Black Lives Matter. For some people in America this statement seems radical when in reality, we as a society can not say everyone's life is equal and meaningful until we are willing to acknowledge that in 2020, we still treat black lives as 3/5th a person. This statement remains a fact when we look at every sector of our economy. When we look at consumer staples we see a number of influencers and corporations who appropriate black culture for profit while not giving credit or even funding to the Black community. On June 1st, 1921 in Tulsa, Oklahoma contained the Greenwood District known as "Black Wall Street." There were 300 black-owned businesses that were burned down by racist whites who were envious of the rich black people in this part of the country after an incident between a black man and a white woman, where the black man tripped in an elevator and grabbed the white woman's arm to support himself. This led to one of the deadliest race riots in American History. The damage led to many deaths and the wealth of these black families was never restored as all of the insurance claims on their properties and businesses were denied. In the 1940s Black families were denied FHA mortgages. These are government-backed mortgages that insure high-risk borrowers from low-income backgrounds. During this time Black families were denied access to these mortgages while white people were afforded the opportunity to build wealth and move to the suburbs. When we fast forward to the 1960s during a time of Jim Crow Laws and a well-known slogan of the era, "Separate but Equal" is the reason Black communities emerged and developed separately. It wouldn't be until Dr. Martin Luther King's poetic death, a violent assassination that created civil unrest across the nation because White people refused to close their businesses while black people mourned the loss of one of the greatest civil rights leaders in the country, that riots broke out. After 100s of riots broke out, Congress signed the Fair Housing Act of 1968 which prohibited the government and banks from discriminating against minorities seeking to purchases homes. This was one part of MLK's Economic Bill of Rights. By the time Black folks even got an opportunity to participate in home buying, Whites already had almost 40 years of government-subsidized wealth accumulation on their side.
Fair Lending Laws which still exist today, alone would not end racism in America. J.P. Morgan Chase Bank was fined for Fair Lending Violations in 2017 for $55 Million Dollars for denying Black and Latinx mortgage applicants who rightfully qualified. On June 18th, 1971, President Nixon began his campaign for the War on Drugs. This campaign was a systemic effort to funnel Black and Latinx people into jails in America. This system still remains in place today. Many of the private military corporations such as Lockheed Martin who are contracted out by the government operate the welfare programs in almost every state in America. Black and Latinx Americans are more likely per capita to get involved with CPS, end up in jail because of a non-violent offense, and join the military for a better a life. I am very familiar with the institutional injustices because I worked for Wall Street for 12 years of my adult life. It was by far an eye-opening education to see how deeply rooted racism is in the American economy. It was one of the factors that motivated me to get involved in local politics in the Hudson Valley. I was working for J.P. Morgan at the time and the North Dakota Access Pipeline became a huge debate because the pipeline was being built on sacred Native American land. At the time, J.P.Morgan opened a proprietary investment called the J.P. Morgan Energy Renessaise Portfolio. Our firm's Certified Product Specialist was coaching us on how to sell it. The company's economists were all talking about how they expected 9% annual returns and that this would provide wages of $25.00 per hour at a minimum for workers. As they started discussing what companies would be the holdings in this particular portfolio, Halliburton was one of the top ten. That alarmed me because I had known them to be a weapon company while I served in the United States Marine Corps. I couldn't understand why they would be in an oil portfolio until I started doing research. I was attending Post University at the time and I made this my research paper for my advanced economics class for the semester. This was how I went down the rabbit hole of really understanding minority issues in modern America. After I concluded my research, I learned Halliburton is an oil company that won a weapon's contract because Dick Cheney was not only on the Board of Directors for Halliburton but he was also the Vice President of the United States. This $5 billion dollar contract would help take over territory in the Middle East that Halliburton had been fined for doing business with in the past. This was a very strategic deal at the expense of the American taxpayer and would ultimately take the lives of many service members who believed they were fighting for freedom. As I began researching every portfolio I sold, I began to see a trend that minorities are essentially funneled into certain aspects of the economy in order to create wealth for the white and wealthy on Wall Street. That didn't align with me. While working at J.P. Morgan, I protested this portfolio and everything it stood for, and for the remainder of my career, I refused to sell any oil portfolios. I began internally protesting this portfolio. There was no reason why in modern-day America we should be profiting off of Native Americans, Black Americans, and Latinx Americans while disrespecting their cultures and rights at the same time. These economic issues exist in every sector of our society in 2020. When we look at law enforcement and the prison industrial complex these same trends emerge that black lives will serve longer sentences and be convicted at higher rates than white people will for the same exact crimes. The prison industrial complex is the backbone of consumer staples and products that we purchase every day in America. Many for-profit businesses use prison labor to create products at a lower cost. That labor mainly comes from Black and Latinx prisoners.
