My Loudest #MeToo

In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein news, women across the nation have been using the hashtag #MeToo to tell their own stories of sexual abuse, assault, and rape. For those of us who are survivors of attacks like these, and sadly, that is a VAST number of humans, this past week has been a hard one on social media. Many women are for the first time speaking the truths of what has happened to them and some are naming their abusers as well. Actions like these are powerful and I hope this moment is remembered in our collective consciousness as a massive example of women finding their voices and the courage to speak out against their attackers.

There are also many who are quiet. They don’t have the voice or the strength to say #MeToo, and that’s okay. This isn’t a contest and it’s certainly not a club anyone wants to be in. My heart aches for all of us, for those who are speaking out and those who still can’t. My phone has been buzzing all week from friends who are being re-traumatized every time they open social media and read another account. I have friends headed into their 36th hour of a panic attack, friends who’ve logged off Facebook entirely asking ‘can you just let me know when there are no more stories? I can’t keep reading them.’ Others ask me, ‘if I say #MeToo I don’t even know which incident I’m referring to. Does #MeToo mean ALL of them?’ And one who said, ‘I read that in addition to #MeToo we should #NameTheMonsters, but I don’t know their names. The men who raped me, I don’t know who they were.’

I shouted my loudest #MeToo on January 10th, 2014 when I published this article naming my father and telling the world that he sexually abused me and my younger sister. It took me days to write the post and there were two things I did not expect that happened when I posted it. The first was the re-traumatization I would experience as I received hundreds of emails and messages from women thanking me for sharing my story but also sharing their tales of abuse. Each message was a fresh slice of pain and I eventually had to leave social media for a time because I didn’t have the tools to handle reading about their abuse in addition to re-living my own. This is what is happening now to my friends with the #MeToo hashtag. I’m not upset with those sharing their stories and I’m not blaming them for the additional trauma being caused to others. The stories have to be told. I have been there though, so if this a difficult time for you to be on social media, you have permission to log off, to take a break, to not read and to not look. Take care of yourself.

The other thing my sister and I did not expect was some of our own siblings calling us liars after we exposed our father. Our own brothers and sisters sided with our father, the man who sexually abused us. This was mind blowing and beyond devastating. I had no words as I read their comments. It was unexpected and it was eye opening; in addition to exposing the abuse, we lost our siblings that day too. Later my therapist told me that it was very common. I share this now with those who are sharing their own #MeToos, be prepared for similar reactions from people in your life. There are those who would rather call you a liar then believe someone precious to them is capable of such great evil.

My #MeToo post in 2014 did not get me and my sister justice. The courts and our society are set up to protect abusers, not children and women. I have been told over and over by this society that it does not care about me, my sister, or what we went through. If you are reading this and you’re thinking, ‘but Charlotte,*I* care about you!’ well thank you. But society doesn’t. That’s very clear. I don’t want to write #MeToo. I want to write #FuckYou. Fuck you to every aspect of a world that does this to children, that allows this to happen to women. That gives no justice. That takes away our power from our birth to death. #FuckYou.

And now I’m raising two daughters and I’m terrified for them. I don’t use that word lightly. I’m talking about the kind of terror that keeps me up at night, that has my daughters enrolled in martial arts instead of dance classes, and that will teach them how to use guns properly and take self- defense courses. I talk about every aspect of how to keep themselves safe, ‘we lock the car door as soon as we get in, swivel your head and look around you when walking in public, in parking lots, at the mall, on the street, or talk to me about who in this crowd you would approach for help if you needed it?’

I’d rather them be in therapy one day saying, ‘ugh, my mom was always so concerned for my safety and taught me a million ways to protect myself,’ then ‘today I need to talk about being sexually assaulted by my [insert any word here for stranger or trusted adult in their lives].

