On April 16, a 19-year-old young woman named Alyssa Funke took her own life.
She was a straight-A student at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. Pictures of her in a Huffington Post article show a normal, healthy, beautiful young woman, one with dreams and ambitions, a desire to make her life a canvas for her imagination and creativity.
Oh, and she also did porn.
Go ahead. Do a double-take.
Not long before her suicide, Funke appeared in a porn film. Maybe to make money. Or maybe because she felt it was an empowering way to express her sexuality. Maybe for other reasons.
Does it really matter?
Last I checked, ours is a free(ish) country.
My take? She did porn. Big fucking deal.
Unfortunately, not all agree.
The Huffington Post article (see link below) reports that, “after former classmates from her high school in Oak Park Heights, Minnesota, discovered the video, they began sending her abusive messages through Twitter and Facebook.” Over time, the cyberbullying grew increasingly more disturbing and intense.
Clearly anguished and seeing no other way out, Alyssa decided to end it all.
This is wrong on so many levels, I don’t even know where to begin.
To say that our culture views men and women differently would elicit a “No shit” reaction from most people. This is especially–and sadly–true when it comes to the sensitive topic of sexuality.
(Why it remains sensitive in the first place is in itself a topic for discussion)
For men, pretty much anything goes. The more they fuck, the better. It is seen as a sign of strength, virility, and an affirmation of their expected dominant, alpha male, macho role.
For women? Not so much.
Women are expected to be tame. Submissive. Any woman who dares to step beyond those (completely arbitrary) boundaries is labeled “slut,” “whore,” or much, much worse.
Funny (or not) thing is? Women were not always in a subservient position sexually. In many ancient cultures, women were revered, even worshipped, as conduits of the Divine. Being initiated into sex with a woman was seen as a profoundly spiritual act, a very, very sacred gift to be honored and received with deep gratitude. (Please don’t get me wrong–I have ZERO moral/ethical objections to people having sex just for the fun of it. Just saying that it used to mean something more.)
So what the fuck happened?
This isn’t the place or time to answer. It goes without saying that somewhere along the line, it all went terribly wrong.
Men became the standard of perfection. Their needs, wants, and desires were now paramount above all else. Worse, they were taught–by religious leaders, by parents, by their culture–that their role was that of dominating, subjugating, and brutalizing women.
And if a woman dared to assert herself–creatively, intellectually, and–gasp–sexually?
A witch! BURN HER!
(…Well, not always. But you get the point.)
Let me be unambiguous: there is nothing wrong with what Alyssa Funke did. If it was something she did with full consent and awareness, more power to her.
And those who bullied her into the grave? I’m willing to bet that many of them were secretly into porn themselves.
“Hypocrisy” doesn’t even begin to cover it.
Because of their ignorance and sheer lack of compassion, a beautiful young woman is dead. One who had her entire life ahead of her. She had every right to make it a life of creative expression, abundance, joy, and love.
Instead, she is gone.
Alyssa, wherever you are…Rest in peace. And be well.
Yet another promising treatment for PTSD is something called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
The National Alliance on Mental Illness defines it as follows:
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of treatment that focuses on examining the relationships between thoughts, feelings and behaviors. By exploring patterns of thinking that lead to self-destructive actions and the beliefs that direct these thoughts, people with mental illness can modify their patterns of thinking to improve coping. CBT is a type of psychotherapy that is different from traditional psychodynamic psychotherapy in that the therapist and the patient will actively work together to help the patient recover from their mental illness.
The website adds, “Studies have shown that CBT actually changes brain activity in people with mental illnesses who receive this treatment, suggesting that the brain is actually improving its functioning as a result of engaging in this form of therapy.”
How does it work?
In trauma, there is a triggering event.
Your mind scrambles to draw conclusions.
These conclusions, in turn, affect your emotions, thoughts, feelings, and actions.
Of course, a deeply scarred, traumatized mind cannot always draw conclusions that are realistic and sensible. More often than not, it does precisely the opposite.
In my own example of PTSD after a shipwreck, my thoughts ran as follows:
- People died. This means I should’ve died, too.
- No way was this an accident. Fate/God/Universe/whatever conspired to put me on that ship, on that exact day, at that exact time, in that exact location.
- I am never setting foot on a ship again. Fuck that. Ships sink when I am on them–always.
- I will always be terrified of ships and open water. It’s permanent.
- Whenever someone reassures me that something is perfectly safe, with “only a small chance of mishap,” I will take that small chance as unavoidable. After all, the chances of a ship running aground in a well-charted port were slim–yet it happened.
- My panic, anxiety, and terror are forever. There is no hope for me.
You get the idea.
Now, as I stated before, these kinds of conclusions are perfectly understandable. Your mind is severely rattled by the trauma, and the thoughts surrounding it are unlikely to be rational.
The good news? You can challenge them.
This is best done under the guidance of a qualified CBT therapist, whether one-on-one or in a group setting.
