Reclaiming my Body

“How am I reclaiming my body?” I am asked by my friend, Haley for a challenge she started. This challenge is the whole reason you are even reading this right now. I ponder the question. A few answers pop up, then push them away thinking they are too personal, so I say I will go to back to thinking about it later. I mindlessly watch Tv, zone out, but the tantalizing question keeps whispering in my ear and finally an hour later I finally confront it.

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Just now- posting that first picture of my mostly naked body…I could stop typing right now is reclaiming my body because I feel like I am going to throw up and my body is hurdling through space and my head is spinning. Am I going to post this? My grotesque body for the world to see? We will see if this post ends up on the internet. But I digress and push all feeling of utter detestation, distaste and revulsion for my body and I’ll post what I originally wrote:

I reclaim my body everyday that I no longer cut it’s beautiful, unique shade of carmel- honey-brown-sugar and in return, the counter on my phone applauds me by tallying another day clean. I reclaim my body with every morsel of food I eat to nourish my body. Is it fun to have to force yourself to eat sometimes? Or realize it’s 10pm and you’ve gotten though another day without food and find satisfaction in that, but also sadness because it’s not fair to yourself? Absolfuckinglutly not. With every sip of water I drink my body silently thanks me. Every cigarette I don’t smoke anymore and pollute my lungs with is a victory after 7 years of wasted money, stinking clothes and rotting breath. I reclaim my body when I remind myself that it is mine and nobody else’s and that *I* am in control from here on out. It’s revolutionary when I have the small “it wasn’t your fault” moments and feel that I no longer have to feel like a victim- they are few and far between but those are moments to be cherished. I reclaim my body when I see myself as more than my physical body and include my beautiful, brilliant, creative, afflicted mind as part as my whole self. I am not the sum of my physical parts.

Even in the moments when I all I can see are is damaged parts; the fat, hideousness, disgust, shame, laziness, loneliness, mental illness and sickness that swallow me whole, I try to salvage the idea that I am not a failure. I am intelligent, well spoken, educated and have an alacrity and appetite to learn more and more about the topics that interest me. I always say, (especially when it comes to dating) “I would rather be respected for my mind than my body.” Body shapes and sizes are ephemeral, intelligence is forever.

I reclaimed my body and soul when I declared my trans identity and express that in a plethora of ways because of the fluidity of my gender expression is infitie. On August 8, 2016 I surgically reclaimed my physical body.

I reclaim my body when I write because all the neurons and synapses in my brain are firing at once. When words surge at the speed of light out of my fingertips and onto a page and simultaneously thoughts erupt out of my brain like lava exploding out of a volcano–I must find a way to express myself because spoken words won’t suffice. My body is reclaimed when I speak about my mental illness because I can use my brain, (a seemingly endless mocking dichotomy of strength and weakness) as a beacon of hope for others because I am articulate, open and honest. I can show my scars, tell my stories, share the trauma and what lead me to who I am today. I use my lips that I once hated because people, men, used to make sexual comments about them to share my message of hope.

I am reclaiming my body when I go to therapy 2 times a week to work on the skewed and sometimes illogical beliefs I hold about myself and my body. I am challenged by a brilliant therapist to really look at myself and thoughts and notions about myself and the world and question if what I am thinking or feeling is coming from an emotional place or a place of logic.

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I am in a perpetual state of evolution.

#ReclaimingMyBody

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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.

Chutes and Ladders

Monday February 27,2917 6:31pm

Recovery is complicated. For some reason when I think of recovery I think of it as a straight line going up with no kinks, just an arrow going up. What I am learning is that recovery is much more complicated than that. While the general direction might be up (if you are lucky and putting the work in) there are a lot of squiggles and knots along the way. When I was in AA, recovery was looked at a day by day thing. Every second by second, as long as you don’t pick up. But then there are the stories of success where people just decided on X day they would stop drinking. When I got sober on February 22,2017, I didn’t drink for 8 months. It was that Monday that I said I am done. We were told in AA that it’s okay to slip up, it’s not the end of the world,but why does it feel like such utter failure when you relapse when its a process?