But the terrible part is that no matter how many tools I give them it can still happen to them. You can’t protect yourself when you’re 5 or 10 years old. I know. Or 19, 20, 21, 24, 35, 45, 68, etc. There’s a million ways you can be assaulted even when you know every trick in the book to protecting yourself the best you can. And that’s a horrible place to be as a mother raising two young girls. When will they join the chorus of #MeToos? I want it to be never. NEVER. But I think that’s why the hashtag has gotten under my skin from day one. I’m terrified of my own children joining it one day. To my #MeToo I add a giant #FuckYou to every man who made me a #MeToo-er.  MeToo. FuckYou. And I DontForgiveYou.


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Losing Rebel Heart | What I've Learned

The saying goes that the two happiest days of a sailor’s life are the day they buy their boat and the day they sell it. There’s not a quaint expression though, for the unhappiest day of a sailor’s life, the day they lose their boat. 

The Back Story

In the spring of 2014 my husband, Eric, and I, along with our two young daughters, left Marina La Cruz in Nayarit on our 36’ Hans Christian, a blue water cruiser, named Rebel Heart. Most of the sailing world is familiar with our ill-fated trip, a trip we had been planning and preparing for over almost nine years. A cascading series of events eventually led to our needing to hit our EPIRB when we were near the equator, and almost 1,000 miles from land.
 
The US Air Force dropped four Pararescuemen into the ocean. They inflated a boat and made their way to our vessel. Pararescuemen are elite rescuers and highly skilled medical professionals. Our 13 month old daughter was ill and they began treating her right away. We were with the men on Rebel Heart for 2.5 days until a larger Navy vessel, the Vandegrift, showed up to extract all of us and get our daughter to further care onshore. In order to avoid a navigational hazard, my husband had to scuttle our boat before extracting to the rescue vessel. When Rebel Heart went down, we lost everything, both our worldly possessions (we had no home on land to go back to) and our dreams and life trajectory. 

We were on the Vandegrift for another three days before arriving in San Diego. We walked off the boat and directly into an international media frenzy about our parenting and taking children on boats. Land people did not understand our lifestyle and because they didn’t understand it, they vilified both us personally, and the idea of living with children on the water. The sailing community however, was completely the opposite. Not only did they know us, our vessel, and our levels of preparation, they rallied around the lifestyle itself, writing their own articles and posts to counter the negative ones and loudly proclaiming that it was a life worth living.

It is through the lens of my life experiences on the water that I look at the recent events of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. I am the founder and an active administrator of the Facebook group Women Who Sail. We have almost 13,000 members and are a tight-knit, supportive group of women on both sailing and power boats.  Over the past month our group and the many sub-groups that have sprung from it, have been doing our best to support one another through the devastating storm season of 2017. I’ve watched as friends had to wait for days, first for the storm to hit, and then sometimes for days afterwards to find out if their vessels made it. Many did not. Many, many, many have lost their boats, their businesses, their homes, and their dreams.

I have ached with them as they prepared, as they fled, and as they waited. I have remembered acutely the 2.5 days we spent on Rebel Heart awaiting the larger Navy boat. Every minute of those days I knew my boat was lost to me, but yet there I was still inside her. We spent those days knowing she would be gone. It was like watching a fire slowly burn up your home and not being able to do anything about it. I’ve remembered this pain as I watched my friends’ social media posts blow up as they tracked the storm, as they watched it strengthening, and as they knew with almost certainty that their boats would probably be destroyed. Once we hit the EPIRB, we knew too. It’s a sickening and devastating feeling. 

I have also realized, three and a half years after losing Rebel Heart that I finally have some perspective on what happened and I’ve learned some things about loss. For my friends who have lost everything, this is for you.

Losing Rebel Heart – What I’ve Learned

You will feel shocked. Everything will feel unreal, like it isn’t really happening, at least not to you. This is apparently normal. Take some sort of weird comfort in knowing you are normal in your processing. There will be no way to center yourself. If your boat was your home and your whole life, you will be completely knocked off track. Questions like ‘what now?’ and ‘what next?’ and ‘is this really happening?’ will bang around like an annoying song on repeat in your head. There will be no immediate answers. 

