Epiphanies, Email, & EMDR

Back in December, I was talking with a friend about being stalked. It came up naturally in the midst of our conversation, I can’t remember how or why. I was stalked throughout the summer and early fall of 2010, and have felt “over it” for years. At some point in 2011, I actually felt bad for the guy, because he was suffering from mental illness and the court system totally failed us both. (To this day, I hold enormous anger toward the courts, for two reasons: 1) he was found guilty, convicted of stalking, and was allowed to walk out the courthouse door the very next day; and 2) the psychologist who administered the required mental evaluation declared his condition “beyond the scope of my expertise,” yet no other eval was done by a more experienced person, no treatment plan was offered or even discussed, and the whole issue – which was the crux of the larger issue – was completely ignored by the judge, the county attorney, and his court-appointed attorney.) When I found I had empathy for the person who stalked me for months, who harassed me daily, who eventually showed up with a loaded gun, I declared myself Over It, Zeroed Out, Free.

Back to the conversation in December with my friend: I mentioned that prior to his arrest, the man who stalked me sent me dozens of emails every single day, sometimes 50 a day – and the moment those words left my mouth, I stopped short. I couldn’t finish my sentence. It was like I was thrown into that cliche movie montage when all past events join together in one flash when everything clicks.


THIS is my email problem. This is the source, the genesis. This is proof that, in fact, I’ve never gotten over it.

If you’ve been reading my blog long enough, you know about my email problem. I’ve written about it a number of times, I’ve tried to brainstorm various ways to get a handle on it. I haven’t been able to keep up with email since Charlie went viral back in 2007, and while that unanswerable volume was a source of guilt, it never caused panic and anxiety. It was simply an issue of time. I still enjoyed reading email and answering what email I could.

While I was being stalked, email was the primary, daily, method of assault, and checking email became a source of panic. Dread. Physical tension. It’s never gone away. Now, like then, when I check email I feel my heart beat higher and faster. Sometimes I mentally shut down, and, for hours or sometimes days, can’t click on the emails that come in. All this time, I have thought my email anxiety, and the incompetence that anxiety caused, was my failure. All these years, I believed it was an area of life in which I sucked and couldn’t improve, no matter how hard I tried. Now I realize this is the f*cked up way that f*cked up experience damaged me. How it has affected me on a daily basis ever since, how it has affected my business and my ability to do my work. It’s been seven years, and I still can’t look at email without my autonomic nervous system activating a panic response. Until my random December epiphany, I never put it together, never identified the timeline when the task of email shifted from “too many to keep up” to “if I touch this I might die.” All this time, it was my psyche having a reaction in my body – a total and complete rejection of email – in order to protect myself.

This issue of protection is multilayered. There’s the obvious part of becoming conditioned to fear new messages, of not wanting to see what came in, of bracing myself for the awful and the disturbing every single time I sat down to check email. But it’s so much more than that.

In the series I wrote on stalking, the first installment of which I posted the day after his sentencing, I shared a lot of details. But I didn’t share everything, because I didn’t know if it was over. I didn’t mention that a friend who worked at Google put some code on my blog to track his IP address and activity, and that the man who stalked me had been visiting my blog over 100 times a day. That works out to every five minutes for ten hours a day, every day until he was arrested. I didn’t mention that I had knives stashed everywhere, indoors and outside, including a huge chef’s knife I kept in my shower (I had no escape route from my shower, what if he showed up when I was in the shower?). And the bigger part of this issue of protection is not wanting to bring this on myself ever again. This makes me cry as I type. Because the man who stalked me was a regular commenter on The Daily Coyote. I recognized his name, as I do with all regular commenters. He wrote me a totally normal email in the early summer of 2010, and I responded. And then all hell broke loose.

I wrote back. I wrote back. Might I have saved myself the misery if I hadn’t written back? If I hadn’t responded? For another woman, the thought that haunts might be I walked home alone or I didn’t want to be rude or I had that drink or I trusted him. Even though the violence we suffer is never our fault, where else do you put the focus – by which I mean, how else do you protect yourself from that day forward – when you can’t trust others not to harm you?

This epiphany left me reeling. It was illuminating, and also depressing, and it made me really sad for myself and really, really angry for all the women who endure violence or assault or harassment, because violence against women is still, so often, minimized by men – just “twenty minutes of action.” Yet, this is the aftermath. I have been affected every single day since 2010 and, as I wrote back then, I got the shrapnel version! I was mentally tortured for months, but I wasn’t physically assaulted, I wasn’t raped.

Along with the shock and the anger and the sadness that came with this epiphany, I also felt thrilled. Downright giddy. Because now that I had determined the true root of my email problem, I knew I could fix it with EMDR.