I have been clean from cutting for 4 days. I am learning to be gentle with myself and say THAT is recovery. Sure, I’m sure soon something or someone will trigger me, whether it be loneliness, depression, isolation or whatever,I am almost certain I will cut again. But I need to realize that at this moment, I am in recovery and bettering myself. Recovery is like Chutes and Ladders. You climb up the ladder (4 days clean) but then you fall down a little bit, but eventually get back up and go further next time. Maybe instead of looking at recovery as a fixed point “I will never cut again” perhaps, I need to look at it in smaller bites. Perhaps it should be, “I haven’t cut in 4 days, that is incredible considering my record used to be 2 days a week ago.” I think the main part in recovery is patience.

I have been manic for the last week since my moms 3 year anniversary. I have been impulsively spending, among other things I am too shy and ashamed to admit to. It seems with me my problems are like a whack-a-mole. One problem gets slightly better and another pops up. I struggle with an eating disorder and have been falling back into those pattern specifically if I am drinking. It’s like, the depression starts to dissipate but then KA-BLAM BITCH! Another problems bitch slaps you in the face. I have felt relatively normal this past week, not crippled by depression mostly because I have been up, because of my mania.

I just hope someday…I’m not sure. I hope things will be easier and I will stop falling down the ladder so far everything, instead of starting at the beginning each time I make smaller slips. But I need to be kind and say I am trying my hardest. I am in therapy 3-4 times a week, I reach out when I need help, I write, I sing, I listen to music. I am trying. But half the time I feel like a loser. To hear the concern and disappointment in my dads voice on the phone when I tell him of my latest relapse or shennagains hurts me more than when I cut my skin open. I want to make him proud of me, I want to be the perfect son who is financially independent and responsible. Instead my days are ruled by depression and now lately mania. Recovery is difficult, but I will keep fighting until I reach the top of the ladder even if I stand shakily at the top, I will get there with the knowledge that there may not be complete recovery.

Stained skin.

February 12, 1:50 am

My pain is represented by my scars. The fresh cuts on my arms and the bandages that cover them weekly demonstrate the hurt. The scars speak more loudly than words ever will as to how I feel. The scars speak to the pain, abandonment, fear and hurt that I feel that I’m unable to express in other ways. I try to speak, to impart to others why I hurt, why I hurt myself. But words don’t do justice. So I stay silent, not trying to have anyone understand. Nobody will get it, if I myself don’t understand, so I don’t try. The only way I know how to speak, is to write. To have words flow out of my fingers, thats that were unknown and un-realized thoughts and feelings surface, not revealed until typed onto my screen. My leg reads as a barcode, 20 or more dark scars stain my skin. My two tattoos on my wrist are framed by dark, self inflicted lines. I look into the mirror and I don’t see me anymore. I don’t know who this is, but it isn’t who I am. I am an actor and now I have to go into auditions with scars on my arms, my weakness and misery on display for all.

Someone tonight told me, for every cut you want to make, there are 1000 reasons not to. I am putting my career at stake with my sickness. I want my body to be pure again, clean, untouched. Instead I am tainted, dirty and soiled. Some people don’t hide their scars because they say they are sings that they are a survivor, proof that they have been through some stuff.They want the world to know they are warriors.  I don’t know that I agree, but its gotten to the point that my pain will be visible to see. Even if I wear a long sleeve shirt the pain will reflect in my eyes. Sure, my lips curve into smiles, my laugh booms out of me, but the darkness still rests within.

I’ve begun to cry more times these past 2 weeks than I have allowed myself in the past year. My eyes become blurry and fill with tears, but they refuse to fall. They sit stubbornly around my brown, sad eyes, unable to dip to my cheeks. I don’t feel a release, I feel nothing most of the time. I am hollow. I am carved out and empty. Covered in scars I did nothing to earn.

 

When The Bracelets Come Off (tw: self harm)

January 15,2017 9:48am

When the bracelets come off I know something sinister is about to take place. I can go a full day without even thinking about cutting, or maybe it passes though my mind as I see my arms. But I don’t think about it as much as I used to do. But once I’ve had 3 or 4 drinks in me and my bracelets come off I know I am going to hurt. The weird thing is sometimes it’s not a conscious decision, I just look down and see myself taking my jewelry off. The ritual begins as soon as they are off. I inspect my wrists, feeling the risen cuts usually fresh from the night before or a day before. I plan where I’m going to cut, between which lines that are healed enough, or start somewhere new. I usually cut in-between the lines. My wrists look awful, there is no hiding or pretending that they aren’t self harm scars. My leg looks like a barcode with long scars cut in straight lines, my wrists look the same.