Prepare to be exhausted. Especially if have you children. Prepare to move from place to place, unless you are lucky enough to have a land-based home; many of my friends do not. You will be relying on your own wit and on the kindness of friends and strangers for a while. Try to sleep (this will prove impossible). Instead, you will probably cope in unhealthy ways. As a temporary stop gap, eating too much, drinking too much, or doing what you can to numb your emotions is probably okay, just make sure you stop before you create problems for yourself and others. Eventually you will need to do things like get enough sleep, eat right, exercise, and see a therapist. In the first few weeks of the loss though, those things might seem impossible.

It could take you awhile to realize it, but losing your boat and home is truly traumatic. You’ve suffered a trauma, and it will start to show up in little ways. Like how I bought the girls and myself brand new life jackets weeks after losing Rebel Heart. We had moved into a studio, we had no boat, not even a kayak or a canoe. I bought high quality life jackets for us all though and only realized how weird it was as I was shoving them up onto a shelf in the closet telling myself, ‘okay, now we’ll be safe.’ You might find it impossible to look at pictures of boats or read about sailing or cruising. For almost a year after losing Rebel Heart I could barely logon or read the posts in Women Who Sail. Sailing blogs, which had been a lifeblood for me, were no longer something I could stomach. After years of following boats on crossings and through exotic locations around the world, I couldn’t click on even my most favorite blogs. It is three and a half years later and I don’t read them anymore. The pain from losing the lifestyle is still that visceral.

There’s no way to prepare yourselves for what people are going to say, but I will try to warn you, it’s going to suck. Yes, there will be so many people who will be supportive and understanding. You will also get messages and comments saying that it was your fault, that you weren’t prepared, that you should have known better, and that it served you right. In our case, people also said they wished we were all dead, yes, even our children too. I hope your asshole commenters are kinder than ours were. There will be unbelievably callous remarks, and not from strangers, but from people you know. Like the person who equates losing your boat to losing the family dog. Or the person who shouts loudly to be heard while guzzling beer about ‘who was the one who sank her?’ In your case, maybe this person will instead ask, ‘who was the one to secure her lines, or see her last?’ And these people, who you thought you knew, their words will roll of their tongues so easily, like they’re changing a roll of toilet paper or wiping down a kitchen counter, like the devastation you’ve experienced is just casual chatter. The kind of stuff you talk about while refilling a ketchup bottle.

People you thought were friends, or at least friendly, will show themselves to not be so. The good news is that other friends will come into your life, indeed the kindness and generosity of even complete strangers will overwhelm you. I’m not one to say there is a silver lining to a disaster and you won’t hear me say that hogwash line, ‘it was meant to be.’ I will say that in times of great need, you will see some amazing things come from your fellow humans as they reach out to help and lift you up.

Take care with your relationship. If you are single, then you will need to take care of just yourself, and mending your own heart is a full-time job. If you are in a relationship, and your partner is also suffering the loss of your vessel, you are in a relationship with a person who has also suffered trauma. At first your relationship may seem solid, but it is very classic to start taking out your pain and grief on those who are nearest to you. Recovering from trauma is a slow process. Part of it can be withdrawing or going inward. This can appear like your partner is withdrawing from you. Quicker than you may realize, you can be at a make or break moment with someone you love. See a couple’s therapist. If you really love your husband, wife, or partner, then fight to keep them. You’ll both have to do some fighting. It is worth it.

You could also take all this advice and chuck it. Why? Because everyone’s grieving process is unique and different. I’ve read enough to know there is some universality to the steps of grieving, but it truly will look different for everyone.

The Long Haul

It’s going to be hard to think about in the beginning, but eventually you will be one month, then six months, then one year, etc past this tragedy. The trauma will not leave you. The way it affects you will change. You will gain perspective. I have found that my heart has grown to about four times its previous size. I feel deep empathy and compassion for people in similar circumstances. I volunteer more. I give more. I reach out more. Someday, when the blistering reality of what has happened to you has dulled to a burnished ache (and it will), you will also be looked at to provide guidance in moments just like these. It might happen too soon and you won’t be ready to offer that guidance. That’s okay. You will know when you are ready to slip on the mantle of ‘The One Who Has Walked In Those Shoes.’ It’s a burdensome, heavy thing to wear around your shoulders, but bear it you must, and you will help others get through future disasters too.

