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Child Abuse Awareness Week: Fields of Purple Flowers

April is child abuse awareness month and we at The Band intend to highlight the stories of those who’ve suffered from this form of abuse. There damage child abuse leaves in its wake can last a lifetime:

This is her story:

Her first memory became her second memory once they started coming back, a piece at a time.

The old first memory, in her words:

“My stepfather has brought me into the back part of the house that we used as a living room.  I am maybe four years old, maybe younger.  I am very happy, as the Monster is being nice to me.  I have a dress on, black patent-leather shoes with buckles and white ankle socks with ruffles. The couch is plaid – brown, yellow, green.  His hand is on my knee and he is rubbing my leg, smiling at me. I don’t remember him taking off my panties, but they are gone.  I am not concerned, I am just happy he is not hitting me, he is not yelling at me, he is smiling at me and I feel safe for the first time in a long time.  His hand is under my dress and he is rubbing me and I have this strange feeling in my belly.

Out of nowhere, the most tremendous blinding pain I have ever felt.  I try to scream, I try to move.  He has his hand over my mouth and is holding down.  The pain is unbearable.  He is smiling.  I can’t breathe.  The pain is excruciating.  Am I dying?  Is he finally killing me?  What is he doing?  Why is he hurting me like this?  As suddenly as it started, it is over.  He gets up and leaves the room and I curl up in a ball sobbing.  He returns with a washrag and rolls me over on my back spreading my legs again.  The rag is moist and cold, he wipes me.  I lay there terrified the pain will start again.  When I see the rag, it is covered in blood and still he is smiling.”

She ran away then, into the fields of purple flowers. She ran and ran, finally falling down into the tall grass.  The sun went down, it got dark, and though she was afraid of the dark, she was more afraid of him.  Later she hears voices calling her name.  Her mother, her aunt, her brother.  Her mother crying for her, she stands up and hollers “Mama!”  Her mother runs to her, crying, saying “My baby is OK!  My baby is OK!”

Back at the house, her mother asks her why she ran away. She tells her.

“She slapped me so hard across the face that I was knocked several feet backwards and fell to the floor.  She screamed at me, that I was a liar and sent me to my room. I sobbed, hurting from the pain in my bottom and the pain in my heart, knowing that I was going to die.  He was going to kill me.  There was no one to stop him.  So I did what all good Christian girls did:  I prayed to God that I would die in my sleep before morning.

That was the longest night of my life. Somewhere in the night I fell asleep.  When I woke up, the Monster was smiling down at me once more.  My heart was racing and I knew I was about to die and he just kept smiling.  He puts one hand on either side of my head holding me down by my long brown hair, and smiling the whole time, he said, ‘She didn’t believe you, she never will and if you ever try to tell again I will kill you.’  Then, like nothing ever happened, he walks to the door, opens it, and calmly says, ‘Breakfast is ready when you are.’”

She later remembered a time in the car, when she was much smaller.  Three, maybe, almost four.  Her mother was asleep in the back.  She was on his lap, “driving”, a policeman is yelling at her Daddy.  “Where are your shoes?  Why are your pants unzipped?  What is going on here?”  She had a little dress on.  He hadn’t hurt her yet.

How did her mother sleep through the policeman, through the yelling?  Or was she asleep at all?

Her words:

“After the first night when I was raped by my stepfather and ran away, two things happened.  Because I had run away, a lock was placed on the outside of my door.  Every night when I went to bed I was locked into my room.  From then on, when mother passed out at night from her ‘nerve pills’ and alcohol, Monster was guaranteed easy access to me.”

The abuse came from her mother as well.  She wasn’t “Vicki” anymore, she was “bitch, slut, liar, whore.”  Any infraction of any kind was met with blunt force, blows to the head, back, ribs, whatever was closest.  Her fingers were held over an open flame until the skin bubbled and blistered.

In a few years, it was not just Vicki who was being sexually tortured, it was her two brothers.  And then the brother and sister that her mother had with the Monster.

When did it end?

You want to know how long it went on?

Vicki was fourteen years old when her stepfather finally went to prison for his crimes.  A caring neighbor finally heard her, believed her, and confronted her mother.  Her mother had the option to help provide evidence against him or be charged as an accomplice.

Perhaps worst of all, her mother did not leave the Monster.  When the Monster got out of prison?  He left HER.

Vicki is my sister.

Vicki is my hero.