I am ashamed that the world has to visibly see the pain I am in. A physical representation of the turmoil that plagues my mind on a daily basis. I wish I could go back restart and maybe not cut on such a visible place next time. The 2 tattoos that are on my wrists are framed by my cuts, always sure not to touch the art that adorns my body. Sadly a few cuts have spilled into the tattoo I got in memory of my mom, something shameful and sad. I want to be proud to show people my beautiful tattoo and now I can’t because of my arms. What a shame.

The crazy thing I find is how different it feels to cut sober or drunk. I’ve cut sober maybe 4 times total. I get drunk and cut, thats my pattern. When I’m sober I wince and want to yell out in pain because it burns and stings. But when I’m drunk my toes curl in pain but not like when I’m sober. Whats even more fucked is that taking off the bandage the next morning hurts more than the actual cutting. I hope that I can rid myself of this horrible, self destructive habit thats developed over the past month.

The journey home to a new me.

January 3,2017, 1:37pm
Here I sit at gate D47 after paying a $125 baggage fee waiting for my flight home for my new life to begin. I am a bit shaken by my last encounter with my angry dad over the excessive baggage fee. If I would have removed 6 pounds from my bag, it would have been only $25. I am mad at myself because I used the wrong card so I probably won’t be able to afford my metro card. Fuck. Will I be able to buy groceries? Dumb decision, Rilen, DUMB! Regardless, I am seemingly calm, probably because I have nicotine coursing through my veins as I just smoked my second to last cancer stick.

I am nervous and excited to go home. My flight leaves at 2:55. The gate is quiet, about 20 people scattered about, chatting on their cell phones, quietly listening to music, or like the guy next to me, munching on a piece of hard candy. I don’t know what to expect when I get home. A messy room, an empty fridge, unkept bed and no clean towels. Beyond the physical state of my cozy Brooklyn apartment, I have no idea what to expect of my new life that has just begun. I am on the road to recovery. I will begin intensive therapy, 4 times a week to tackle my self harm, and borderline personality disorder symptoms that permeate my life. I am crossing the bridge into a new me, the life of a professional out of work actor. I am nervous to go on auditions, but due to a new wardrobe I am confident that I will look great walking into those rooms. A shred of guilt nags at me as two of the sweaters I bought are a bit too tight around my hips. My muffin top spills over the top. I am still impatiently waiting for T to smooth out my hips and for the day I finally have the will to stop drinking mountain dew. 20 pounds lighter and that sweater will fit perfectly. When I go on a date I will be one fashionable bitch, clad in my new boots and sweaters. The new me is beginning to be shaped.

I don’t know what lies ahead for me. I did buy myself a piano which I am so excited to receive by mail later this week. I haven’t played piano in almost 2 years, haven’t written a song in over 3. I was walking down the street with a friend last night and was excitedly chattering about all the material I have to write songs about now, my moms death, being trans, being sexually assaulted, having mental illness— so much to draw on. My therapist says she doesn’t think I should have a job right away because I am still a delicate mess.

The exacto knife still sits in my $125 bag that is currently being inspected by gloved fingers.I wonder what they will think when they see it is shoved in a box of large bandaids, will they know? I hope I never have to use that knife again to peel back the layers of my skin in order to feel something deep that is buried in my soul. I hope that this 2 day, no-cutting streak can continue and I don’t add to the collection of straight lines that scar my wrists and forearms. Self inflicted pain and proof of it is hidden underneath bracelets I made. I am ashamed, I am wounded. I wonder what people in auditions will think when they see my wrists as I hold up the sides to an audition. Perhaps I will wear makeup? Or even still wear my bracelets? So many unknowns that only time will reveal. My goals are to get through this flight and take it day by day. I want to focus on piano, and learning spanish again and keep writing. Beyond that and therapy I have no plans. I will work when I am cleared to but I intend to keep busy regardless. Perhaps the bar around the corner will hire me as a bartender when I am ready? Or I will get a job serving in the city? So many unknowns.