Lastly, don’t lose sight of you who you are. People who live on boats are dreamers + doers. They are innovators + adventurers. Sailors are refreshingly alive. Boat or no boat, you are still that kind of person. Keep pushing. Keep trying. Keep inspiring others to pursue a life well-lived. Eric and I may have lost our boat, but we have not lost our rebel hearts; may you keep yours too.

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I’ve just finished my first draft of a book about our life aboard Rebel Heart. You can sign up on my email list to get updates on when the book will be published here. The only media interviews we gave after the loss of our boat were to This American Life. You can listen to that episode here and to the Journal of Emergency Medicine, in this article written by Kevin Grange.

How You Can Help

There are many people and groups actively trying to help the victims of Harvey and Irma. My friends, Brittany and Scott Meyers, on Windtraveler, lost their boat (home) and their charter businesses boats with hurricane Irma have a post outlining ways to help here

My friend, Behan Gifford, on Sailing Totem, has linked to resources as well

Tory Fine and John Vidar of (Sail Me Om) are doing important work with their group Sailors Helping. As is the work Jennifer Simpson of Tortola-based Three Sheets Sailing is doing, along with Yacht Sea Boss for relief efforts too. 

For Harvey, this article gives you a lot of options to directly help those affected by Harvey. You can also donate directly to H.E.B., which distributes the funds to the JJ Watt Foundation and the Red Cross.


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Putting a Price on Gratitude

Me and Marco, overlooking Lake Lucerne, Switzerland, 2002

Me and Marco, overlooking Lake Lucerne, Switzerland, 2002

Zurich, Switzerland, Spring 2002. I excused myself to use the restroom in the Jules Verne Panorama Bar, a bar on the 11th floor of a tower in the city center of Zurich, offering 360° views of the whole town. After graduating from the University of San Diego the previous spring I was certain that I did NOT want to get a ‘real’ job immediately after graduating. Additionally, after two political internships while in college, one for the Governor of California and one for a member of the House of Commons in England, I was also certain that politics and government were NOT my calling. I had graduated with a BA in International Relations and knew as I was handed my diploma that I wasn’t going to be using my degree. 

I had, however, double minored in Spanish and French, and those languages were getting me places. After graduating I was hired as an English Assistant in the French public school system and just two weeks after 9/11 I flew to France to live and teach. At age 21, I absolutely loved my life. I took advantage of every long weekend and holiday to travel around France and Europe. This was how I found myself having drinks with my Swiss friends, Marco and René, in a swanky bar in downtown Zurich.

When I walked out of the bathroom stall I noticed a large assortment of shopping bags sitting under the sink. I washed my hands and frowned. I didn’t recognize any of the European name brands on the bags but I was certain that someone had spent a day shopping downtown and had left every single one of their purchases in the bar’s bathroom. Without hesitating I scooped them up and carried the massive bundle out of the bathroom and towards the bar. I was going to give them to a hostess but Marco met me in the hallway and I explained what I’d found. 

Suddenly a well-coiffed woman came tearing around the corner with a look of panic on her face. I was certain she was the owner of whatever was in the bags. I began explaining how I’d found them and Marco finished my story in Swiss-German. She was wearing a beautiful pink, cashmere sweater that matched the blotchy spots of anxiety on her cheeks.

Without skipping a beat she switched from using Swiss-German with Marco to English with me. “Thank you so much! This means so much to me that you returned them!”

I wanted to say, ‘well of course, who wouldn’t return them?’ but I stopped myself because the answer was that plenty of people would not have turned those bags in. “You’re so welcome! I’ve left stuff before. I’m happy to help.”