You don't have to be against law enforcement or the military to acknowledge that we have serious systemic issues surrounding race in America. It is okay to support the military and law enforcement and still fight for justice and equality within the institutions that are currently benefiting from racism. Racism can be both conscious and unconscious. I have seen both in my interactions with people in power. Civic engagement and involvement in politics are how we can create meaningful change as a society. We have to work towards removing racist elected officials from power while supporting elected officials who are willing to hear and see us. Many local police departments are governed through local and county governments. As well as the District Attorneys that prosecute individuals. All of these elections happen in off-cycle years and generally have primary elections. Most people do not vote in local elections or in primaries. In states like New York where there are closed primaries, unless you are registered to vote with a party line, you can not vote in a primary at all. This restricts an individual's power in the political process. We each have the power within us to change the future. It requires all of us to take action.
I received a number of people who told me they were disappointed in my support of the Black community and their belief that MSTM should only be focused on survivors. As a political organization, there are times when it is necessary to speak out. Black people serve in the military and in law enforcement. Black people go through MST as well. My point is that Black people have it harder solely on the basis of skin color. They have a right to feel protected, supported, loved, and empowered. I will always stand on the side of civil rights and equality. MSTM will represent those same values. I have heard the stories of many black women who shared what it was like to serve and go through MST and to experience trauma, retaliation, and discrimination on top of it; it takes an incredible level of strength that most people do not have within themselves. These are struggles that no one should have to endure but unfortunately, they do. We can't ask for allyship with MST survivors if we aren't willing to show up as allies for others. We can not ask people to see us as survivors when we chose to deny every other part of their story. We have to accept every part of everyone's story while in our pursuit of justice. MST is deeply correlated to racism in that they both are manifestations of white supremacy. In order to have true and meaningful progress, we need to show up for everyone. Not just ourselves. I know that concept is difficult for some and I ask that you can take a moment to think about what it feels like to be a Black woman or man in America who served this country, experienced MST and feel as if your life is less valued or as if you don't have the same freedoms. There comes a time where we need to acknowledge the pain and strength of the Black community and be there for them during this time. They need love and support and we need to be here to provide that. We need to help echo their voices and fight for justice.
Having personally experienced injustice when I experienced MST, I know what that pain feels like. It is one of my life's deepest pains. I specifically remember this one day a few months after I got out of the military that I was walking on the streets of New York thinking that no one actually cared about service members unless it benefited them. I cried thinking about how no one would ever really know what I went through. I was also terrified to share my story because I thought people would think that I was going against the military versus trying to make it better. When I reflect on what is going on now with the deaths of George Floyd, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, and many more who have died by police violence who are standing up, I know the level of courage it takes. That is why I chose to stand with our black community despite receiving a number of messages that suggested I should not. I am proud of our black community and I am proud to stand with our Black community. I do hope this message helps put their struggle in perspective as well as helps create empathy and bridge to the black struggle.
Empathy for our Black community is the first step but it is certainly not the only step. A lot of work needs to be done and we need to move into action now. Peacefully protesting is a right afforded to us in the constitution but it is only one aspect of politics. Protesting has always been a marker for where someone's values lie. It is a clear indicator of what shortfalls they perceive and what motivates them to act. We can not have diversity, inclusivity, and freedom when we are not allowing everyone's voice to be heard. We need real action now!
When I got involved in local politics, minority issues in my community became my interest. As a Puerto Rican woman, my cultural upbringing is tied to Caribbean culture, from the foods I eat and cook, to the music I listen to, clothes I wear, and hair products I use. Also learning about the economic injustices that occur after working in finance, I really wanted to explore and understand how these policies get executed politically. I remember one of the first political events I attended was at Beacon Town Hall. It was about the Dutchess County Jail Expansion. The room was packed and I remember that the unrest in the room. It was because the Black community was concerned about the Poughkeepsie High School-to-Prison pipeline. This is directly correlated to a long educational segregation battle that took place in Dutchess County throughout the 1960s when IBM, a major technology company during the time built a large plant that would be home to many of IBM's senior-level executives who have the money and power to fund a lengthy campaign to keep the divides between a manly Black and poor school and a White and wealthy one that both neighbor each other. These fears from the black community were completely rationale to me. I supported their cause to ensure that the jail does not get expanded and that support services do. At the time, Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro made the argument that New York State was mandating the expansion and remodel due to the fact that it was completely full and Dutchess County was outsourcing and paying for inmates to be placed in other county's jails. I understood the economic situation as well as the government mandates but I still felt it was morally wrong. I questioned if our predominantly White government understood what it is like for minorities in the Hudson Valley. I remained engaged in politics and I consistently saw racism and even experienced it myself. A local paper in Wappingers Falls called The Hornet wrote an article making fun of me for having PTSD due to MST. I really had to sit and reflect on this for a number of reasons and the main one was would a White male veteran who told his story about MST experience that? I knew for a fact that a white male veteran in my town, would be met with overwhelming support if he shared the story I did. I'll be honest this left me resentful to those in power in the area. I consistently watched how elected officials and party officials disenfranchised minorities in a number of ways. I began seeing this pattern within the county Democratic party which is why I never fell in line with what they wanted. This became the reason I ultimately resigned.
