It’s my 25th day in Denver. It was only supposed to be 9. 9 turned to 16. And then I managed to return to New York for a week. Then I booked a one way ticket back to Denver.
16 is now 25. I’ll be here for a few more weeks. I’ll make an appearance on the east coast. And probably, I’ll be right back to Denver. If you’re thinking something like “what/why/how the fuck?”, you and me and everyone else. The best I can do to explain is this is the behavior of someone broken.
I want to go into my best attempt at understanding how I got here, but I’ll start with the last week or so. Last Friday I was hoping and expecting to fly to Tucson that Monday, rather than Denver, to go to a facility that treats trauma and co-occuring eating disorders. But doing so would have ultimately delayed some depositions for my lawsuit, and getting the depositions behind me is something I expect to be substantial in terms of my ability to actually begin to feel human again. So going to treatment was ultimately not the best option.
But I was no longer able to exist in my life. That was not an option at all. So I booked the one way ticket back to the place where things were better, which thanks to the generous compassion and support from my boss, my husband, and my best friends slash hosts, was an option at all. And here I am, alive and a little bit higher than the lowest emotional point of my life, where I was a week ago.
That’s a few short sentences to summarize what in reality was a very complicated, involved, shitty decision making process. That is the end of a much longer chapter, if the end is the present, but the present is still just the middle of the chapter. And that’s the problem. That’s why I’m here. That’s why I’m taking time off work. Because the lowest emotional point of my life fell at the middle of a chapter that would inevitably continue to get harder and worse, when the two other times I’ve felt this bad were times that I feel lucky to have survived.
* * *
Let’s rewind back to the beginning of April. I’d been dealing with the legal process relating to my rape for over four years. I had gotten much better at dealing with that, at being able to have life and patience between developments in the lawsuit, which were sometimes months or more apart. I was better at calming myself down when they happened. I’d been through so much and been surprised enough times that I had learned to try to have no expectations. And all things aside, there finally seemed to be a possibility that the facts of the case would someday actually be litigated, which despite being obviously a painful and traumatic possibility, was less painful than the alternative, which had been my reality all those years.
So all in all, I was in a good place. A strong place, all things considered. Three years of this retraumatizing lawsuit had chipped away at me and my strength, leading me towards the direction I eventually ended up present-day. But the pandemic had given me an energetic recharge, and I was ready to be alive again. Things were finally starting to make sense at my job which I had started three days after the shutdown. Triathlon racing was back, and there’s nothing better for my mental health than that. I hadn’t heard much from my lawyer in months, but instead of spending each moment wondering when the bomb would drop, I was able to be present, which was a really important skill for me to learn.
But it turned out to be the calm before the storm, because once I started hearing from him, I was being constantly bombarded by my rapist’s attorney’s requests for personal information and attempt after attempt at dismissing the lawsuit largely based on claims I hadn’t given enough when I believed I’d given everything they’d asked for and everything I had to give. But I kept giving. I kept answering their questions and responding to their demands which required me to think about my trauma more than my PTSD already makes me and not just think but articulate my thoughts to my lawyer. I understand this comes with the territory of this lawsuit, but understanding that doesn’t make it not harmful.
It was harmful. It was hard. It was triggering. It was a lot. And I’d been breaking down since their first attempt to get the lawsuit dropped in 2018. I’d been breaking down since I filed this lawsuit in 2017. I’d been breaking down since I reported my rape in 2016. I’d been breaking down since I realized I was raped in 2016. I’d been breaking down since I was raped in 2011. Or maybe more accurately, I’d been broken since then, and I’d been holding my brokenness together since.
And I’d been doing so with the help of my therapist since 2017. Among the things that I was asked for in April were my therapist’s notes. Once again, I understand that the damage that’s been done by the rape is relevant and important to the case, and my therapist is treating me for that damage. But that doesn’t make it not harmful. I’m not convinced it’s necessary. It wouldn’t be necessary if my word was enough. And it feels a lot like a court-sanctioned strip search by my rapist. All for the pursuit of justice from being raped to begin with. And it made therapy no longer the safe place it is supposed to be, when I desperately needed that safe place.
But I agreed to turn them over, because fighting it would just delay things, and in the end I’d lose anyway, and the notes were going to back up what I’m required to prove, and I was tired. But on May 24th it hit me how much of myself I was giving to a person who used knowing me to hurt me. I revoked the authorization I gave for my therapist to release the notes directly to my rapist’s attorneys and instead requested my attorney get them first, if nothing else just to fabricate some tiny semblance of safety.
I spent the next two days basically liaising between my therapist and my lawyer, additionally aware of how my therapist was now being dragged into this. She’d never been in this position before. My rapist’s attorneys were sending her multiple emails in their typically aggressive style. I felt guilty for the ways this was personally impacting her now, too.
