Category Archives: Stepping Stones

A Taut Strand Sings

I can feel the distance
lengthen between us
as you go away
arrhythmic stutter of heartbeat
curl of slick dread
deep inside
I feel the tenuous stretch
as fate and fortune
take you from me
In the stillness, I know
it is only for a little while
and you are thinking of me
the song in your heart
bares my name
I reach out into the gulf
now unafraid of it’s depth
to grasp the strand
that shudders between us
I hear your thoughts there
reclaiming words shared
Fingers touch, pluck the threads
to make the music
that my soul still sings
a song that bares your name
as you show me how
to learn to be myself
even by myself

~ ~ ~

© W.R.R. 7/9/2012

For Sharon, my friend and confidante, a stepping stone who gives so much of her time, caring heart, and gracious spirit to help me on my healing journey. She doesn’t lead the way, she walks at my side, keeping a pace I can manage. When I stumble, she helps me up. When I weep, she comforts me with her own tears, that soft gift of empathy wrapped in a strength that inspires me to keep trying, keep moving forward. Right now she is on a plane to another country. My gut twisted in fear, afraid to not be able to reach her at any moment. But she is teaching me about trust, and I know she will come back to me. She teaches me to trust myself, too. Now is my time to show her that her gifts are well spent – as I strive to be strong for her. Be safe, Shar.

Adam’s Mask

An Open Letter on Perspective, to My Fellow Glamberts:

There’s a lot of discussion back and forth about Adam Lambert’s photo shoot for the fashion magazine Fault, where his face has been dramatically airbrushed in the custom of publications dedicated to fashion. Some fans love it, some are just happy to see new pictures; others like most aspects of the photos, except for the airbrushing.

In these airbrushed photos, his forehead lines and freckles disappear. It even enhanced his eyes to an almost Marvel Comics mutant level of glowing blue-green hue. Another thing that was covered up may be more important to Adam than to his fans, namely a slight blemish of acne that comes and goes in various untouched pics (or that show up even under makeup in HD photos).

By using the word “slight”, I don’t mean to diminish Adam’s stated perception of the skin issues that he says has deviled much of his family. I say “slight” to avoid being hunted with pitchforks by that corner of fandom that insists Adam is flawlessly perfect, and how dare anybody say otherwise? Well, fact is, Adam says otherwise; and he’s brought it up more than once.

The night he came on Twitter and talked to us about things we don’t like about ourselves? He said it again: he doesn’t like his acne problem. He was trying to share a group catharsis with us, and many of the replies he got had the power to break hearts. Some of them humbled me, made me cry. I told him about my issues with scars and facial damage, and the atmosphere he had created of open acceptance helped me and others to have the courage to bare our insecurities, to not hide them. It was catharsis. For some, it was the first time an insecurity was admitted to anybody, much less in a public forum. Adam has a gift that gets us to be open and unguarded with him, and he asked us to try to be more open with our loved ones and friends. I wept. I felt closer to him and to everybody else who bared their fears. It reminded me that I’m not the only one who suffers with the ingrained belief that I am ugly, no matter what anybody says.

Some of us expressed feeling silly that their insecurity “wasn’t important” in the midst of “greater traumas” but Adam didn’t say his problem was lesser than anybody else’s. If it makes you hate yourself, or how you look, it’s a big issue, even if it’s acne instead of facial scars. Self-hate (which I struggle with a lot) causes real harm and real problems. Nobody has the right to belittle another person’s pain or fear.

Obviously, Adam doesn’t hate himself, he’s a happy guy. Yet in interviews, in meet and greet videos, and tweets, Adam deflects the “you’re perfect” talk and says he isn’t perfect. He has said some of the HD pics out there make him wince because he sees the acne problem first, even if those who love him don’t focus on it or even notice it at all. All that said, Adam probably loves the Fault photos because of the airbrushing. He gets a break from having to see the issue with his appearance that makes him feel insecure.

Another problem about a person’s perceived blemish, fear, or insecurity: well-meaning people like to reassure and say, “Oh nonsense, Adam, you’re gorgeous, you’re perfect.” As nice as this seems, it can feel not so nice to the other person at times. It feels like one’s insecure feelings are being brushed off as unimportant, and one is left feeling unheard, dismissed, disregarded. Adam has learned to say thanks to more of these “you’re gorgeous” comments, but I noticed he rarely lets a “you’re perfect” go by unremarked. One reason I imagine is that he’d like people to remember that he’s human like the rest of us. What if another reason is that this seemingly nice comment makes him feel a wince coming on? “Perfect” conflicts with one’s self-image when a major insecurity in appearance is present.