First, you talk about the traumatic event.
This can be agonizing, but remember that the setting is a safe, nurturing one, where you can expose your scars without fear of ridicule.
Next, your therapist gently encourages you to re-examine your thoughts about the event.
For example, let’s take my third thought–“Ships always sink when I set foot on one.”
The therapist may ask, “Can you be 100% sure that this is true?”
I would have to admit that no, I can never be 100% sure of anything.
Then I may be asked, “Have there been times when you were on a ship and it didn’t sink?”
Again, I would grudgingly concede that yes, I’ve been on many ships and it went just fine.
“Then,” the therapist might say, “can you draw an alternative conclusion about the event based on these answers?”
This can be tricky, as the mind may still be locked in its traumatized patterns of thinking. It takes effort and skillful guidance to look at an event in a different way.
But it’s possible.
Here, I might employ a writing technique. I would take a piece of paper, draw a line down the middle, and write down my illogical thoughts about the traumatic event on one side. On the other, I would list another way of seeing the issue.
In so doing, I would gradually begin to see that, what I thought was a permanent way of thinking, is actually quite malleable. I don’t have to accept my initial conclusions about the traumatic event. There ARE other ways of looking at it.
This may not sound very helpful at first. It didn’t to me. When my therapist brought up the possibility of CBT, I reacted with scorn–and anger.
I am having full-blown, crippling, debilitating panic attacks and nightmares that keep me from being able to get through the day–and you want to challenge my thoughts? Are you KIDDING me?
This is a valid concern. Before embarking on a course of CBT, the immediate symptoms must be brought somewhat under control. This may be done, for example, by your doctor prescribing a sedative. Things like yoga and meditation also help to quiet the mind and slow down the racing heart.
Once that is done, dive in. Trust your therapist. Challenge your thoughts from every possible angle. You may find yourself realizing surprisingly quickly that what seemed like a foregone conclusion is only one way of looking at what happened.
Over time, this will leave a deep imprint in your thought patterns. Remember the quote at the beginning about how re-thinking the event actually changes brain activity? It’s true.
Slowly but steadily, you will learn to think differently. In turn, this will re-route your behavior, feelings and actions in a much more positive, healing direction.
Find a qualified therapist–and give it a try. It just might work for you.
It’s only natural to want to avoid painful memories and feelings. But if you try to numb yourself and push your memories away, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) will only get worse. You can’t escape your emotions completely—they emerge under stress or whenever you let down your guard—and trying to do so is exhausting. The avoidance will ultimately harm your relationships, your ability to function, and the quality of your life.
I wish I could tell you that your PTSD struggles, your anguish and fear and crippling panic and the horrifying memories that jolt you wide awake at night, will go away on their own.
I wish it were that simple.
Unfortunately, it isn’t.
You need help.
Getting help can be a difficult decision. Believe me, I know. I’ve been there.
Some people feel that receiving psychiatric treatment somehow validates their false self-perception as “insane” or “abnormal.”
Others, especially men, have been conditioned by our alpha male, macho-driven society to view psychiatry as a science for the weak, a crutch for those who can’t “man up” and (putting it bluntly) get their shit together.
This is unfortunate. It’s also completely and utterly illogical.
When something in your home breaks, you call someone who can fix it. If your car breaks down, you bring it to an auto repairman. If your lower back feels like someone jabbed a white-hot knife into it and then twisted it for good measure (which is how I feel most days), you see a neurologist to figure out treatment options.
If it’s okay to seek help for any of the above, why not for psychiatric conditions?
I will say it over and over again: THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH GETTING HELP.
No matter what others–your family, your friends, your cultural upbringing–teach you, seeking help does not make you weak. It is actually a sign of strength. You are showing initiative and resolve to face your demons head-on, and that takes immense courage.
Find a qualified therapist, a support group, or both–and work with them. Trust their expertise. Let them guide you through the slow process of recovery.
It can feel agonizingly slow, and you may feel frustrated enough to put your fist through a brick wall.
Hold firm to the truth that slow, gradual healing will occur.
With their help, you will face your rabid, snarling demons–and tell them to go fuck themselves. Fight with every ounce of courage and strength you have.
And you DO have it.
Whatever traumatic event sent your life into a nosedive, you survived. To say that this takes remarkable perseverance is a major understatement.
The strength you need is already inside you.
With slow, patient guidance, you can allow that strength to expand. As it does, you will gradually gain confidence and an enduring sense of self-worth. You will know that you are not your trauma. You are a survivor, and you are strong, and nothing can stop you from reclaiming the peace and joy and fulfillment you deserve.
You deserve not just to survive, but to thrive–in every sense of the word.
Stay grounded in the eternal NOW.
Feel your strength–strength beyond strength–coursing through you.
And, above all…
This song is for all those who are scarred, broken inside, worn out and exhausted by the struggle. At all costs, keep hope alive. You’ll make it.