And at the same time, I needed her. On May 26th I had my first and so far only emergency therapy session. That evening I found myself on the floor crying uncontrollably. I needed to make muffins for breakfast the next morning, but trying to get myself to do that led to the aforementioned floor, feeling very much on the verge of relapsing into my eating disorder. And I could not stop crying. I felt pathetic. I felt weak. I felt overwhelmed. I wanted to give up. But I managed to text her and have a session where she said to me, “You’ve come too far to hurt yourself. You need to be healthy to get through this. You don’t need to prove you’re in pain.” I held onto those words. I made my muffins. I didn’t relapse.
* * *
But the demands continued. The next majorly upsetting one came at the end of the June, when I was asked to provide the contact information of some former friends who would now potentially be dragged into this. Former friends who got the worst of me, who did their best to support me at a time where I was unsupportable, who eventually had to walk away, from whom I had already taken so much more than I ever gave. And now I was asking for even more help when they couldn’t owe me less. I already felt so much guilt for who I became to them, and it was overwhelming to be confronting that so directly in a way that just felt like confirmation that I’m still the same selfish person bringing them down with me. I can only hope that the reminder of me didn’t bring back all the pain for them, too.
I did what I was told to do, and I reached out and asked them for their addresses. I asked for their help. I chose to risk their discomfort for the sake of my own needs. Guilt is not a strong enough word. I have never forgiven myself for the ways I treated them. And I felt like I was choosing to continue treating them that same way. I chose to drag them in. I chose to continue pursuing this. How could I ever forgive myself?
Some of them responded by telling me, understandably, they didn’t want to be involved. And the best I could do was try to support that. I relayed the messages to my lawyer, I asked if that was an option, and I told them what he said. I felt like shit for even asking for their help. Of course they don’t want to be a part of this. I didn’t need to ask to know that. I of all people know what a nightmare this is. But I asked anyway, and their refusal felt like confirmation that I am the horrible person I feel like. And to them, I probably am. I’m doing my best to not let the worst of me be a reflection of all of me.
Potentially even more painful was the fact that some of them responded by agreeing to help. I was so grateful, but I felt undeserving, and I felt how profoundly I would never be able to repay the favor. The guilt was piling up. It felt like I was hurting everyone. I never meant to be a hurricane; I just wanted justice. Why does even just pursuing justice have to come at the expense of so many innocent bystanders?
* * *
The next major development in the lawsuit happened at the end of July, when my rapist filed what’s called a motion for summary judgment, which is basically a fancy version of another attempt at getting the lawsuit dismissed. This one was very lengthy, and it included many, many quotes from my various once-private journals that I’ve had to share as part of the lawsuit discovery. I have by and large not reread these. Many of them were just screenshots from what I had sent to the detective in 2016 when I reported the rape to the police, and even then I believe I was in some kind of auto-pilot scan mode trying to just take a picture of anything that so much as mentioned my rapist’s name in case it somehow proves something. These aren’t things that are fun for me to look back on.
And their motion basically compiled the years worth of evidence that I’d been suffering from this and suffering alone and suffering confused and blaming myself, into a neat little timeline of events which I had to go through one by one and communicate to my lawyer whether I agree with the facts my rapist’s attorneys are setting out or not, and why. I don’t have it in me to form the words to describe this experience in a way that is specific or eloquent. It took so much out of me. It was so painful. To read my own words, to see myself suffering, expressing them to these journals that were once the safest place I had to write what I was unable to speak, to read my shame and my loneliness and to remember being that person, all of that was too much. And I was reading them from some perspective that they somehow prove some legal technicality should prevent that person, who’s still suffering now for the same damn reasons, from even being heard in court. It was too much.
But I did what I needed to do. I reread the motion in meticulous detail and explained my perspective point by point. I reread their typed up versions of fucked up nightmares I’d had about my rapist that I’d been happy to have forgotten about. I guess it’s my fault I have to remember them now, for ever writing them down, right?
A few days later I went to a going away party in my hometown. Being there is always hard. I wasn’t okay going into it. But one of my best friends was leaving the country for a year, and some of my other best friends were flying in for the surprise. I showed up.
And I broke. And I did my best to hide it. But it was bad. I wrote my last blog post, “Things Are Not Good“, about it, but to sum it up, I had a huge breakdown, once again I nearly relapsed my eating disorder, I cried on the floor a lot, I was really badly triggered, and afterwards, I was left feeling like I had lost the ability to pretend to be okay, which is something I had been doing for so many years, and although it’s not ideal, it’s a skill I have genuinely needed to have fairly frequently in order to be a functional person. I became acutely aware of what a precarious emotional place I was in and how little strength I felt left in me.
* * *
A few days later, I got on a plane to Milwaukee to compete in some races. When I landed, I had an e-mail from my lawyer letting me know that the lawsuit was, yet again, actually successfully dismissed. It took me by surprise. Even in the moment I was expecting the dismissal to be very temporary, but I was exhausted.
It was overall a really nice getaway. I did well in my races. I got to spend time with friends and eat amazing food. And interspersed between the good times were e-mails from my lawyer, things I had to review and edit and confirm and sign. We’d go out for a run, I’d send my lawyer notes on something he was preparing to file, we’d go out for breakfast, I’d e-sign an affidavit, we’d go sightseeing, I’d get a copy of my lawyer’s latest brief and drop everything to read it, allowing myself to succumb to the constant intrusion of my past with the hope that afterwards I’d be able to regain some awareness of my present without the nagging wondering of what traumatic thing is waiting in my inbox or in the corner of my mind.
