casey, and every other performer who is being charged with these lurid acts of explicit lack of compassion and sound judgment is disgusting, wrong and unacceptable. I do not condone, support or even bat at eye to knowing what they did to children, men and women is wrong. Their actions are reprehensible and unforgivable. Predators like this are pieces of algae at the bottom of the pond and deserve to be reprimanded for the lives they have ruined. But again, I do not think because of this behavior their talent as a performer should be stripped away.

Now ask me, “Rilen, if your abusers were talented, renowned, powerful actors and inflicted pain and emotional turmoil in your life, would you feel the same? Would you forgive them?” My point is, this is not about forgiveness or even making excuses or excusing behavior. This is not about wiping the slate clean. Keep the slate dirty- pour sulphuric acid and cow shit on it! Simply, I just don’t believe their performances should be disregarded. I was talking to a friend today about this, someone who used to be my teacher about this same topic and they expressed that they had no interest in seeing his films anymore- or at least this one in particular at this point in time. He felt that if Casey atoned for his actions, by first of all apologizing in the first place ( because he has yet to do that. In fact he settled out of court for an “undisclosed amount of money” Aka: “I know I ruined your life but heres some money so be quiet. Go to Fiji, get a tan, drink a mojito. Just keep your mouth shut”) and in addition tried to makeup for what he did by perhaps giving back to the community of sexual assault survivors he would be given some room to redeem himself. It’s funny, I was just reminded of how my late mom refused to see any of Tom Cruise’s films or even interviews ( she would honestly leave the room) after he made a comment directed at Brooke Shields saying that postpartum depression isn’t real. Looking at these two different peoples reactions there is (from what I can gather- I believe this is somewhat wrong, but this is all I can out together) no separation in their eyes between these actors less -than- angelic actions and the validity of their previous and future creative/artistic work.

One final example is when I texted a close friend of mine a few nights ago, who also happens to be an actor. I reached out to them because I was afraid to ask anyone else because of the fear of retaliation and judgment, similar to what I received online from other actors. I knew this person would be open to discussion and not judge or reprimand me for posing this question. I texted them in the same way I did earlier when I began this post. At 3:48 am I said “With all of these sexual assault allegations coming out and such, do you think it should discredit an actors talent or work?…I feel bad for still respecting his (Casey’s) work in this film when those people basically said I was wrong for looking up to him. What do you think? Do you think we should judge actors and eliminate their talent just because of disgusting choices they made in their lives?” His response, 10 whole minutes later, which frankly felt like an hour because this concept was really bugging me was this: “ No, not at all. Bill Cosby was America’s dad. I still have so much respect for him and the amazing things he did. But he raped women, one of whom tried to kill herself. Its fucked up. Does it make the good things he’s done go away? No.”  I responded with “ Agree. What they did was wrong. There was a violation. Someone’s life and innocence was ruined. But that does not mean their work should be discredited. Idk man.” He ended with “Exactly, its a beyond tricky topic to talk about. I’m going to bed. Goodnight.” And I quickly followed up with “ I know if I say or make a video or write about this it I’m gonna get scathed.” His response? “Just do it. Up to you.” I replied “We shall see. Could be powerful.” Which brings me to where I am now on Friday December 22, 2017 at 8:23 pm, taking a risk by voicing my opinion by carefully crafting my thoughts (this took 3 hours) on a very controversial, timely topic.

In the end what I am saying is: As a sexual assault survivor, I know first hand that what these people did to others is inexcusable, despicable, dangerous and life-altering, but I am also saying that I don’t believe the work they did should be discredited because of predatory behavior.

 

 

 

if you would like the video version of this is here: https://youtu.be/LfG3oF1bn6s

 

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My Room Is Illuminated and Bright. A story of personal growth and overcoming self harm.

I woke up this morning to this this Facebook reminder. When I looked at it I smiled and was briefly reminded of how much this day was a catalyst to where my life is now. Now less than an hour later, on the 1 train headed to the Apple store, I feel sick to my stomach. I feel sad. You see, I had to just count on my fingers how many days it had been a year ago (when this post was made) that I first started self harming. At this point a year ago it was a week straight; my troubles started December 8, 2016. This is a day that I remember like an anniversary, like one would remember a birthday or death (perhaps this was a rebirth?) On this 1 train at 1:21 pm I am listening to my playlist “December 2016” which consists of all the sad songs I used to listen to for almost 10 months. Just as a little taste some of the songs on this pit-of-despair-in-music-form playlist I’ve got:

⁃ Hurt, Johnny Cash (a personal fav when the self loathing of cutting came in)

⁃ Under The Knife, Icon For Hire ( I think we can all guess what that’s about)

⁃ Creep, Radiohead

⁃ Hurts Like Hell (which, shockingly enough is NOT about cutting- it’s about people leaving you)

…Anyway. You get the hint. #sad #angst

SO! On December 8, 2016 I began to cut, on December 16 school let out for Christmas break, and Christmas Eve I left acting training.