Sometimes it is nice to hear a compliment, or be told you’re okay, don’t worry, it’s not as bad as you think; that is the difficult dichotomy of this topic, but it’s no less true than what I said before. I love the song “Perfect” by Pink, it has helped some people turn their backs on thoughts of suicide. Here’s the difference: when a person is in the grip of feeling low because of their self-image, and has the courage to express their feelings, fears, or their self-perception, an instant “no, you’re perfect, you’re beautiful” response can actually hurt, because the person doesn’t feel heard, or taken seriously.

A better response might be, “I know you feel that way, I respect your feelings; I just want to let you know that I don’t see you that way. To me, you are beautiful; but I respect your feelings and I thank you for entrusting me with them.” Saying, “You feel that way now, but you won’t always” isn’t fun to hear most of the time, either. If you can’t fix that person’s problem, especially if nobody can, then predicting they won’t always feel that way sounds as disregarding/unheard as the “no you’re perfect” does.

As an abuse and incest survivor who also suffers with rapid cycle bipolar and has one blind eye and some serious facial scarring from abusive violent attacks, I feel happier without a mirror around and I have a serious phobia of photos of myself. I toy with the idea of allowing an artist to draw how I really look to have something to show friends and loved ones online, but most of the time I panic and believe all the old lies from my abusers, awash in self-hate and the belief that I am ugly. There has certainly been no shortage of cruel people in my life from birth to now who gleefully call me ugly, freak, Frankenstein, or monster. The silent ones just look at me in fear, or even cross the street to avoid me. All of this reinforces all the times I was told I was too ugly to be loved, or that I should kill myself to put me out of their misery. School lunch tables I passed, where my peers would say, “Do you mind? We’re trying to eat” and the laughter as I slunk away – these things burrow under the skin and worm into the soul.

Adam was called fat, so he strives to be slender. He said he was teased about the freckles, too, and has often said he doesn’t like them. He was probably teased mercilessly about acne, or he wouldn’t be so hyper-aware of it. He has said he likes makeup because it covers his flaws (to a resounding echo of “you have no flaws”).

All of these things tell me I probably can guess that he likes the airbrushed Fault photos quite a bit. Yet Adam isn’t in the habit of hiding. I bet he sees the airbrushed and/or photoshopped pics of glossy fashion magazines as a costume, like if he chose to wear a mask at Halloween. It’s a break from yourself, a chance to toy with ways to actually enjoy looking in a mirror. Like makeup, it can boost your self-esteem.

For those who really don’t like these airbrushed photos, they are allowed to not like them (or they should be allowed). Especially if they prefer to see Adam as is, because to them, he is beautiful that way. That’s great, too. I just think when we have the chance to talk to him directly, online or off, that telling him he’s gorgeous will get a happier response than telling him he’s flawless and perfect. Yet if he’s sharing how he feels about his insecurities, pause a minute and hear him? Let him know his feelings matter too, even if you really do think he’s perfect. He’ll most likely thank you for it.

Personally, I love the Fault photos. I think he looks amazing in them. It doesn’t mean he isn’t amazing in more natural photos, however; I haven’t met many pics of Adam I didn’t like. To me, his joy leaps off of these images. I see no tell-tale shadow in his eyes of worry; and that makes me happy just for his private joy.

In the end, the mask only obscures perception; when it is set aside, the real person is still there underneath.

~ ~ ~

© W.R.R. 4/25/2012
For all survivors of any form of rape or abuse; you are not alone. Speak out. Find your path to healing.

Dark and Light, a Dichotomy of Fear

A survivor of child sex abuse viewpoint on the video “Better Than I Know Myself” by Adam Lambert

WARNING, this essay contains abuse triggers for some survivors.

I know I won’t become my father. Getting away from him at nineteen, learning to live another way, allowed me to jump the tracks of the training and conditioning he tried to use to turn me into him. Yet the fears and horrors from my past often rise up to color my present surroundings, and at times I cannot control what the resulting stress does to my emotional state, or my sense of personal safety. This is compounded by what I refer to as my grab bag of phobias, rapid cycle bipolar, risk of panic attacks due to stress, and PTSD.