Vicki has spent most of her life overcoming the most horrific kind of abuse imaginable and despite it, despite every bit of it – the foster care, the beatings, the years of alcohol and drug abuse to blur and erase the memories – she has not only survived, she has overcome.  She has raised a son who is now in college.  She was married to the love of her life until she lost him to a sudden heart attack.  She is the strongest, most self sufficient woman I have ever had the privilege to meet in my life.

I thank God for many things, but most often I thank Him for two things:

That Vicki is my sister.  And that I?  Was relinquished by her mother at birth to adoption.

My sister thanks God that I was given up for adoption.  Which makes me weep.

My sister is a survivor.

I Will: Dance

This year, it’s time to take action. It’s time to pull our heads out of our asses and make some plans for world domination.

How? By telling the world, not what we want to do this year, but what we will.

So what will YOU do this year?

I wrote a lot on this site about the drama I have in my life, but this time I wanted to write and share something that is made of pure glitter for me: dance.

I started dancing when I was really young, but it wasn’t until I was eleven that I found Irish Dance. I was obsessed with Riverdance growing up, and Mama found a school that just started up in my hometown, so I tried a class. I was instantly hooked. I have done so many other types of dance in my life (ballet, modern, jazz, ballroom/Latin/swing, etc.), but Irish always held a special place in my heart. I loved going to, and competing in, competitions all over the nation and Ireland. I was addicted to the thrill of the performances we would do all over the state, and I never thought I would stop. Fate had other ideas.

When my knee blew out, I thought that I needed to leave all dance behind to be able to put that part of my life away and start a new one as a photographer. I tried to leave it, joking that “dance was my passion, but photography was my love. You never marry your passion, you marry your love,” but soon I found my life missing a huge piece of something. I never could figure out what was missing, but I kept moving forward.

In my classes, I would always practice old steps I choreographed or competed in my head while I worked on other things, and I would always end up choreographing new dance numbers to random songs in my head. But it wasn’t until after my Mama died I finally figured it out.

I was living at my best friend’s house when a fire caused my town to evacuate during the summer, and I went to dance, the same dance class I use to live at, with her little sister. I thought “Well, I’m here, I might as well dance,” and I found myself hooked again. It was coming home after a long time away. Now, I know where I belong and what I am: I am a dancer who is studying photography.

Dance is either magic or pure glitter, depending on what you want to call it. It makes all the world quiet, all the problems just vanish for a few hours, and nothing matters but your body and the music. I love being able to lose myself completely in the movements, the music, and the small, little movements that others find boring. I spend hours remembering how to move my body, how to turn out, how to balance, and how to jump again. It sounds easy, but being able to take my time and just fix my old problems is amazing.

Dance is something I can, and know how to, fix. This is a place where I am safe. Dance doesn’t lie, it is the truest way to see someone’s soul. It is an essence of the person him or herself. I don’t even know if this makes sense, but when your world starts to spin out of control, the best thing I think you can do is dance. It helps you… feel. You don’t have to wear a mask or hide, you are truly free.

It is pure glitter to me, and my resolution is that I will dance! I will remember the simple joy of moving, of perfecting each step, and being in the moment completely. I hope some of you will join me: dance is not just a studio and lesson, it’s all around us. Just turn on music or listen to the wind outside, and dance! I promise, you will feel better and most likely will be smiling and laughing, even if it’s just a moment, and you’ll feel better.

I am a dancer, and I will always dance!

Ask the Band: Depression and My Son

It’s time yet again for another “Ask The Band” Friday post! We are always gratefully accepting new submissions for the burning questions you may want us to help you answer. You can submit through this link or anonymously through this link.

Dear The Band,

If anyone could share some helpful hints or ideas for my Ask The Band question, I would be ever so grateful.

I have a 20 year old child who is suffering from major depression. As a result he sleeps all day and night, isn’t able to work, and if he does get a job, he only keeps it for short periods of time.

His depression has been getting worse and worse since graduating from high school. Shortly thereafter, his dad and I separated and are now divorcing. That’s a lot for one kid.

My sweet son is a very empathic, old soul, and a lost soul who’s is not adjusting well to life after high school. He misses being surrounded by his friends now that he’s in the adult world. See, he was the one everyone went to for help and now no one is even looking for his friendship anymore.

I know that he has a myriad of other contributing factors that set him up for this depression and the divorce isn’t helping.

