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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The Landmine.

I scroll aimlessly. A picture of a classmates new shitzu named Bitsy pops up..Eh, not cute enough to give it a like… A college classmate dyed their hair purple, it looks cool as fuck, deff giving that a thumbs up. And then I get steamrolled, a “Why I didn’t report” post and then right into it- the gruesome details of a person I personally know from high school  who was taken advantage of briefly fill my 15 inch screen but luckily I catch it fast enough to scroll past it to reach my high choir school teachers witty pun about how I should be grateful about how I should thank a music teacher if I can read this message written in music notes. But the damage has already been done. My heart beats faster. Even just seeing those words makes me tense up and my vision blurs a bit. I brush it off. I try to refocus on what else is on my timeline and forget what I saw. Memes pass by, pictures of peoples kids (when the hell did everyone get married and have kids??) stupid videos and sure, I will probably see something else related, but maybe this time someone will be considerate and actually put a Trigger Warning (TW) and I know to sidestep that landmine even faster and squeeze my eyes shut even faster this time as I scroll by so as though to not see a single triggering word; “rape” “hands” “him” “hair” “no”  that I know will be mentioned in their post. But it happens again, an article this time, maybe a picture of a courtroom with some disgusting title. And obviously I don’t read the article, but stupid me just keeps scrolling, repeating the same pattern day after day the week of october first 2018 not realizing the extent of the damage I am doing to myself psychologically until I find myself at the end of the week when I cry silently to myself on my couch in my Bronx apartment, alone.

I cry because I hurt. I cry because I know how many others hurt. I cry because I personally know the **nnahs, **mes, **tts, ***thia’s,*am’s **sley’s, **ristian’s, **Iana’s,**chel’s, *m’s, *my’s, **eily’s, **ther’s,**ole’s,**er’s,*a’s, **ank’s and however many other  classmates from elementary school, middle, high school, college, conservatory, and teachers that taught at these institutions… H U M A N S  I  know. Whether they be cis, trans, nonbinary, undecided- – EVERYONE I know that struggles silently that will never tell anyone or worse, can’t remember the trauma they have endured because their beautiful brains have decided to protect them from the injustice they have suffered, that have been taken advantage of. Many of these people I just named have come forward on on social media which is a brave step, ( or in some cases, I have been one of one only people they have ever disclosed to) but like I said, not everyone has that privilege because not all of us have clear pictures of what our trauma is or what looked like in the first place. Speaking solely for myself, I have endured childhood trauma but I don’t have the whole picture– it is murky, but even if I knew and had the whole picture I don’t know that I would disclose those intimate details. There is a reason my brain is hiding those details from me this late into my life. I have very plainly disclosed most all the details of my assault on September 5, 2015 where I was assaulted at Coney Island on my YouTube, TheRilenFiles in a video candidly called “Sexually Assaulted.”  which was made 4 days after it happened and I talk about it in my writing, but as far as my childhood trauma, that is between my therapists, and what my brain decides reveal.

I guess what I am trying to say is, times are tough no, fuck that, times fucking suck. This is not a post about how much pain I am in. Fuck that. This is a post about how scared I am for those of us ( and I am including everyone- every single person out there) that are still in situations where maybe we are still being abused, or where something just happened or for those of us where sadly, the future will still happen and we too will soon become part of the grim statistic that a violation will happen to us. I pray for all that whatever God you do or do not believe in blesses you with the strength to carry on.

If you are a survivor, because that’s. what. you. are. if you are reading this and have had something happen to you, you are not a fucking victim, FUCK. THAT. YOU SURVIVED. You are alive and breathing. Not everyone has the privilege of being able to say that, my dear. You are still alive. I know it’s not fair, you question “Why me” you might blame yourself, most of do, how can you not? Society tells us it’s our fault. You might question, “Why did I wear that? Why did I drink that? Why did I take that drink?” Or in my case, “Why did I wear that and why the fuck did I say that?”

I sliced open my skin open with an exacto knife nighly and drank to “cope” ( hah! more like shove down and sprint away from and numb) with my assault for almost 3 years to deal with my shame of my assault. This is an unfair time and being activated or triggered ( whatever word you want to use) by some stupid “social media” platform like facebook is downright unfair.

I write this from a place of concern, solidarity and end on a  plea. I write in solidarity for all of my warrior survivors who are trying to get by in these fucked up times who are dealing with this in the stinging silence of shame and regret and who are doing the best you can possibly do in whatever way that looks like or even the people who have the arms of those who love you wrapped tightly around you.

And the plea? This goes out to those of you that come from the place that are not survivors and post what coud be potentialy very triggering content. I understand your outrage and your call to support for us, and I thank you. But please understand the constant barrage of articles can be overwhelming and sensory overload. I’m not here to censor. I am here to only offer a mere suggestion. A simple trigger warning, that is all I suggest. I’m suggesting because I do not control you, I do not know your motives in sharing these articles or presume to know you and your history, but if I may speak for at least some of us, for you to be an ally for some of the people you are angry for and want to protect, (or even are just a pissed off citizen who is disgusted and seek umbrage and are irate) I ask to please consider this small request,tumblr_pg5xdkt98j1qjql4no1_1280

In love and solidarity,

Rilen.

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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.