This is not in any way an attempt to “explain” the otherwise beautiful and genius work of art that is this music video by Adam Lambert. Others (many of whom I admire) are doing a far better analysis of it than I could. However, they reassured me that my views are also valid and could perhaps be helpful to other survivors of abuse. Adam is one of my stepping stones. One of the people I look up to, admire, or see as an example of what is possible. Having come to know him better as a fan, as well as any of us can, I can say I now adore him as well. I am proud of him for reaching inside himself to seek out the light and the dark places within him, and for having the courage to show us even a small portion of what he finds there. As a survivor trying to share what I can to help others, I understand that courage, and the kind of fear it must surmount. I didn’t always “know him”, though. Before I did, I was afraid of him, and equally afraid to express my fear.

When I first encountered Adam, it was the music video “For Your Entertainment”, from his first CD of the same name. While I have come to appreciate now the sexy freedom of sexuality he was trying to convey, at first it frightened me – HE frightened me. My loved ones assured me he was acting, it was a stage persona for a video, he’s a sweetheart of a man, etc. All I saw was a beautiful and powerful predator, stalking the people he wished to press his sexuality on; in other words, I saw only my father.

In the new video for the ballad “Better Than I Know Myself”, first single of his sophomore CD Trespassing, Adam revisits this fierce incarnation of himself more directly, without the trappings of blatant and glorious sexuality to ease the sharper edges. The video itself is split into the dichotomy of what fans have dubbed “Dark” Adam and “Light” Adam. Each part of this duality lives in his own “room” inside the heart, soul, mind, and body of the singer. Light Adam is warm and sweet, adorable, beautiful, and safe. He is kind, tolerant, and focused on fun, peace, and serenity. This is the way my loved ones have always insisted he is in real life, especially those who have met him. So if Adam himself perceives both halves to be within him, how am I to interpret Dark Adam? Again, I’ll leave the speculation and analysis of what Adam may be trying to convey to us to others. All I can say is how it affects me, as a survivor of abuse. I don’t blame Adam for scaring me, and I still adore, admire, and look up to him. Yet with everybody asking each other, “What did you think of the video?” I wanted to say not what I think, but how it made me feel. I believe this exploration at least was one of the intentions Adam had for the video.

To put it simply, Dark Adam scares me and makes me feel like I’m not safe if that person can get at me. If the “For Your Entertainment” video Adam was perceived as my father in his predatory lust incarnation, this Dark Adam became, for me, my father when he was about to beat or injure me. My father was a beautiful man; he was tall, dark haired, pale skinned, and blue-eyed like me. He was spooky smart, and could charm the birds out of the trees, or convince a more malleable soul of any lie he chose to spout. His voice alone could hypnotize. My father was also an alcoholic and drug addict, probably afflicted with co-morbid mental disorders, but he never was tested or treated. Whether or not he was also abused as a child, I might never know. What I do know is that he spent his life destroying mine and my mother’s.

He used to pace like Dark Adam, throw and break things, scream at nothing. He was a narcissist and sadist, and taught me that I was born for his use, and for sex. He was convinced over time that he was a god, and I was raised to believe it, even made to worship him, call him “God” or “my Lord”. Any slight deviation from difficult, complex, and changeable rules was punished. This punishment ranged from a punch or a whipping with a rope, a beating, or he would cut me with blades. Once, he took my hair, kept long to use as a handle to control me, and set it on fire. My mother put the fire out as my father laughed. Later I was punished for having put burns in the carpet. Rape was rarely punishment. That was just my duty.

When I see Dark Adam pace and break things, laugh or grimace like a mad man, threaten violence, or start fires, or crush something special that belongs to somebody else, I feel frightened and sick. I don’t want to see my Adam, the real Adam, the kind and fun person in interviews and on TV, behave like that. However, I have watched the video more than once, and I won’t avoid it, just as I don’t avoid the predatory sexual “FYE” video.

Adam is my stepping stone, and even when his creative artistry frightens me, I know that is not his intent; it is merely my past intruding on the present and trying to make me weak. I trust Adam, as much as my damaged psyche can endeavor to trust, the same way I trust my new and chosen family. If I am to trust, I have to remind myself that Adam is not my father, he is nothing like him; just as I myself am not my father, or anything like him. So how to turn the fear I can’t seem to help feeling while watching these two videos into a positive and helpful, even therapeutic experience?