I’m typically a tough love, in your face, suck it up buttercup type. That said, I have also struggled with severe depression, so I know the ropes.

I’ve tried to give him tips and ideas of things to try and he refuses my advice. He’s not trying anything to improve his situation.

If anyone has anything to add or ideas to try to help him, it would be greatly helpful and appreciated.

Thank you, The Band, for everything.

Amazon Pulls All Books Touting Cures For Autism

Is it censorship or social responsibility?

First things first. I hate to upset the People First Language crowd, but no one “has autism,” because to do so would imply that you have a disease. And if you have no disease, then there would obviously be no cure.

So, looking at this logically, which is the only way my autistic brain knows how, Amazon was completely in the right for pulling books suggesting cures for a disease that doesn’t exist.

I find it strange that in the autistic community there are some who celebrate being the way we are and others who are upset by it. I get that… I guess.

People want to be normal, but what’s normal?

What people, including some that claim to be autism experts, don’t understand is that there’s nothing “wrong” with us. Are we different? Yeah. Is that a bad thing? Nope.

Some are calling it censorship while others refer to it as social responsibility. As a writer I can see the argument for the censorship argument, but as a person on the spectrum and as an autism advocate, I completely see this as social responsibility.

Look at it this way: would you want to see book after book selling snake oil? Telling you how to cure something that doesn’t exist? Or at the very least telling you that it’s possible to cure a disease that doesn’t exist?

Am I telling you that autism doesn’t exist? No.

I’m saying that autism is not a disease and thus has no cure.

I’m proudly autistic and nothing will ever change that.

Let’s play Devil’s Advocate for a moment and pretend that it’s not autism but rather being LBGTQ. Would you want books telling you that there’s a cure for being gay?

Absolutely not! While these books, “cures,” and “treatment facilities” do also exist, they serve only to harm people in the LBGTQ+ community, just like they do with anyone who has autism. Being part of the LBGTQ community – or the autism community – isn’t a disease or affliction, and therefore doesn’t need a cure. This is simply something you are – right from birth.

People rally against that sort of behavior now – being different doesn’t make you diseased.

The bottom line is this: you can’t cure people of being who they are. I was born autistic and I’m going to die autistic and that’s the way it is.

You can’t cure something that’s not an illness or a disease and anyone who says they can is straight up lying to you.

If you’re on the spectrum, I hope that you don’t fall for the cure conspiracy because there is absolutely nothing wrong with you. You are who you are, just as I am who I am.

I do feel bad for the writers that took the time to write and publish their books only to see them pulled from the world’s largest bookstore, but when those books promise something that they can’t deliver, they need to be pulled.

The bottom line? I’m not sick. I’m on the spectrum.

This post was previously published on Good Men Project and has been reprinted with permission of the author.

Autism Awareness: Welcome To Club 299

It’s Autism Awareness month here at The Band, and we need you! We  encourage everyone to share their stories about autism, what it means to them, and how they deal with it. Please, share your stories with Band Back Together. You can even do it anonymously

First, let me make sure to welcome you to Club 299.

(If you’ve been diagnosed) on the spectrum and had a DSM, you’d be laughing.)

Welcome to Club 299. It’s an exclusive club. Aand of this writing, no one knows exactly what causes a person to be accepted into the club, but we do know that it’s it’s a club one is born into.

What is Club 299?

It’s a reference Dr Stephen Mark Shore, the only autistic college professor of special education, specializing in autism.  Dr. Shore welcomed me to The Club while we were talking earlier in the week after he found out I’m on the autism spectrum.

But J.R. that still doesn’t answer the question.  WHAT is Club 299?

299 is the code that the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-IV) uses for Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD. The DSM is the book people in the mental health field use for insurance coding and other such things.

Thus, being in Club 299 means you’re on the autistic spectrum.

Once again, if you’re on the ASD spectrum, welcome to Club 299.

The DSM-V was published in May 2013 and lumped everyone on the autistic spectrum into a single category, and officially getting rid of Asperger’s Syndrome as its own disorder. Honestly, though, every practitioner I’ve ever encountered since  still uses Asperger’s Syndrome as a stand-alone diagnosis.

It may sound like it’s a boring club, but we’re actually a pretty awesome and quirky group.  Many of us are musical and extra creative, so our meetings always have a bit of pizzazz to them.

We tend to win at paintball because people on the autism spectrum are known for being logical, out-of-the-box thinkers.