Now Is The Summer of My Discontent

July 7, 2017 1:57am

I try to turn my pain into hope for others. While this can be fulfilling at times, it can be exhausting for me. Try to keep a smile on my face and add levity to my situation but everyday it seems to get harder and harder. 10. 10 mental illnesses I am now diagnosed with. bipolar.borderline.ptsd.ocd.gad.complex grief.soical anxiety.adhd.edenos.body dysmprphia. Maybe that’s 11. I’m too tired to count.

I know suicide isn’t the option because I am able to help others though my pain, I still believe I have a purpose. But I get tired of fighting sometimes. Like now, my brain, body and soul is tired of fighting- of putting on a brave face for the “public” in a vain attempt to selflessly help others. I don’t lie, I don’t put on airs. I don’t try to act happier than I am but I am tired. I am 96 days clean of self harm. 96. When I think of that in number 96 is a temperature I hate, it’s too hot for me. I wish I could give up, cave and give in, remind myself that I am alive and here. My days are filled with lonlieness and dissociation. I drink and drink but I find it harder each day to get drunk and fully turn off. Instead my brain decides to dissociate and detach from reality and any semblance of being human.My face becomes emotionless, my words mean nothing and I am unable to communicate let alone feel. My sadness engulfes me, maybe thats what keeps me going. My sadness. My sadness gives me fuel to keep going because at least I know I am alive.

I wish I had something profound to say, like this is just a phase, things will get better. People tell me I am in a rough patch, but truth be told, I have been in a rough patch for 3 years. My mom died, I realized I was trans, I was raped, I began cutting, I dropped out of school- it doesn’t end. Now trauma from childhood assault begins to plague me and memories and nightmares begin to haunt my dreams. Restless from lack of sleep I toss and tun in my firm bed. I try to forget but my brain isn’t allowing me to. I want to rest, to feel whole and complete again. I wonder, what does it feel like to feel whole and not addled with pain and hurt? What does it mean to be happy and full? The only thing these days that gives me purpose is acting. Every time I get called in to audition I feel like I a doing something right. Like I am meant to be here for a reason. That when I step into that room in front of a table and someone hears me speak, I get to do what I love for 90 seconds. Those 90 seconds are mine to shine, to let my light shine and glow. I am reminded why I am here when I get to perform. The promise of being able to support myself solely though acting keeps me going and I allow myself to fall into fantasies of success and money. Not even fame, or recognition, but content–purpose.

I haven’t felt so low since December- February when I was self harming everyday. I don’t know what it will take to “snap me out of this.” Therapy 3 times a week instead of two? I don’t have the answers.

56 Little Marks.

56 little marks. 26 on my thigh. 16 on my left forearm. The rest scrambled on my wrists. Little reminders of how sick I was. Some are long, some are short, some go vertical, some go horizontal. Some are crooked, some are neat. All these little lines mark my body for the world to see. 60 days have passed since I have since picked up a knife and sliced my tender, soft, carmel skin.

There aren’t words to express how crazy it is to know that 2 months have passed since I last hurt myself. When I was self harming it was a daily habit. The longest I could go was usually 2 or 3 days, then I would cut again. Then I would make it a week then relapse. I was in so deep I thought I would never get out of the hole I found myself in. I thought “Okay, this is your life now. This is how you deal with your feelings, get comfortable.” What a relief to know my dirty little habit only consumed a short 3 month period of my life.

What a relief it is to not have to wake up to the massacre on my wrists after a night of excessive drinking and cutting. Half of the time I forgot I even hurt myself until I woke up and saw bandages on my wrist. Bandagaes carefully placed by my drunken self the night before. I would peel back the layers of gauze and bandages to reveal my shame from the night before. Guilt, weakness, shame and embarrassment would flood my body as I would see the risen mark and dried bits of blood stain my skin. I felt helpless, lost and alone. I’m glad I no longer have to go to walgreens and spend money on bandages and tape to cover up my cuts to help my body heal. It’s nice to know I don’t have to worry about being caught stealing another knife from a store because I am too embarrassed to buy a new, sharper, shiner one. What a relief to no longer wince in pain as hot water runs over my skin as I try to wash away the hurt and pain the next day. It’s nice to know I have moved on and have found better ways of coping.

To this day, I still don’t know why I cut. I know what caused the first incdent- a boy I liked didn’t text me back for 13 hours and I thought he hated me and abandoned me. But why it continued for 3 months is a mystery to me. I’m not sure which of my traumas I was trying to deal with when I dissociated every night and hurt myself. Was it my mom dying? My sexual assault? Or just a mere “symptom” of my mental illness? I tried in therapy to piece apart why I was doing this, and I still don’t have an answer. We have moved on to other things, things that still stand in my way.

If you asked my why or how I stopped I would simply say cutting myself served it purpose and I have grown up, out and away from needing to do that anymore. I no longer spent my nights as a drunken, dissociated mess of a human being. Instead I lie in my bed, watching netflix and talking with friends. I didn’t know who I was for 3 months. It’s like I completely disappeared under the knife, and only now am I beginning to resurface. Air is being breathed back into my lungs and I am starting anew. I don’t ever want to feel that low again, but I know my reality. I know that I have very serious mental health problems and disorders that very well may place me on that road again in the future. While I am aware of that possibility, I am not going to sit here patiently waiting for it to all crumble down around me again. I am going to stand in the light that is just beginning again to illuminate my skin. I’m going to bask in the light that I searched so hard, fought so hard to find again. I am glowing. People say they see a change in me, that I am happier. Thats because I was lost and now I am found again.

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.