When the organizers from Stop the Violence Movement asked me to assist them in organizing, speaking, and leading the demonstration in Poughkeepsie, New York yesterday my answer was a resounding yes. Given all of my experiences along with my moral compass, this was a no brainer for me. It was an emotionally powerful day as well. The peaceful protest drew over 2,000 demonstrators from across the Hudson Valley. Someone else was in attendance, our Republican Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro. I'll be the first to admit that I thought it was for a photo-op but as I spent the day leading side by side with him, I started to see his engagement and care for the people around him. He was fully present and participating in the activities of the day. He understood the pain of the community he serves. He made a leadership decision that he needed to be present for the Black community. I think that speaks volumes about where Dutchess County can maneuver to in the future. Marc is well respected and loved by just about everyone. His participation is far more powerful for the community than what most people realize. He represents a White male leader in a conservative power structure in a diverse county in New York. If he can stand with the Black community during this time of George Floyd's Death and the civil unrest, well then there's hope for change on the horizon. The reality is that we need everyone to create progress and to have meaningful change. There is a light shining in Dutchess County, New York even where other places in the country look dim. I hope that our story from the Hudon Valley inspires community leaders across the nation and that we continue to take actions that demonstrate Black Lives do Matter!
Janelle Marina Mendez
CEO of MSTMRead more
I am blind. I am not asexual.
My disability and my sexuality are two aspects of my life which I have tried to keep separate but despite my best efforts they have woven together: defiantly entangling with one another until I can no longer tell if I have a preference or I am just blind. I was once asked if I am bisexual because I am blind. The implication was that I could not see the difference between a penis and a vagina, so my sexual orientation was invalidated. For some people, the idea that I was born this way is a hard pill to swallow and so it is easier for them to believe my bisexuality is just a side effect of other things that are wrong with me.
There is a societal expectation that as a disabled person I should act as if I am a little broken. As if I am unable to walk independently even though it is my eyes that are the problem, not my legs. I have had people offer to stir my tea, as if my blindness means that my hands are unable to hold a spoon and move in a circular motion. It makes some people feel better about themselves to have helped that poor little blind woman, even if she did not ask for it. They go to bed that evening patting themselves on the back for the good deed that they have done. Often, I am treated like I am a puppet on strings at which people love to pull. They pull me from one side to another under the ignorant assumption that I need their assistance to be able to move. The problem is that people stop being there to pull the strings when the puppet really needs it.
I was sitting in an empty classroom at my college, shaking and questioning myself. I had been raped just a few nights before by a fellow student. I had decided to contact the police and make a statement. In Britain at the time, there was a massive push about the importance of reporting rape or sexual assaults. The famous “consent and tea” video had recently gone viral and it felt like some sort of feminist revolution was brewing. I almost felt ready to stir my own spoon in this cup of tea, expecting the questions the officers were going to ask me. I was expecting to be asked ‘Did you flirt with him?’ and ‘What were you wearing’. Many years of being angry on behalf of other women had only prepared my responses to outdated and unnecessary questions, ready to go. I knew what had happened to me and I knew for a fact that what I was wearing had nothing to do with my attack. I can be utterly sure of this because the man who raped me was also blind.
Instead of asking me those questions though, the police officers asked me questions that seemed to punch me in the gut; I was asked visual questions. They got angry when I could not describe the pattern on his shirt. They seemed annoyed when I could not draw them the layout of his bedroom with much accuracy. All of my fight, defiance, and anger was replaced with shame and sorrow. Not only shame because I had been raped but shamed that I am blind.
I spent months angry at myself, terrified that he would hurt another woman as he hurt me and that it would be my fault because I couldn’t tell if he had been watching me from across the bar that night. It was a type of victim-blaming that I had not been prepared for, despite my years of third-wave feminist media consumption. Nobody informs you that even though coming forward is brave, the right thing to do, and a display of strength, it does not always work: not always because you are not believed, but because you can not help the police. Your disability renders you useless in that situation. You are no longer going to bring a criminal to justice. You are no longer going to right a wrong. You are no longer going to take a stand against the injustice that you faced where your own body was used against you. Instead, you are going to be just another statistic.
A sense of powerlessness washed over me that day, and it stayed with me. It is coming up on five years since I was raped and I have used so many coping mechanisms of varying degrees of healthiness. Sexual trauma is not a singular event, it lingers in the back of your mind for years to come. You never forget it, but you learn to live with it. Shame is the real killer: it encroaches in every aspect of your life, including your identity. It dampens vivid colours and blocks your view from genuine beauty or pride.
It has taken me many years, a marriage, and a hefty dose sex therapy to realize that in order for me to finally untangle the knots between my disability and my sexuality, I need to reclaim my body, not only as a sexual trauma survivor but also as a blind woman. The world seems so determined to present sex as a purely visual affair that the sexuality of blind people seems to be an anomaly for most of the sighted population. But the truth is, Blind people fuck and we really it! But sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we didn’t want to fuck that night. Sometimes we were too drunk to give consent. Sometimes we want to have a voice and scream about what happened to us. Our voices work just fine, yet so many areas deaf and blind to our plight as sexual assault survivors.