The first time I did EMDR was after my apartment building in San Francisco burned down, which also happened to be my greatest lifelong fear. I woke one night, at 3AM, to the sound of my neighbor’s screams. Flames were everywhere. I called 911 but wasn’t the first to do so. I ran out of the building barefoot, and to get out of the building I had to run past windows that were exploding from the flames. Two buildings were destroyed and two of my neighbors died that night. Afterward, the smell of smoke – even the scent of a distant barbecue – would send me into full-body panic-mode. Two sessions of EMDR cured that; I love the aroma of wood smoke in the winter air, and am typing through a haze of smudge smoke right now.

The second time I did EMDR was after being invited to give the commencement address at CSU. I wasn’t about to turn down such an honor, yet public speaking happened to be my second greatest lifelong fear. Three sessions of EMDR (plus daily meditation and tons of practice), and I rocked that speech.

I love EMDR because it works fast. It’s like being in a dream. It’s often described as entering the REM state while being awake. And it works in spite of yourself.

I’ve done two sessions of EMDR for this, and have one more scheduled, and things are different. I still can’t keep up with the volume of email I receive. I still prefer to compose longhand than on a keyboard. But the fear is gone. The anxiety is gone. I don’t want to hide anymore.

Click HERE to find EMDR practitioners near you. Many offer a sliding scale.

Part VII

Earlier posts:
Intro, Intro Addendum
Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI

When I left off, the stalker had been unable to pay his bond to get out of jail before the trial; he had requested that his bail be waived and, during that hearing, gone into a graphic tirade about a double-murder fantasy of his while on the stand.  His request was denied and bail remained at $10,000.

At that point, I was finally able to move everything about this to the back of my mind for the first time since the stalking began ~ he was obviously stuck in jail and the trial was six weeks away.  But the relative peace I enjoyed did not last long, for I soon received another call from the Victim’s Advocate.

She told me the stalker had changed his plea ~ to Guilty.  This was not some sudden bout of conscience; this was simply strategy, to speed up the process and, in his mind, hopefully get out of jail before the trial would even have taken place.  The Prosecuting Attorney was able to require a mental evaluation, which had to be scheduled and completed before the sentencing hearing could be scheduled.

The eval was scheduled, then it was rescheduled, then it was canceled, then rescheduled.  It came out during the sentencing that the individual who finally did administer the mental evaluation considered the stalker “outside their realm of expertise” and recommended he be seen by someone with more focused qualifications, but, due to the disorganization surrounding the initial eval or, perhaps, just a general disorganization and ball-dropping by the Prosecuting Attorney, that never happened.  The only good thing that came from the mess surrounding the mental evaluation was that it did keep the stalker in jail for another three weeks.

And then it was time for the sentencing hearing.  I did not have to go but I chose to go, and when the stalker’s public defender saw me in the courtroom she threw a fit, literally shouting, “Why is she here? She doesn’t need to be here, we’re going to change our plea back to Not Guilty.”  She muttered nasty stuff under her breath about me before the judge arrived, loud enough to be sure I heard it all, and then she really did try to change the plea back to Not Guilty but it was not allowed.

There was a short hearing which consisted of the Prosecuting Attorney and the public defender each stating why they were right and the other wrong, and then the judge made his pronouncement.  This was the same judge who had presided over the bond hearing, when the stalker had described his elaborate plan to murder two innocents, and I was convinced he would give the stalker the maximum sentence of six months to be served in jail.

The judge did sentence him to the maximum sentence of six months.  I was sitting next to the Victim’s Advocate and got excited when I heard this.  “Don’t get excited yet,” she whispered with the dry resignation of having seen this over and over again.  And she was right.  The judge went on, citing this and that and time served while held on bond and probation and waived court fees and then, speaking directly to the stalker: “you’ll be free to go at 7am tomorrow morning.”  This is what I wrote in my notebook at the time:  I hold bullshit in too high esteem to call this bullshit.  This is disgusting irresponsibility.  This is a system that fails the responsible and the innocent, one that is hideously mired with subtle and not-so-subtle misogyny.

Afterward, I met breifly, separately, with both the Victim’s Advocate and the Prosecuting Attorney.  Both said, “Don’t worry about him bothering you anymore; you’ve been too difficult, caused him too much trouble.  He’ll find someone else.”

* * *

I did not write this series for catharsis.  I found catharsis with my handgun.  I wrote this for others, because I would have liked to have read something like this when I was going through it myself.  It would have helped me.