It wasn’t another 4 months until my violent, life threatening behavior ended and I stopped hurting myself in March 2017. I can greatly attribute my recovery to my constant cognizance that what I was doing was dangerous, in addition to my willingness to go to therapy 4 times a week. Now I’m down to 3 because I don’t need to meet with my psychiatrist weekly anymore- we are now on a 3 month in-between period to touch base.

It’s sad because that moment in the status above mentioned a teacher grabbing my face and saying those words to me “you are worthy of love and belonging” was in response to me simply saying I probably wouldn’t return for the third year of training (a whole semester away from where we were now in training.) What I was really saying was “I know I don’t have you as a teacher next semester in the first place, I know I would have you again next year but I can’t do this anymore. Goodbye.” Same thing happened when my classmates and I went out for drinks after class was finished for Christmas break- I knew in my heart that I wasn’t coming back. I sat there, detached at the schools haunting grounds, mildly dissociated trying to quietly let on I was leaving.

I guess word spread among the staff at Atlantic because I soon revived a message from the student affairs director on December 23 and then eventually we had a phone call on Christmas Eve discussing my “options” even though we both knew it would be in my best interest to leave the rigorous training program that I was no longer mentally capable of meeting the demands required for success in the program. It’s funny, I was going through my old phone a few days ago and found the exchange between this human and I over Christmas break:

Looking at the conversation I see the resistance, anger and embarrassment I was harboring at the fact that she had found out what I had been doing to my body. It’s clear the amount of shame that I had considering this is the woman that took me to the hospital in the middle of a school day and ended up saving my life when I came to her and told her that I had tried committing suicide the night before back in September 2015 .During our phone conversation on Christmas Eve with her I decided to leave school. So there I was, in the north woods of my Wisconsin lake house in 18 degree weather, I felt as if a weight was lifted from my shoulders. I KNEW it was the right choice. I wrote a blog post that was called “Christmas Eve Drop Out” that I posted on Facebook and my WordPress blog. That night my post was read over 100 times and I received over 30 comments from people, some current classmates, some classmates in the grade below me who I never got a chance to know, family friends, teachers, and some private messages etc. In that moment I felt loved and supported. Part of my post:

“I had deep undercurrents of sadness and a sense of mistrust in myself and my ability to succeed at this school. By the final two weeks of school I had cut myself near 100 times on my wrists and legs as a way to deal with my feelings that I couldn’t express. I made it through to the final day just barely, missing classes became a pattern for me which is a no no at my school. I had begun to fall down the rabbit hole each night that I took a razor to my skin and inflicted such pain on myself.

I am lost and weak. I have lost who I am. Yesterday I wrote saying ” An inferno of sadness as engulfed my soul.” In this moment however, I don’t feel that way. I see a light in the corner, a light that I am actively chasing to eventually illuminate my whole room. This is the reset button. I will leave school to undergo intensive psychotherapy and get the help I desperately need but more importantly, want…. It is time that I stand  (shakily) on my two feet and walk into the light of recovery. It’s time to rebuild. “

After I came home from the lake house it was time for an action plan. We looked into hospitalization back in New York because I refused to move back to Wisconsin- cutting or not New York is my home. My therapist was in way over her head and told me she couldn’t help me anymore. Luckily that’s when Callen Lorde came in and saved my life. Callen Lorde is an LGBT community health center in Manhattan– the place I make the 2 hour commute 3 times a week to better myself.

So. That’s all in the past, yes? Well happily the answer IS yes. I haven’t cut myself in 286 days (and for those of you that are mathematically challenged *not judging, so I am* OR too lazy to figure out how long that is- it’s 9 months.) I still have sooooo many clinical diagnoses that are listed in the charts by the many mental health professionals I see, but guess what? I am working on it. Although these conditions will never go away, I am finally in a very stable place where my days aren’t soiled with the acrid taste of regret (usually alchohol) and sorrow that used to wake me in the mornings (and by mornings I mean like, 2 pm because I was a depressed mess.)