Back at the table Marco and I recounted the story to René and as we re-told it the woman approached me again. She tried to hand me a large wad of Swiss francs. I tried to wave her away, “Oh no, no, no. That’s okay.”

She was adamant and reached dramatically towards me to pass over the money. I leaned back further away from her, “No, really, you don’t need to do that.”

Seated to my right, Marco said quietly, “You should take it, Charlotte. It’s correct.” The lady in the pink sweater looked at Marco and then me, and I looked at Marco and then her. Hesitantly I reached out and accepted the cash. 

“Well, thank you, but really, I didn’t do it for a reward.” 

Her shoulders relaxed. She smiled, and with barely a trace of an accent she thanked me again and left the table.

“Marco, why did you say to take it?”

“It’s the right thing to do. In our culture, a reward for finding or returning things people care about, is expected.”

“Really? So if I’d been Swiss, I would have been wondering why she hadn’t offered me money as a way to say thank you?”

“Yes, exactly.”

I took a slow sip of my red wine and contemplated this. I had done enough international traveling at that point in my life to have learned to not immediately criticize or compare cultural practices that were different than my own, especially out loud. There was nothing more annoying than hearing someone from another country proclaim loudly about how they ‘do it better’ at home. Sometimes, instead of deciding that a cultural practice is right or wrong, or better or worse, it’s worth simply storing the practice away in your memory for another time. Or maybe that’s just the writer in me; I file all kinds of things about life away for another time.

Me and Kate, Palm Springs, California – Solar Eclipse, Monday, August 21, 2017

Me and Kate, Palm Springs, California – Solar Eclipse, Monday, August 21, 2017

My friend, Kate Anthony, and I rendezvoused in Palm Springs two weeks ago to write our books. Kate is a life coach and specializes in helping people, especially women, through divorce. She is writing a book that is part memoir and part how-to. I’m writing the true life adventure story of how I met my husband, Eric, how we bought a sailboat, moved aboard, raised our daughters on the water, and ended up needing to be rescued at sea. The rescue at sea caused an international media fire storm about us and our parenting. 

My book doesn’t just tell the story of that rescue and the ensuing media storm, it tells our entire story. Our life has been full of romance, defying the odds, and yes, some pretty incredible drama.

No Price on Gratitude (7).jpg

Kate and I watched the eclipse that Monday along with the other guests at the Orbit-In, a boutique, nine room, 1950’s inspired hotel in the heart of Palm Springs. The next day, I finished the last page of my book. I still had about a week’s work of editing and review to do, but that Tuesday I wrote the very last word and ended with:

:  fin  :

Finished. The end. It was a surreal accomplishment.

Kate pours us glasses to celebrate writing the end of my first draft.

Kate pours us glasses to celebrate writing the end of my first draft.

The Orbit-In serves cocktails every day at 5:00pm. At the appointed time, guests who had been enjoying the vintage charm (and modern AC) of their individual rooms slowly appear at the outdoor bar or take a dive in the pool. The hotel employee serving drinks that night was Jade. He poured us some ice cold white wine and listened attentively as Kate announced to other guests seated around us that I had just finished my book. Curious, they asked what I was writing about. I told them mine and Eric’s story.

I didn’t do all the talking, I promise. All of the guests shared their stories. One young couple was on vacation from France, another man was an Australian airline pilot. We found out that Jade was a native Palm Springer, born and raised there in the desert. We asked Jade about his life growing up in Palm Springs and he asked about our lives too. 

The morning after arriving home from Palm Springs I received an email from the Orbit-In. It was a note from Jade:

Hoping this finds you safely home in Mammoth Lakes. Wanted to alert you that the housekeeper found these items of yours (photo attached) in your room this morning...hope you haven't been pulling your hair out looking for them! I will personally take them to the post office today. Take good care. We all look forward to your return...

When I looked at the attached photo, I gasped. I had been so meticulous when I packed, so careful to not have left anything behind, but there staring at me from the screen were these:
 

Let me tell you about these three items. Let’s start with the Kindle (the e-reader on the right with the pink cover). It is one of the oldest Kindles out there, so it’s not worth any money. It’s so old that Amazon let me know that they are no longer supporting it and the next time it fails, it’s dead. They don’t issue software updates for it anymore. It’s the little Kindle that could, but that’s not why it’s special. 