We are moving forward in the world. Laws are being amended, bills are being passed. Women are speaking up and being rightfully believed. I think that we need to extend that same courtesy to disabled people.
Ellie Wait, Military Spouse, and Blind Rape Survivor
Ellie Wait is a military spouse and hails from the UK. As a rape survivor and blind person, Ellie offers a unit perspective as the newest advocate in our Movement. We welcome you to congratulate Ms. Wait on her bravery and articulate fashion in sharing her story. We look forward to more poignant perspectives from her as our movement grows.
My mother was always on a diet: I remember her special kitchen cabinet of what smelled and looked like rabbit food to me. Low-fat rice cakes, reduced-fat peanut butter, canned tuna that she would eat with celery and low-fat miracle whip, always avoiding breads and pastries at all costs. If she lost a few pounds, she would reward herself dessert, the dish she wanted all along, and with eyes dancing with joy and masked in society’s guilt she would say, “I’m being so bad right now.” To my mother, experiencing pleasure, especially with food, was not something she could afford much of if she was going to fit into the physical mold of what a woman was expected to be in society.
And she was so beautiful: long legs, a tiny waist, wide hips and cheekbones for days. I heard many times throughout my childhood that she was like a brunette Princess Diana: her beauty was the kind that you didn’t just see, you felt it. As such, I wanted to do everything just like her. I wanted to be slender like her, I wanted perfect skin, straight teeth, and gleaming chestnut hair whose strands shone extra bright on sunny days.
My mother’s lipstick would trace the straw of her diet Cokes: zero calories, she would remind me, so it doesn’t count. I couldn’t wait to wear lipstick like her and I couldn’t wait to enter the fold of feminine women the world so admired. To me, dieting was just as feminine as having a treasure trove of lipsticks on your vanity dressing table.
I wanted to be just like her. I also wanted to be so pretty, that everyone would like me. Because for me, if everybody liked me, I wouldn’t be abused.
I’m not sure when exactly I grew to believe that the more beautiful I was, the more people would like me. Maybe it was from all the tabloid magazines my mother would read with me, maybe it was all of the popular girls in school. I’m not sure where that idea originated, but when I was a teenager being brutally abused, starved, tortured, and publicly humiliated by my father’s wife as he watched on in silent agreement that I deserved black eyes from her, that I deserved for her to choke me beyond breathing, but I began to believe that if I was more beautiful, he would care. If I was prettier, he would have stopped her as she stripped me naked of my clothes late one winter night and made me watch as she placed my entire wardrobe in a burn barrel and set it on fire. If I was prettier, he would save me from her brutality. I just wasn’t pretty enough.
When puberty hit, I began to look exactly like my mother. My hips widened, my legs lengthened, my backside filled out and my breasts swelled out in such a way that our silhouettes were identical. Because I so strikingly resembled the mother of my father’s children, my father’s wife became even more jealous and more abusive, and I was a young girl who kept telling herself that I still wasn’t beautiful enough. For the last year before my 18th birthday, my father's wife was only allowing me to eat one potato per meal, and in rebellion, I would throw up every potato I was ever given. I would scrounge through her pantry late at night, looking for things to eat (that weren’t potatoes) so that she wouldn’t miss them. I would throw that food up, too. In a world where I had no control, this was the one thing I had control over, and in turn, I was “dieting” just like my mother. In my young mind, I was finding ways to make myself prettier so that someday, maybe someone would love me.
I escaped my heinous childhood by joining the military. I thought to myself, if I could just get away from this torturous world, I could start over. I would be the kindest, prettiest, most loving and respectful young sailor, and everyone would love me. I would provide for myself with my military service, and I will never allow anyone abusive to ever near my orbit again.
Except that no one had ever taught me what self-love was. I believed that as long as I was beautiful, people would love and respect me. I continued throwing up my food when I overate, always keeping my composure in stressful moments, only to binge and purge in privacy if I ever needed to express feelings of being out of control: an exercise of catharsis.
Then my first sexual assault happened. I never in my life expected that someone would force themselves on me, and I never thought they would say that due to my cheerful nature and striking features, that I clearly wanted that kind of attention. But because I had been abused all of my life, I thought for sure that this was just my own failure in being good enough: otherwise, I would have been more valued, right?
Then I fell in love with another sailor. A year later, I married my ex-husband in a San Diego courthouse ceremony that to us, felt desperately romantic. We were old enough to make decisions but too young to understand them. As our military service continued, these two young sailors from troubled homes lacked the ability to understand how our childhood traumas were compounding with our military ones. He began to beat me as hard as he was hitting the bottle. I thought that it was my fault: I wasn’t enough. I continued to binge and purge until I became pregnant: a pregnancy that my ex-husband threatened to kill me over if I didn’t terminate. That abortion changed my life forever, but I still believed that every heartbreak leading up to this point was because I just wasn’t good enough, wasn’t pretty enough, wasn’t smart enough, wasn’t feminine enough...I just wasn’t enough.