And really, who doesn’t want a bunch of logical, out of the box thinkers planning the attack on the enemy flag?

Contrary to popular opinion, Club 299 IS where the cool kids hang out. Other people may not know how chill we are, but there’s no reason that we can’t all consider ourselves a part of the fun group.

I’m still trying to come up with a hand signal that we can throw at each other as we pass on the streets so we can represent.  I’ll let you know when I figure that out.

Please, DO NOT go asking your caseworker if they know of any Club 299 meetings in your area as Club 299 is more of an idea than an actual physical club.

It provides a sense of belonging for those of us who were born autistic (ASD). We’re a group of people who can understand us, and vice versa. How cool would that be if you could live your life knowing you’re a part of something like this?  Again, if you’re on the autism spectrum, you’re already in the club.

Come on in and join us.

This post was previously published on Good Men Project and has been republished with permission of the author.

Autism And The Power of Our Senses

It’s Autism Awareness month here at The Band, and we need you! We  encourage everyone to share their stories about autism, what it means to them, and how they deal with it. Please, share your stories with Band Back Together. You can even do it anonymously

Thursday I went with my daughter to our local theme park. It’s been many years since I’ve been to one – after a couple of hours at Silver Dollar City in Branson, MO I remembered why I don’t go to them.

Between the crowds milling around, moving to and fro in no discernible pattern, and the noise hitting my ears from all sides, I was in autistic hell.

It was because I didn’t properly prepare for the day.

My daughter works for a large, high-end resort and got a smoking deal on season passes, so we each got one. I figured I would mostly use mine to go, walk around a bit, people watch and find a table where I could sit with my laptop and write.

But not this time.

It was our first ever trip to the park and  we only were spending a few hours there because my daughter had to be at work. So we rushed from place to place.

That was my first mistake.

I should have gone to the park for the first time when there was no pressure to be anywhere anytime soon. That way, I could mosey along and find a quiet place to sit and take a break when things became overwhelming.

There was no time for that. I was trying to be a good dad so I followed my daughter from place to place, taking only small breaks while she went on rollercoasters.

Rollercoasters are a no-no for me since I had a stroke sixteen years ago, so I avoid them at all costs. I’ve been mocked by people for “being a grown man” and being afraid of roller coasters.

It’s not that I’m afraid, I just don’t need my equilibrium off center for at least the next few hours.

If you have never dealt with sensory overload, be thankful. It can be hell. This day wasn’t quite hell, but it wasn’t heaven either, so I’ll call it Catholic purgatory. That somewhere in between.

When we finally got home, I laid down for a couple hours and it helped a bit, but not as much as I hoped. I spent a couple of hours editing articles for Good Men Project, and then crashed for the night.

I woke up feeling much better and went about my Friday just fine. Until 6 pm. That’s when my Friday night ritual starts. It’s also the way you can tell that I’m single.

Friday night is what I call, Nerd Game Night at my local comic book shop. A bunch of my people gather to play Magic the Gathering, Dungeons and Dragons, Pathfinder or whatever else they want to play.

Normally I handle Nerd Game Night just fine, but this night was different. This night it seemed louder than usual and I needed a few breaks outside where it was quiet.

I asked Gail, the store owner, if it was louder than normal and she didn’t think so, which leads me to believe that this was residual from my day at the theme park.

The good thing is that every time I have an episode that overwhelms my senses, I learn something. This time I learned what I need to do when I hit Silver Dollar City the next time.

I’ll definitely have headphones, even if there’s no music playing, just to drown out some of the noise attacking me from all sides. I also learned that I can’t go on days when I feel rushed.

I learned that as I plan my day at the theme park, I also need to plan some extended down time the next day – possibly a little longer.

Being on the spectrum doesn’t mean that we have to stop doing things that most people consider a lot of fun. It just means that we have to sit down and use our out-of-the box thinking brains to plan our adventures properly, so that the day is fun for us as well.

Thursday wasn’t a wasted day, I look at it as a day of scouting and strategic planning for the next time.

If you deal with sensory issues, don’t let it stop you from spending time with friends and doing enjoyable things. With a little planning, we can enjoy the same things everyone else does, just in a different way.

If you have sensory issues, what do you do to help overcome them? Share your ideas with us so that we can all be better prepared for our next big day out!

This post was previously published on Good Men Project and is reprinted with permission from the author.