I also feel that violence against women is a topic that is still too ignored.  I took self defense classes in my teens and 20’s but still found myself unprepared in my ability to respond to the physical and psychological demands of being stalked.  It wasn’t until I started thinking like a fighter and had a crash course in strategy and fighting back ~ which I lived and breathed every day for months ~ that I gained the skills and the mindset that brought clarity and confidence.  And now, I don’t have to stay in that zone, because I know I can access it any time I might need to.

My longwinded point is, don’t wait for a reason.  Learn these skills now.  Hone your inner fighter and let her live inside you, quietly dormant but agile when you need her.  I had the shrapnel version.  I wasn’t beaten, raped, killed, or permanently disabled like so many women are every day.

I love knowing I can fight.  I love knowing that by writing this, other girls and women are accepting (yes, accepting) their own power, as well.

Part VI

Earlier posts:
Intro, Intro Addendum
Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V

About two weeks after the bond hearing – during which the stalker remained in jail as he could not produce $10,000 cash – I got a call from the Victim’s Advocate in the court.  This is a woman who works in the Prosecuting Attorney’s office and, as her title indicates, acts as a liaison between the court and the victim.  She was the one truly competent, invested individual I encountered during my dealings with the court and has become a friend.

The stalker had plead ‘not guilty’ at the initial hearing, and he wanted to get out of jail until the jury trial which was scheduled for two months out. The Victim’s Advocate was calling to inform me that the stalker had, through his court-appointed attorney, requested a hearing to have his bond waived.  WAIVED. Seriously? I mean, even in Monopoly, unless you are lucky enough to draw a Get Out Of Jail Free card, you SIT THERE OR PAY TO LEAVE. Does the United States judicial system now hand out Get Out Of Jail Free cards upon request? Apparently so. Because the Victim’s Advocate urged me to appear in court and testify, stating that if I did not, it was very likely his request would be accepted by the judge.

I did not want to testify, but I thought, at the very least, it would be good practice for the jury trial and at best, could keep him in jail until the trial.  Mike took the day off and went with me, and I drenched myself in Golden Armor, which did its job – even though I was in a small room with the stalker and on the stand in front of him, I felt that he could not see me, could not access me.  He was in an orange jumpsuit, chains shackled around his ankles and wrists cuffed to a chain around his waist.

I took the stand first, and the Prosecuting Attorney asked me questions that allowed me to describe the history of the stalking and the measures taken to try to stop it.  He ended with the question, “Do you think the bond should be waived?”  I said, “No.  When I told him to stop, he said he would stop but he didn’t; it escalated.  When the Chief of Police called him and told him to stop, he said he would stop but he didn’t; it escalated further.  He says he will stop now but there is nothing in his past behavior to indicate that he will stop if he is released, in fact, the pattern shows the opposite.  I hope the court recognizes this and will hold him accountable for his actions.”

I was told to remain on the stand because it was now the defense attorney’s turn to question me.  The court-appointed defense attorney was a misogynistic incarnation of evil.  God, she was vile.  SHE.  And not just with me.  She defends rapists, abusers, and stalkers, and I heard much about her treatment of other female victims – her attempts to blatantly humiliate and denigrate victims while they’re on the stand – and that she was chronically rude and unprofessional to the staff of the county attorney’s office.

When she had her chance with me, she tried.  Oh, how she tried to slander my character and upset me.  But it soon became evident to everyone in the room that she was no match for me. I wanted to say, “Lady, don’t waste your time. I BLOG.  The worst you’ve got won’t come close to the hatemail I’ve gotten. The trolls have made me immune.

She became visibly filled with hatred because I didn’t crack under her words.  And her defense was ludicrous.  Here’s an example:
Her:  Have you read anything by Stephen King?
Me:  No.
Her:  {accusatory tone}  What??
Me:  No.
Her:  {pause}  Well, you know who he is?
Me:  Yes.
Her:  {sing-song voice}  My client is creative.  He wants to be a writer.  Say he was just acting this way as research for a novel he’s working on.  There’s no law against that, is there?
Me:  Yes, there is.  That’s why he was ARRESTED.

So, by her logic, it’s OK to kill someone, as long as you write a book about it afterward?  Idiot.

Then it was the stalker’s turn to take the stand.  The defense attorney made a big fuss about how I had accepted his “friend request” on Facebook, nevermind that I’ve accepted over 3,000 friend requests, that it happened months before the stalking began, and that I had since blocked him.  That, and the “he’s the next Stephen King,” were their only defense.