A Christmas Eve Drop Out

It’s 5:40 pm in Tomahawk Wisconsin. I traveled from Waukesha to Tomahawk, a couple hundred miles beginning at 7:18am this morning. So far today I have taken a nap, drank a dark and stormy, had 2 pizza puffs, listened to sad music, dropped out of school and played with my dog.

I sit here writing in the basement of my dads vacation home, aware of my blessings. A Bose sound system blaring Johnny Cash’s rendition of hurt “ I hurt myself today 
To see if I still feel .I focus on the pain, the only thing that’s real ” clothes covering my back, a scarf at my neck, a dog at my toes. Bandages cover my wrists, a hat covers my head.I am grateful.

I left one of the nations most prestigious and rigorous acting schools today, but this isn’t the first time, but this will be the last. What was supposed to be only a month hiatus has now turned into an eternity of time where I will no longer be a student at the Atlantic again. When I first moved to new york in August 2014, I began the acting conservatory 4 months after my mom tragically and unexpectedly died. I entered school, lost and broken down, but determined to make my new york dreams come true. 1 week into the school year I did a jumping jack and tore my ACL. I had to leave new york to have knee surgery.I moved my things back to Wisconsin to under go surgery. Over the time I was home in WI, I came to the realization that I was transgender and began hormone replacement therapy.

I went back to school again for fall 2015 with a new out look on life, my emotional healing had been done and I was in a better place with my moms death and my knee was fully healed. 2 days into the school year, I was sexually assaulted on September 5, 2015. My whole life crumbled down. On September 19, I tried killing myself and spent a week in a pscyh ward upstate new york. I battled dissociation, cutting, drinking and losing any sense of self and safety I had for the first half of the semester. I some how was able to make it through the days at school, somehow still able to memorize lines, smile and laugh. I decided I would spend the entirety of my winter break to fly back to WI in order to undergo intensive therapy to go over the trauma that I underwent. I went to therapy twice a week for over a month. I rehashed every detail of my assault and grew stronger from it even though with each memory of his touch that flooded back into my senses I felt broken again.

I got though the second semester much better than the first. My teachers noticed a difference and so did I. I rarely dissociated and was able to do some meaningful work that I will forever be proud of. Now, if we rewind 15 weeks ago at the beginning of this school year and how I got here, seemingly no singular event has triggered me to leave this time.

I started the year hopeful and excited to see what was actually possible now that I had my life seemingly put together. I was excited to meet the first years, a few I had the privilege of to get to know quite well. I loved my group, a dynamic jumble of people from all over the world with an immense amount of talent. At times I felt like a true ant among giants. I felt working with some people so utterly small and insignificant. I thought from the moment I started my second class on the first day that I wasn’t good enough to go there or continue. I thought I sucked and wasn’t good enough to show up and do the work that was being asked of me. I proved myself wrong. I did some of the best work that I have ever done in my life in my final semester at the Atlantic. I achieved things in scenes I had only dreamed of being capable of. But this story doesn’t end on such a happy note though does it?

Despite making strides in my acting, I was still restricted and struggling with my various mental illness. I was crippled by anxiety and unable to speak in one of my classes called “speech.” I have been diagnosed as having bipolar since I was 22 and more recently have a name for the disorder that plagues my life on a daily basis, which is what brings me to the end of my time at the school I love so much; borderline personality disorder. I had deep undercurrents of sadness and a sense of mistrust in myself and my ability to suceed 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 rest button. I will leave school to undergo intensive psychotherapy and get the help I desperately need but more importantly, want.

I believe I am put on this earth for 2 reasons. 1 is to act and 2, (and what I think is more important,) is to help others. God gave me many gifts, the ability to write, speak and write songs. I am aware I have been helping people by the tens of thousands of views I have on my youtube videos.The daily messages of gratitue of people reaching out to me saying thank you for making my video. I need to get better so I can accomplish both of these things. I want to be a beacon of help to those around me that don’t have the voice I have. I want to break the stigma that mental illness is not a death sentence, without proper help it sure as shit can be, but help is out there. I refuse to be held down by my illness anymore. It is time that I stand  (shakily) on my two feet and walk into the light of recovery. As much as I have to do this for me, I believe I have to do this for others so I can help more in the future.

Thank you to all my classmates for your love and support. Thank you to my teachers who love me endlessly.  firmly believe I have more teachers phone numbers than classmates because of how loved I am. I am blessed.

It’s time to rebuild.