I was sexually assaulted several times throughout my military service, and each time it was swept under the rug. I believed people when they said it was my fault. I believed people when they said I wasn’t enough.
After a lifetime of abuse and an 8-year career of military service and subsequent sexual trauma, I left the military, praying that if I was pretty enough, that I could re-establish a life for myself in California. My first stop? Beauty school.
As my career with a world-renown hair care company advanced, I believed it was only because I wouldn't rest until I was the prettiest, the smartest, the hardest-working, the best employee...if I failed, it was because I wasn’t enough as a human. As a survival tactic, it was important to me that I always be the prettiest girl in the room: this would make me safe.
The binging and purging weren’t enough after the years: I started starving myself too. I needed to be perfect and would do whatever it took. I started experimenting with cocaine, partly for appetite suppression, partly because it turned my stress into heightened productivity: I coupled cocaine with cigarettes, and I never felt the pangs of hunger. The drugs turned my anxiety to life-threatening levels of suicidal ideation, homelessness, and unsafe situations: it took me years to understand that my self-hate and perfectionism as a means to protect myself were killing my brain and putting me at risk at extreme rates.
Most people would say that I’m beautiful: it’s taken me a very long time to believe them. Most of my life, I’ve believed I’m not enough. Most of my life, I’ve believed that I needed to be thinner, that my curves were not beautiful at all, that the only purpose curves served was to elicit attention from predators. The bigger my butt is, the more likely it will be that I will be raped. My twisted, unhealthy thought processes had me believing that if I was wearing a tight dress with my waist-to-hip ratio on display, that I was asking to be fondled on the street without my consent. Any time things like that would happen, I believed it was because I was failing: I needed to be a better woman.
Last fall I had a severe PTSD episode as I darkly fantasized about how to end my life. I had it all planned out, and that’s when I realized I needed to check myself into inpatient care, at which point I shared with the staff my story: abuse, rape, sexual assault, domestic violence, unhealthy relationships, substance abuse, self-harm...Putting all of these words together was undeniably life-changing for me: I had severe problems, and I needed help.
I learned a lot during that 90-day trauma recovery program, or Wellness Retreat, as I grew to call it. Nobody ever taught me how to love myself, so I learned all of the incredible ways to do that.
My greatest lesson? I deserve a life that includes a lot of love, and my physical appearance is not a determining factor regarding my worth on this planet. I’m learning that because of my looks, people will be drawn to me: what they think about my appearance has nothing to do with my worth, though, and I can’t control how they feel. I’m learning that my curves are nothing to be ashamed of, and certainly not meant to be suppressed with an eating disorder, an eating disorder whose vice grip I have loosened from my mind. I’ve admittedly gained some weight since I’ve stopped throwing up all of my meals, and when I see those extra pounds in the mirror, I see a woman who’s adding the padding of self-love as a soft armor.
Lately, when I look in the mirror, I see a glow I’ve never seen before. And it’s because I’m no longer concerned about what others think when they see me, but instead that I love who I see in the mirror, and better yet: I love what is shining from the inside. I am free of abuse now: whether from others or self-inflicted, because I’ve learned how to love myself first.
And these days, you can tell ya girl ain’t missin’ no meals.
I left a highly successful career in finance at the end of 2019 due to serious health complications and an enormous amount of stress that would be difficult for anyone to deal with, let alone a disabled person who suffers from PTSD. I took that risk because I felt that I had something to look forward to, The Military Sexual Trauma Movement. I still had a purpose and a mission to pursue.
Due to economic trends during the last half of 2019, many of the economic indicators began emerging that a Recession was very likely to happen within a year. I was trying to stay in finance through Q1 2020 to ensure my clients felt secure as the markets began conceding. Although I made Recession preparation a key part of my strategy with my clients’ finances, I still felt obligated to finish out that duty before taking the leap of faith into this new endeavor.
In December 2019, I almost died from complications due to Sepsis and my organs began failing. The pain of feeling my body dying was excruciatingly painful. I was in so much pain that even with strong IV painkillers, I was having a conversation with this higher power within about letting my soul go, peacefully. I was at a point that if I didn’t survive this, well I’ve been a good warrior during my time. The physical pain was so strong and the hospital setting was so triggering that I kept having flashbacks to my miscarriage, laying in the hospital bed just wanting to die, which then flashed me back to being raped in the Marine Corps. and laying on that hospital bed wanting to die. That’s the thing about flashbacks, they compound over time and as the pain points compound the emotions become overwhelming. Now, think about combining severe emotional pain multiplied by severe physical pain. That is exactly what I was feeling in December 2019, It just seemed like my only viable option was to accept that it was my time to go and that I lived the best life I could. My sister, Kristen told our family this was the worst she had ever seen me. I texted my dad to tell him I’m not going to make it. I know he was thinking about the time I overdosed on drugs in an attempt to commit suicide. I remember feeling my organs failing and I just made the choice to fight. This time was different, I just felt tired of fighting.
