I went to The Boutique Station’s 2-year anniversary in Peterson, Minnesota last weekend with my son. We had a great time, and he was such a good boy! I loved that mid-speech, Amy (the owner) stopped to wave hello to us. I loved that Deneen waved and said hi as she was walking the runway during the fashion show. I loved how I lit up when I saw my former SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner), Ann.
There were so many good feelings and my face hurt from smiling! But I became stumped when my son asked, “How do you know her?” referring to Ann.
Eesh. (She was the nurse that performed my rape kit November 18, 2018).
“Well…” cue the awkward pause. “She’s a nurse where mommy works,” I told him. And he was perfectly fine with that answer.
This encounter reminded me that it’s always good to have one-liners ready to go for when I’m asked challenging questions.
For example, when I went back to work after I was raped, after being off for three weeks, I wish I had a one-liner prepared.
“Why were you off so long?” was one of the first questions I was asked by a colleague. At this point, I have no clue how I answered that question.
“Are you going to tell us why you were gone for three weeks?” was another question. But on this one, I specifically remembered how I answered.
“No,” I said, and I walked out of the room.
Run away! I remembered thinking… and doing.
And now, looking back, I realize, “No,” is a complete sentence and that answer didn’t need any further explanation anyway.
One person asked, “How was your vacation?”
If I had a one-liner, I probably would have felt stronger and more confident being at work. I would have had a plan.
**hint for survivors** Have a one-liner ready for when you’re asked challenging questions about your absence from work or whatever else may have changed in your life after experiencing sexual violence.
Speaking of strength, that’s been a hot topic on my mind lately.
What is strength?
Is it maintaining composure when you’re being attacked, whether it is physically, mentally, or emotionally? Is it appeasing a predator? Is it protecting your baby lion cub at all costs?
Is it giving up parts of yourself and your leisure time for the greater good? Is it living on 4-5 hours of sleep for five nights straight because there aren’t enough hours in the day?
Is it pretending that your body doesn’t weigh 1,000,00 lbs. when you’re so emotionally and mentally drained that it makes you feel physically exhausted too? Is it still making strides to lift others up when you feel so unworthy yourself? Is it having crucial conversations with others when you’re dying inside for your own personal reasons, the reasons you suppress just to get through the day?
I feel “strength” can be a described in many ways. I think it depends on each person’s perspective of it, which may differ, and that’s OK.
To get a broad perspective, I took a poll.
One of my best friends replied, “A strong person to me is someone who takes the struggles and hard times they’ve been dealt in life and doesn’t shut down—they don’t give up on themselves or their loved ones. They push forward and use their struggles for personal growth, they don’t look at everything through rose colored glasses but learn from each mistake or lesson and through that they help, guide and support others—especially loved ones.”
Another best friend replied, “A strong person is okay being alone. Confident. Determined. Not influenced by others (again, which may mean being alone and okay with it). One step at a time, learn from each one. And acceptance………even of things that you don’t like or that hurt you.”
One of the definitions listed by Google describes strength as, “the emotional or mental qualities necessary in dealing with situations or events that are distressing or difficult.”
But how about pseudo-strength? How about pretending to be strong; wearing a mask? (Of note, my sister talks in my memoir sequel coming out later this summer (ANOTHER Four Pounds of Pressure) about her perspective of how I wore and wear a mask).
I’ve done it. Clearly. And I think this has potential of being a dangerous type of strength – such as when you’re not being truthful to your loved ones about how you’re really feeling. I have learned it’s good to show our kids that it’s okay to not always be strong. It’s okay to have feelings that are less than strong – because maybe that will validate how they feel sometimes too: sad when their pet died, angry when they were bullied, hurt when their best friend moved away, which opens the door to them being honest about their feelings rather than trying to mask them.
Let’s go out on a limb here: I do think that pretending to be strong can, to an extent, make you strong. It puts you through the motions of being strong, right? Just like when you are told to smile when you’re angry, it can actually shift your brain to being happy. That’s like being prepared – it can make a person appear to be strong and confident, such as having a one-liner for those tough questions.
I’ve been asked so many uncomfortable questions that I have gotten pretty good at coming up with one-liner responses the questioner will be fine with. (Such as what I did to my little boy when he asked me how I knew Ann, former SANE).
But Danielle, what do you mean when you say that you respond so the questioner is fine with your answer?