It was a gift from Eric when I was pregnant with Cora, back in December of 2009. That Kindle, along with my current laptop, are two of the few remaining things I have from our life aboard Rebel Heart. We slipped my Kindle and both of our laptops into one of the bags we were able to bring with us off of the boat. They were all wrapped tightly in a waterproof case that was placed inside a waterproof SeaBag, and they survived. I have an almost irrational emotional attachment to them. I’ve replaced the keyboard on my laptop TWICE, the power cord three times. The screen sometimes goes fuzzy and blurs. It makes weird clicking noises like it’s alive. I know it’s on its last leg, as is the Kindle that is no longer supported by Amazon, but I cling to them. They made it off that boat in one piece and I’m not ready to say goodbye.

Then there is the little yellow Rite-in-the-Rain notebook. If you haven’t heard of Rite in the Rain, you’re in for a treat. The paper in these notebooks is waterproof. If it gets wet, your ink (if you use a special pen), or your pencil markings will not run. Amazing, right? Sailors and outdoors enthusiasts love them. This is the notebook I kept all my daily writings and notes in during our ill-fated Pacific passage. My heart almost stopped when I saw a picture of it there in Palm Springs when I was hundreds of miles away in Mammoth Lakes. 

The contents of the journal are unbelievably personal. It has my entire list of things I kept to talk to Eric about on the passage. Prior to passages we’d both start collecting little tidbits to share with each other on the trip. Just the little things you might talk about over dinner, or interesting things from the news, even daily encounters you would normally recount after the kids were in bed or over wine. We would save them up and then talk about them during the long hours at sea. It has my notes from when we were on the Vandegrift after losing Rebel Heart:

“I’m in shock.”

“I’m covered in bruises.”

“What will we do now?”

I would have been bereft if I’d lost that journal.

The last item is the turquoise notebook with a clip on the front. There is nothing special about that notebook; I bought it at Target two years ago. Inside it, however, are pages of my notes. Among other things, it contained my handwritten notes from interviewing Eric (yes, I interviewed my own husband for my book) and notes from interviewing my sister, Sariah, who flew to San Diego during the 6+ days of the rescue and handled all of the media, interviews, updates, donations, etc. 

Jade was true to his word. The package containing my items arrived just days before I finished the full first draft and exactly when I needed all of them to review my work during a final read through. I can’t even imagine where I would be if the wonderful housekeeper who found them hadn’t returned them or if Jade hadn’t sent them on to me.
 
I felt such immense gratitude when I saw my things returned safely to me that I wondered how I could ever repay them. My mind connected back 16 years prior, to the woman in the pink cashmere sweater in Zurich. Her gesture might have been borne out of custom and her items had all been brand new, but they were clearly of value to her. My items were not new, but they were imbued with the lasting power of sentiment, sweat, and tears. 

I wrote out two thank you notes, one to Jade, and to the housekeeper. Per Jade’s suggestion, I wrote hers in Spanish. (My college degree may not have served me professionally, but those French and Spanish minors keep helping me out in spades.) I slipped a $50 dollar bill into each envelope. I realize some people will think this was an extravagant amount of money to say thank you. Others will think it was too little. Still others will think I shouldn’t have sent any money at all. If there’s one thing Eric and I have had some experience in, it’s wading through an ocean of people’s opinions about what we do with our lives.  What matters to me is that I said thank you to them both. I don’t know if I can truly put a price on the kind of gratitude I’m feeling, but I sent what I had. 
 
I hope my book about Rebel Heart will be published soon. I will keep you posted both here and on my Facebook page. The book was completed, in no small part, thanks to two wonderful people in Palm Springs who didn’t hesitate to do the right thing.

Post Script: if you’re thinking of visiting the Orbit-In, I give it a resounding five stars.


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