I have accomplished almost every dream I have had, despite any adversity that came my way. My life’s greatest failure would be that I didn’t become a mother. It was a paradox. I fought so hard through all of my struggles, I fought to work on myself, I fought to improve despite knowing I have a disability, all to work towards becoming a woman who is a healthy mother. I grew up with a very unhealthy relationship with my mother. I knew that if I ever had a daughter, it would because I would be able to build a solid bond and be there for her. I am laying in the VA hospital bed, dying and accepting that the one dream, I secretly wanted the most, just wasn’t going to manifest and it hurt but I was at peace with what the universe needed.
When I made it out alive, I was pretty happy and grateful to have another chance. I resigned from my company and ended the 12-year run I had in finance, as I needed time to heal and manage my health as a top priority. My recovery plan was a year-long process that involved changing my entire life. I would eat at home, most days of the month and cook food based on an organic nutrition plan, go to the gym or outside to exercise and discuss fertility preservation with my doctors. It feels like it's that one shot, one opportunity type of deal where I have to look at my circumstances and decide do I try again? It feels so extremely vulnerable to even make that choice.
The warrior goddess in me said, “Fuck it, let’s take this risk again, but this time we have to win!” I went to the VA and scheduled appointments with all of my doctors to make sure that I wasn’t taking any medications that would harm my fertility or potentially harm a baby. Then discussing what medications I needed to switch or come off of altogether. That’s when I got a call from my psychiatrist at the VA and she asked if I was planning on getting pregnant because she saw that I went to a few of the specialists at the VA and discussed my fertility. I told her, I’m planning for fertility preservation. She obviously knows my history with PTSD, pregnancy and miscarrying. That was when I opened up to her stating I think I need to stay on certain medications because when I cycle off of these medications, and my brain chemicals go haywire, that the stress chemicals are sending messages to my body to abort the baby. All of my blood panels have proven this. She understood this. Here I am in 2020 re-aligning my entire life to ensure I am healthy enough to become a mother. What solidified my confidence was when my psychiatrist said that all of my doctors will pool their resources together this time to make sure I am well prepared for this next phase in my life. That was when I knew that my history with the VA has helped them have a better understanding of the relationship between PTSD and fertility issues.
At this point, I have ⅔ of the equation worked out, in my family building plan. My mental and physical health, and what I want for my future kids. The most important gift I can ever give my children would be the best father for them. I want my kids to know they are loved, valued and protected and when the world is harsh and it hurts that they have a safe place to call home. I want them to have a father who loves them so much, he can’t stop himself from showing them endless affection and love. I want my children to have a healthy father who creates a stable bond with them. A strong father who enjoys playing with them and getting a little dirty. I have that kind of father and he’s been such a positive influence in much of my life.
What that means is that I have to jump back into dating, let’s be honest, the singles market is a cesspool of unhealthy people trying to figure shit out. I’ve never enjoyed the early dating phases, the conversations to see if there’s chemistry, respect, shared values, similar levels of intellect, vision, healthy boundaries, etc. It’s so much work weeding unhealthy men out. It is emotionally taxing. I often need breaks from dating.
Once a healthy bond is established and a relationship is stable is the phase I most enjoy because during dating I have to establish that if this investment into this man is worth my time, and I need to ensure he has the capacity to meet certain standards. He has to have his life in order, has strong ethics, be ready for family building, he needs to look yummy, and most of all he has to love me as deep as the ocean and build a bond as unbreakable as steel while respecting me. If his future isn’t family-oriented, then his future isn’t with me. That means that while dating, I have to expel energy on men until their intention is clear and once it doesn’t orient with my future, I have to cut him off and move on. When it comes to dating, generally you’re not going to ask someone what their intentions are. You find out way more through someone’s actions and how they treat you, which means you have to maintain boundaries while also knowing where to be flexible. For someone with PTSD, that is a struggle, the closer you get to someone, the more they can harm you. Learning to ask for what I need to feel safe is a scary feeling in itself because I want to protect my inner child from any more damage. In the age of meeting people online, sliding into the DMs is how we tend to meet people and date in 2020.
That doesn’t even factor into account, the endless amounts of messages my social media pages produce. Obviously, my aesthetics draw attention, although I do believe there are men who just direct message, every single woman ever for the sake of grasping at straws. I’m sure I get thrown somewhere in that bunch as well.
At this point in my life I can not run with intense chemistry or passion and see where it takes me, because usually, those teenage hormones lead to trouble and poor decision making. The reality is that I don’t have time to waste, and that time isn’t on my side. Knowing these are the factors that run against me, I have to make my decisions wisely. I also have to identify a potential partner who can accept that I have a disability. It’s a huge part of my life.
After miscarrying just under two years ago, I am happy I am here and I have the opportunity to take this risk again. I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t say that I feel extremely vulnerable; being at this place. I am potentially risking failure again while trying to remain positive and hopeful. I think that is the hardest part of this new point for me. I could be doing everything right this time and becoming a mom, might just not be my fate. At some point in my life, I may have to accept that. In the meantime, I’m going to remain hopeful, because there’s a unique kind of beauty in hope.