I choose to see them as a lesson. I use these videos as a safe way to work on my growing understanding that the past can’t hurt me anymore, unless I allow it to. Dark Adam is a portrayal in a video by a singer who used to act in plays, he is not a real person. Whatever facet of Dark Adam the singer sees in himself, however he interprets it for himself, it will be different than how I have perceived it through the lens of my abuse. Either way, a character in a video cannot come through the computer screen and hurt me. The fire he sets, the things he throws, cannot injure me. The PAST… cannot injure me.

Dark Adam stirs up fears and dark feelings, just as Light Adam reminds me of my loving new family, stirring up good and safe feelings. Although, for a survivor of abuse, even Light Adam poses some fears; that my loved ones may not “really” love me, because the past whispers to me that I am dirty, broken, ugly, maimed, used, disgusting…. I fear sometimes that they will stop loving me if I make a mistake, or if my mental illness makes me do, feel, or think things that they don’t understand. I fear that my physical, mental, and emotional problems are “too much work”, and I will be abandoned, beaten, denied love.

This dichotomy of Adams becomes my dichotomy of fears, but the lessons are still there. Good and safe people love, they don’t delight to injure others, they don’t deny love to punish; and the bad people from the past? They can’t hurt us anymore. The ghosts that are born out of our abuse are not poltergeists, nor are they Mr. Hyde to the Dr. Jekyll of our loved ones who care for us now. They have no teeth. They have no fire. They are nothing but smoke. It is our choice to choke and smother, or to allow the smoke of past abuse to dissipate, and the air to become clean.

Thank you Adam Lambert, for helping me to face my dichotomy of fears, and for giving me this lesson to work on making them stop someday. You remain my stepping stone, and I am starting to heal myself, a little bit more every day.

For all survivors of any kind of rape or abuse; we can face, and beat, our fears. We can heal, we can live. Find a way, a path, and stepping stones along that path. Make the decision to walk that path, to climb with the aid of your stepping stones; even if you just take one step at first, a tiny step. You can heal. You can live. Someday, when you’re stronger and ready, you can speak out; tell your story, so that you can help other survivors. This helps us heal too. You are loved. You are not alone.

~ ~ ~

© W.R.R. 2/8/2012

A Farther Shore

Fear, old enemy of peace
tireless, merciless
plagues the mind
drowns the spirit
No rest for those
beset by memories
of the wicked
that reach out of sleep
out of subconscious
to strip away all joy
In these times we must find
a light to guide
a farther shore
on which to gasp
to rest, to breathe
while the wild hate roars
unable for a time
to reach, to hurt
After, we rise
we face the storm
stronger than we were
This is a gift
called friendship
that has no price
only boundless reward
ever shifting
from one to the other
as are the burdens we share

~ ~ ~

© W.R.R. 12/13/2011
For Shar: you help me face the fears I can’t express, even to myself. You offer solutions, help me work through problems, help me learn how to face them on my own, too. You are a gift, a precious gift to all who love you.

To Be A Better Man

I know I’m not going to meet Adam Lambert. Between being bipolar and agoraphobic, plus suffering from PTSD and panic attacks, the deck is stacked against me; I simply can’t tolerate being in a crowd, either for a concert or standing in a clutch of people at a barricade. The amount of well-meaning folks who like to cajole me with “oh, someday, maybe” just don’t understand the debilitating nature of these maladies. The thing is, it’s ok; I don’t have to meet or touch him to have him touch me. It’s the nature of his charisma, his aura, essence, whatever you want to call it, that allows his voice and compassion, his passion for life, to touch and change mine.

I do love hearing about others meeting him, though. It’s a vicarious joy, and the excitement of another person can and does transfer some of that Adam mystique to me, every time.

Fact is, this amazing man, my stepping stone to a healthier stretch of the path before me, doesn’t need to ever touch my hand… because his voice and shining example touch my heart.

When I’m in depression, I have a playlist of Adam’s interviews that I listen to on repeat as I sleep. His voice, as mesmerizing in speech as in song, gives me something positive to focus on, and holds the nightmares at bay. This is a gift I intend to repay by striving to get better, to do better, to become the sort of person who is capable of helping others. With a gift like that, it just doesn’t matter that I can’t meet him in person. In my heart, I already have.


© W.R.R. 9/20/2011

For all survivors of any form of rape or abuse; you are not alone. Speak out. Find your path to healing.