In general, people are uncomfortable when people are uncomfortable, which I believe is why sometimes people try to talk victims/survivors out of feeling the way they’re feeling rather than simply validating their feelings. If someone is grieving after rape, loss, or illness, we often want to say things to make them feel better, right? (Right.) It’s because we’re not comfortable when the people around us are not okay.
I’ll preach this again and again: Be there. Listen. Grieve with your friend/family member who is suffering. Let them grieve. Validate their feelings. You don’t have to make it better. If you can, great. But sometimes we do more damage than good when we try to make it better and change the way they’re feeling rather than simply validating it. (There are tips on what to say to victims of sexual violence at RAINN.org)
One last scenario… it just happened the other day.
I pull up to a stoplight in my truck and notice an older man staring at me unapologetically from his big work van. I acknowledge his stare and look back ahead at the red light I’m stuck at. But I silently acknowledge out of the corner of my eye that I have not seen his head turn back towards the road. Is he still staring at me? I turn and look again and, sure enough, he’s still staring at me. Not looking away, not trying to hide his gaze, just staring.
I experience a sudden rage in my gut that flows up my chest, to my heart, my head, and down my arm to my hand where I placed my finger on my window-down button and push it.
My passenger side window goes down, so he rolls down his. “Did you have something you wanted to say?” I ask. It sounds like a rude question, but I asked it nonchalantly as to not start anything I’d regret with an unknown strange man.
“Oh yeah. I just thought you were a pretty small girl to be driving such a big truck. But I think you’ll do just fine,” he said, trying to make his statement seem optimistic.
What. The. Fudge.
“Ha, yeah. Thanks,” I replied and drove away, thanking the stoplight Gods for changing the light to green.
This made me fume. I was raging. I wasn’t appreciative of his comment. I thought it was sexist and demoralizing.
I thought to myself, You’re damn right I’ll do just fine! Just like I will on my Harley. Just like… and my brain kept rattling off all of the challenging things I’d overcome regardless of my gender. Is that strength – being a little girl in a big truck? Riding a Harley? Overcoming? To me, it is. Or it at least makes me feel strong and in control. And that’s all that matters – my perception.
A vision of myself as a lioness came into view. Rawr. And I was reminded that I was wasting energy on someone else’s perspective of me. It didn’t matter what he thought. It matters how I perceive myself, because that’s how I will feel and live.
Now let’s talk a second about the Law of Polarity. Everything has a potential for the opposite. For example, without hate, what is love? Without love, what is hate? Without sadness, what is happiness? Without happiness, what is sadness?
Without our weaknesses, we cannot measure our strength. Without weakness, what is strength?
Without pain, what is contentment?
Happiness is a gift. So what does that make hate, sadness, weakness, and pain? A blessing in disguise?
Isn’t it crazy how many directions one blog can go? Back to the top, folks:
Congratulations to Amy for being a successful, badass woman in owning and running a successful boutique for two years!
Don’t forget to shop at The Boutique Station in Peterson, Minnesota. =)
AND REMEMBER: See yourself as being strong. You have the potential. Focus on that vision - your strong self - and that is what you will be.
Don't forget to check out the website for WISH: We Inspire Survivor Healing at www.WeInspireSuvivorHealing.com!
WISH: We Inspire Survivor Healing, INC. is raising funds for startup costs and to help victims/survivors of sexual violence in our community (Southeast Minnesota). Once we've raised enough funds, our application will be open to victims/survivors of sexual assault. Grants will be provided to cover costs of what was lost because of assault and to facilitate the healing process. Our goal is to fill the gaps of what is not covered by County Victim Services and other nonprofit organizations. We'll also be helping families left behind: families with children of incarcerated perpetrators.
WISH's mission is also to raise awareness and educate the public about sexual violence. Raising awareness and educating will then, in turn, normalize speaking out, with the long-term goal being the reduction of sexual violence.
WISH was founded by rape survivor Danielle Leukam. She was zip tied at gunpoint in her St. Charles, Minnesota home in 2018 and raped three times over the course of five hours with her three-year-old son sleeping in his bedroom next door to her room. Danielle not only survived the attack, but is thriving by speaking out, writing, raising awareness, and advocating against sexual violence. She is also the author of a memoir called Four Pounds of Pressure: A Memoir of Rape, Survival, and Taking Back My Power.