I should be able to enjoy my body without having to please a man.
I used to feel that its only purpose was to please them.
Since my miscarriage & PTSD episode in 2018, I have slowly shared more and more of my story with the public. It has been far from easy. The more exposure I have received from telling my story, the more attention I have received as a result. What I have come to learn is that when it comes to attention, you can’t really pick between the good and the bad: you have to learn to deal with yourself and your own emotions. People have seen my aesthetics and said, “You’re so pretty you could have anything and anyone you want, the world is yours.” While I understand that this is meant to be a compliment, I often think to myself, how they have no idea the burden and struggle that comes with being an attractive woman.
The criticisms are endless, and you’re looked at as a sex object due to the unconscious biases the media has embedded into Americans’ brains about curves and a woman’s body. I’ve been objectified in sweatpants, a hoodie, and no makeup. I’ve been raped in military cammies while covered from head to toe, literally speaking. I have been groped walking through the mall with my dad. One time, a guy walked up to my father when I was about 14 and asked if he could milk my breasts while my dad and I were checking in to our lodging accommodations. My father has had to deal with a lot of McNasties in my lifetime. I even remember this older man following me home from the bus stop and trying to lure me into his car. I distinctly remember feeling fear and trying to walk fast to get home, and I remember when I made it to my front yard, my dad was cutting grass and I started screaming for him. My entire life since I hit puberty has been having my body objectified. What made this experience so incredibly hard for me is that I did not grow up with healthy boundaries and standards; this left me extremely vulnerable.
These interactions with men were so normal to me because of how frequently they happened. I would pump my gas and have men come up to me and tell me my legs or feet look sexy. When I was 17 and in the Marine Corps, I had this Gunnery Sgt who would call me into his office and tell me my breasts and nipples were staring at him and that I needed to tape my breasts down. This man scared the fuck out of me because he had immense power over me. One time, he got other senior staff NCOs and he started making these statements in front of them. I was so terrified, as they circled around me repeating his comments. I felt like trapped prey. I ended up peeing on myself and crying. I complained to the Sgt Major on my base, who sent me to get larger cammies and advised me to tape my breasts down. FYI, nothing changed. The harassment continued and just got worse over time.
I’ve shared many parts of my story during my time in the USMC and what I dealt with from hazing to sexual violence and harassment. Sexual violence runs rampant in the military in a way that it’s unfathomable to the American public, but talk to another veteran and they innately understand these horrors. There is a larger systemic issue than what happens in the military, it just manifests horrifically in the military because of the fact that it’s severely male-dominated. When I joined the USMC it was comprised of only 6% females and 94% men, which will provide some perspective into why sexual abuse is so severe. After reporting being raped while drugged, and I was thrown in a military jail, I obviously wanted out. Due to childhood physical and sexual abuse combined with military sexual trauma and harassment, I couldn’t take life anymore. My mental health had deteriorated and I saw suicide as my way out of this hell I was unwillingly born in to. Abuse is all I knew up until I was 21. When I got out of the USMC, with no benefits or resources, fighting to survive was even worse. I had a retaliatory discharge, I was homeless and on drugs, because I had no medical benefits and my brain was straight fucked. The trauma was so severe, that I was high or drunk all the time, often with cocktails of drugs and alcohol in my system just to numb the unbearable pain in my body. I often dealt with re-victimization because I needed money and let’s be honest $11.00 an hour part-time in Westchester County, New York doesn’t get far. I lived in a crack house where drugs were the income for everyone. I remember one time the cops raided the place and I did a pull up to the roof and hid there with my drugs as everyone else in the building got arrested with the exception of my roommate and me. I knew this life wasn’t sustainable. This is why I fought so hard to get promoted in finance.
At first, it was weird to me: here I am in stilettos and sexy designer dresses for work with my hair and makeup done. In this environment, I would expect harassment and sexual violence to be worse, and I had the exact opposite experience. I spent 12 years of my life in finance, climbing up the corporate ladder and getting promoted due to my talent and skills. I felt so safe working in corporate America in a way that I had never experienced before. I still dealt with harassment from time to time but nowhere near the severity of what I dealt with in my past. This alone created a sense of safety as to why I was able to succeed on Wall Street. It’s hard to function when you are in fear of experiencing violence every day. It feels good to be safe and recognized for your skills. As I was promoted, I purchased a home and left the illicit trades behind. That’s not without much damage to my mental and physical wellbeing.
A lifetime of trauma and fear is going to lead to a strong flight or fight response. I was struggling to function as a normal healthy person. Due to the fact that I boxed and did sports throughout school and then I went to the USMC, I was obviously extremely physically fit. When my fight response was triggered, it was uncontrollable. If I felt my physical wellbeing was at stake or someone else around me would be harmed, I became violent while often having flashbacks. I couldn’t decipher between reality and my memories. This caused me issues in my personal and professional relationships. At 22, I started attending CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) at the VA and started to learn on a very basic level how to manage my PTSD.