I have written about my past of self harm and depression extensively on my blog ‘The Rilen Files’ on WordPress (shameless plug. )Most notably the post called “56 Little Marks” that has a (horrifying) 486 views where I document the 56 scars left on my body that still remain a year after my 3 month fall apart-who-the-fuck-am-I-help! period in my life. Below is the beginning of the post (a good read if I may say so myself)

It’s nice that I’ve gained allies throughout that horrific time in my life. I’ve sustained friendships that have weathered my tornado. Friends I’ve met online across the world on different continents who I talk to daily,and trust inherently. Not your every day Joe Shmoe could’ve been sucked in and devoured by my sea of despair because they simply weren’t strong enough or had the compassion to deal. Cuz seriously, what the hell would YOU do if someone was texting you at 3M, drunk, depressed and (sometimes) angry telling you they a) have a knife next to them and either they want to cut themselves or b) they are already bleeding????I don’t even know how I would react to that.

So, to those friends, and therapists (that will never be able to read this- unless I decide to take the whole session to read this novel) thank you. Thank you for your friendship and unwavering love.

It’s been a year and then some but as 2018 approaches in (counts on fingers again- I told you I wasn’t kidding) 16 days, despite the haze that used to cover my eyes and cloud my thoughts, the darkness that consumed me, the vicious thoughts and voice in my head that whispered and sometimes screamed at me to cut deeper and give up, I am excited to see what wonderful opportunities are headed my way. On December 24,2016 I wrote “ I see a light in the corner, a light that I am actively chasing to eventually illuminate my whole room.”

And now on December 14,2017

My room is illuminated and bright.

The process and picture documentation of a panic attack

I’ve grappled with whether or not to share this picture with the world out of fear, embarrassment, being accused of being ‘dramatic’ and ‘attention seeking’ or perhaps looking for pity- and here I am, going against those voices in an attempt to teach and inform.

I truly believe I’ve been put on this earth for two reasons: one of those reasons is to act but, the bigger purpose of my life I believe, is to help people and spread awareness about mental health and mental illness. I talk about my diagnoses on YouTube and write about it, but until last night I didn’t have any “proof” of how this manifests its self (besides a video I have of me dissociated)

The reason I timidly and nervously am posting this picture is because I want to show people how erratic and unpredictable mental illness can be and help end the stigma. The top picture of me when I’m smiling and happy was taken at 5:59pm on my way to see a friends play- I was eager and excited to support my friend-what could go wrong? After intermission when the show started, within minutes I began to have a panic attack based on an OCD obsession and compulsion. Because I was not the able to carry out the “ritual” of what was triggering me I began to crumble during the second act of the show which was over an hour and began at 9:02 pm. I sat in my seat with tears rolling down my face,l had racing thoughts trying to figure out a way out of the situation; do I leave? Do I text my friend?

After the show was over and I was waiting for my friend to come out, I started texting one of my friends letting them know what was going on. As I was texting, my hands were shaking making it difficult to type, I was starting to get dizzy and I was beginning to hyperventilate which is when the second picture was taken at 10:48 pm—I wanted to show them what was going on. My friend from the show came up to me to greet me and saw that I clearly was not OK and grabbed his coat and we went outside. As we were walking down the street I began to lose it and was hyperventilating and crying. I was embarrassed and kept apologizing for my behavior because I felt so out of control and crazy. At the time I didn’t tell him what was going on and what triggered the attack, however now he knows—but I’m not comfortable explaining what happened on here. But I have to say I’m grateful for my friend for normalizing my behavior. He didn’t act like the way I was acting (even though he didn’t know the circumstances) was wrong,weird or crazy.

This is the first time I can officially attest to the fact that I’ve had a full out panic attack. I’ve had minor things like this happen such as hyperventilating and feeling like my chest was tight and had trouble breathing but nothing like this before. The third picture was taken 2 hours later after the initial attack at 11:02pm on the subway home when I was still in a state of crisis. And now, the last picture is of me 20 minutes ago, a day later. The fact that this was based around something around my OCD is something that I never thought I was capable of, or rather my brain was capable of creating.

So the reason that I’m sharing this picture is I want everyone to know that mental illness has a mind of its own and can truly paralyze someone and we need to stop stigmatizing people with mental health conditions. These diseases of the mind are inconsistent and things hit when they want to. People think that having mental illness is a sign of weakness or maybe attention seeking behavior, however what happened last night was truly terrifying and I felt powerless. 40 MILLION americans struggle with some type of anxiety disorder- that’s 18% of the population. This picture is meant to show that this shit happens to MILLIONS of people. I wish that more people were like my friend and would normalize this behavior and not have such a stigma behind it.

I hope for those of you that are reading this and struggle with mental illness whether it be OCD or type of anxiety disorder, bipolar, ptsd or whatever you’re struggling with is that you’re not alone, these things are normal, you’re not crazy and there’s nothing wrong with you. You’re perfect.