* * *
It was around this time I started experiencing what felt like a low grade but continuous flashback. I felt like I had reverted to some former version of myself. I felt like my brain was operating with the experiences, coping mechanisms, and perspectives of 16-year-old me. And it wouldn’t stop — for weeks, months, maybe even still. And I felt unable to explore it fully in therapy because of the lack of privacy I felt there. I felt incapable of exploring it without therapy. It was then that after over five years of recovery, I relapsed into my eating disorder.
This time it wasn’t a close call. It happened. It happened one choice after the next. It happened both slowly and quickly. Within a month and a half my behaviors had devolved into something that looked a lot like my previous low point with food. There were ways that “knowing better” made it feel a lot more dangerous. I was towing the fine line between knowing the further down I slipped the further up I’d have to climb, and wanting to plunge deep down into the worst it’s ever been, feeling like all the work I’d done hadn’t mattered in the end and I might as well give up completely, embracing this demon that apparently could still take me over.
But there were ways that “knowing better” led me to making better choices. I told someone, and I let them help me. I listened to them when they said I needed to talk to my therapist about it. I listened to my therapist when she told me I needed to tell my husband and some more of my support system. I called an eating disorder hotline, and I talked to them about how afraid I was of becoming the person I used to be. I tried to honor the people I had asked too much of before by taking responsibility for getting help this time. I was determined not to make the same mistakes again.
I searched for a balance in letting people help me and holding myself accountable. I got referrals to eating disorder treatment centers, and I researched them and then reached out to them. I went through a very long process of getting medical clearance to be accepted at the one that seemed the best for me. When they told me they would not approve me for outpatient, that they had deemed I required at a minimum partial hospitalization but preferably residential treatment, I worked my way towards accepting that, and I got on their waitlist for residential treatment, where I still am today. In the meantime, I tried to keep fighting the ED. I kept talking about it. I stopped getting worse. I started getting better. And today, I’m still not there, but I’m working on it.
* * *
When I came out to Denver for my first 9 days, I felt freedom from the pressure of my life, my trauma, my sadness, my demons. I felt room to breathe I hadn’t been feeling that I had been so desperate for. Before I had even landed down, I knew that what I was leaving behind in New York was too much for me to return to. I couldn’t take it anymore. I was broken.
So the night before what was meant to be my return flight, I extended the trip a second week. And in that week, I made some significant progress in my eating disorder. And I did a lot of research and found a different treatment center, one that didn’t have the same kind of waitlist and that would treat the trauma as the primary condition and the eating disorder as the secondary condition, which felt like exactly what I needed. I mentally prepared myself to return to New York, hopefully taking with me the strength I’d regained in Denver.
But I returned, and the hopelessness I felt was overpowering. My trauma was too close. I couldn’t take it. I really couldn’t take it. I lost the progress I’d gained towards my eating disorder recovery immediately. I felt trapped in a free fall that I knew I could not survive. I was functioning but barely, feeling the instability of my ability to pretend I’m okay when I’m not. Every single productive thing I did felt like it took everything out of me. It was clear that I needed help.
So I talked to my boss about needing to take time off work. I talked to my family about potentially needing financial help and that I was likely going away to get help. And I made those plans to go away.
But the depositions are finally happening, and I need them to be done. I need to get something of this trauma behind me, and the depositions are a milestone that I had seen as crucial from the very beginning. Going off to get the help I needed would have delayed them further, leaving me with what I know to be insurmountable trauma to return to. I don’t think I could ever come back to that.
So instead, I found the best answer in taking time off work, relieving myself of one responsibility that required me to be more alive than I can be right now; and flying back to Denver, where I had more support and more space to work on my eating disorder at the minimum, and maybe work on myself, but nonetheless find some room for joy that my home no longer has for me, joy to help keep me going from one day to the next.
And that’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve been making progress on the ED. It’s not there yet. It’s really frustrating and disheartening and shocking and upsetting that it’s something I’m fighting again. I feel additional guilt for the ways I’m being selfish because of it. I’ve been able to see a new part of the world with people I love, to play games, to sing, to sleep, to get some relief from being myself. I’m not at my best. I’m hurting really badly. Even though I know it’s what I need, it feels wholly irresponsible to stop working. I’m scared that I’ll never be okay again, that I won’t ever be healed enough to step back into my life. Whenever it’s too quiet, I hear my heart crying, “One person can only take so much,” and I feel it.
I don’t know what the future will look like. It’s really hard for me to picture it right now. I could try to hope for things, but I don’t have it in me. For now, I’m in Denver. Since I started writing this, a few days have passed. It’s now been 28 days here, and it’s Christmas Eve. I’ll go back to New Jersey to be deposed in early January, and we’ll take it a day at a time from there. And that’s all I have for now. There’s no neat bows to tie up the story with. It’s not the end; it’s still just the middle.