I still dealt with getting involved with violent men who would hit me and treat me poorly. In my entire 20s, I was in and out of court from some boyfriend, fiance or husband beating me. I didn’t really understand that I had a negative attraction pattern until my then-husband hit me in the stomach while I was pregnant and I miscarried. The pain of losing the baby just made me feel like a failure of a mother. How could I let my baby die from harm at my baby’s most vulnerable point of life while in my body? That was a sobering thought. It was also a life-changing one for me.
I went to VA Mental Health and decided I was going to get my shit together. I enrolled in bonding and attachment style therapy, wellness programs, CPT/CBT, exposure therapy and any other program I could take advantage of. I was tired of living in this mental prison. I felt like I was in a maze that my brain could not get out of. Living that reality was living hell on earth.
My concept of sex was so fucked. I really thought that my mind and body were tied to a man’s gratification. It’s so degrading, to feel those emotions. If this is the best life gets, then it’s not worth living anymore. The process of peeling back the onion (those layers of trauma) working on examining my emotions was challenging, to put it mildly. It was deeply triggering at times, so I had to commit to attending sessions and be disciplined in practicing what I learned.
In the last two years that I have been in treatment consistently, I have had a variety of trials and triumphs. When I had to discuss the shame, humiliation, and fear that have been ingrained in me from various life experiences that made me feel like a worthless sex object, I would get so triggered that I often wanted to quit. That was when I realized that I needed to get serious and become open to taking medication. I was at this stuck point of feeling like I capped out on functioning and I knew I still wasn’t healthy yet: medication made a huge improvement in my trauma recovery. I have come to the realization that healing is a slow process, but every day I am getting better at managing my disability. I still struggle with romantic relationships. It is so challenging for me to feel truly safe with a man and feel confident that he will have my best interest at heart. While dating after divorce and pregnancy totally changed my trajectory for my love life, while I feel more fulfilled, I still deeply struggle with accepting true and authentic love from a partner, having a sense of wellbeing and emotional security while bonding, and developing healthy behaviors that create a stable relationship. That is the nature of what PTSD due to sexual violence feels like when bonding: it is a mother-fucking struggle. These days, I am much better at handling the waves and hurricanes that come my way. I feel a sense of freedom in knowing that I will be okay. I know that I can make healthy choices for myself that feel good to me. I am hopeful about my future.
My life has drastically improved in certain areas. My relationships are feeling healthier, and I am much happier. I also needed to make the choice of going on medication to manage my disability effectively. I also had to learn how to set healthy boundaries and decide who is worthy of being in my life. These lessons helped me to love myself. I’m thirty years old, and I just learned what self-love feels like. It’s so sad to me that I lived so much of my life in self-hate. It’s in this newfound love that I feel so connected to nature and consciousness. I’ve learned that love is so powerful that it motivates me to think about an entire generation of women to follow. I want them to know self-love much sooner than it took me to arrive at this point. It’s such a heartwarming feeling that makes every day seem like a gift. I lived so much of my life feeling like I am not skinny enough, I am not pretty enough, I am not sexy enough.
Now, I look in the mirror or at photos of myself and I tell myself that I am enough. I am sexy, powerful, beautiful and most of all, I love and care about myself. I love my thick curves, cellulite, muscles, fat, etc. I love everything I come with. I am okay just being Janelle Marina Mendez in the world. I feel proud that I could be so severely disabled and making a positive impact to help others. I often struggled with my body image since I hit puberty. Was I too skinny? Too fat? Too curvy? Too sexy? Too muscular? I have heard so many criticisms and critiques about my body and clothing that I struggled to just love and accept myself. When I look at myself now, It’s a sense of accomplishment and most importantly self-worth. The journey to self-love and self-acceptance is what strengthened me to ignore the critics and keep pushing forward. As women, when we learn to love ourselves, we will end up having families who live and embody love as a value. This is how we create change in our communities.
This journey also changed my experiences with sex. I often felt like sex was more about surviving than connection and love. It was more about pleasing my partner than embracing connection. Sex while damaged feels exactly like the nightmare that it is. It’s a numbing of emotions and disconnection during such an intimate moment. I would disassociate and fantasize to prevent my emotions from connecting to my partner. I felt that way because I felt so vulnerable I just couldn’t tolerate that level of connection because of my trauma. I was in fear that I would be hurt if I truly fell in love and my partner betrayed me. I avoided love altogether. The journey to self-love took courage and dedication, more than I had. It was a struggle to reach these new standards, let alone, maintain them. We are meant to heal and while having a disability is a struggle it is possible to live in dignity. It’s just a vastly different journey than the average, healthy person. I believe that on my journey of learning to value myself, loving my flaws and my body was a battle I was able to conquer. I hope that the next generation of young people can learn these skills sooner than I arrived at these critical lessons. I hope that leaders of organizations start to raise their standards on how they choose to show up and lead. That is an impact on the world that I would love to see.
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