When it was the Prosecuting Attorney’s chance to question the defendant, he asked, among other things, why the stalker had a loaded .44 Magnum with him.  The stalker launched into a long, detailed, disturbing monologue about how he had creditors after him.  The creditors would not leave him alone.  And so he carried a loaded gun at all times because if those creditors got close he was going to shoot the first one in the face, and the last thing the second one was going to see was the bullet exiting the giant hole in the back of his partner’s head and the blood splattering all over right before it then entered his brain.  He was going to kill both those creditors with one bullet.  And then those creditors wouldn’t be bothering him anymore.

The courtroom was silent.  The judge had his jaw on the desk in front of him.  You could see the defense attorney saying “SHUT UP! SHUT UP!” in her head.  The Prosecuting Attorney told me afterward that the hair on the back of his neck was standing on end.

The judge made his declaration.  He was red in the face and said, directly to the stalker, “You are crazy, you are dangerous, and bail stands at $10,000.”

But this is not the end of the story.
Part VII is HERE

Part V

Earlier posts:
Intro, Intro Addendum
Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV

The actual stalking was the most difficult part of this story for me, personally, but the next segment of the story was – and continues to be – the most difficult part for me conceptually.  Because it’s not just about me.  What I have witnessed firsthand and learned in research in regards to the court system affects all women.  And the reality, for victims or potential victims, is not slanted in our favor.  Quite the contrary.  Only 4% of convicted criminals are sentenced to time in prison (statistic via Armed & Female by Paxton Quigley).  My stalker was found guilty.  And after the sentencing, he was free to go.  Even the court fees he should have had to pay were waived.  But I’m jumping ahead of myself.

My last installment ended with the stalker’s arrest.  The cops were amazing ~ from the moment I approached them, they were patient with me, proactive in their work, and totally professional throughout.

As per the arresting officer’s instructions, I called the Prosecuting Attorney on Monday morning.  He was condescending, distracted, and had no solid answers to my questions.  He didn’t know if there would be a hearing that day; when I asked him about bail he “hadn’t thought about it;” he was dismissive of the seriousness of the situation because the stalker had not confronted me face to face (uh, he was arrested first!).  This is when I learned that the stalker was found with a loaded .44 Magnum.  I also learned that the prosecuting attorney had 96 days left before his retirement.  He was literally counting down the days.  He told me he would call me later.

When I hadn’t heard anything further by midday, I called him back, only to be given a new version of the same spiel.  I was antsy, irritated, concerned, and I was glimpsing the tip of the iceberg: my safety was in the hands of someone who didn’t care that much personally, philosophically, or professionally.  So I walked up to Mike’s house and asked him for a lesson in handguns.

My very good friend Carol taught me to shoot a rifle long before all this began.  Her father taught her; she, in turn, taught her daughter and sons, and, when I asked her, she taught me.  She taught me from scratch, from the ground up ~ safety, posture, ethics, sportsmanship.  We were shooting cans and, at the end of the day, she pointed to a can and instructed me to “make that can dance.”  Meaning, shoot multiple rounds with enough speed and accuracy so that the can didn’t stop moving.  I didn’t think I could do it.  She made me try.  I made that can dance.  I bought a rifle a few days later.  Not so that I could go around killing things, but so I could continue practicing what I believe to be a valuable skill and one I found I really enjoyed.

So, I had experience with rifles but handguns were a different story.  As Carol said, “there’s only one reason to have a handgun.”  And back then, that one reason seemed completely outside the realm of my reality ~ a non-issue in my simple little life.  But the Monday after the arrest, I saw my life differently.  My reality had changed.  That Monday, instead of pacing circles waiting for the PA to call, I decided to learn to shoot a handgun.  I shot dozens of rounds, with Mike at my side offering tips or suggestions at intervals. At one point, when I was reloading, Mike commented that my hands were shaking.  “I know!” I said, “they’ve been shaking all day.”  And then I realized something.  I looked at him and said, “When I shoot, I’m not shaking.”  “No,” he said. “You don’t shake at all.”

I love target practice.  I have clocked a lot of hours doing it.  I find it very similar to yoga.  You cannot be distracted when you have a loaded gun in your hand.  You cannot fret about an argument you had, or worry about something that’s looming in the future.  You must be centered, fully engaged in the moment or you risk hurting yourself or someone or something else.  I find target practice very grounding.

While I would never shoot an animal for a trophy, I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that if I looked out my window and saw a mountain lion stalking Frisco, I would be out the door in a flash, gun in hand, and I would shoot to save Frisco.  I would kill to protect those in my care.  The same measure of self awareness is required with a handgun as it pertains to protecting oneself from a human predator.  I know what I would do in that instance, too.

Shortly after I got back home, the PA called.  He told me the hearing would be that afternoon at 4:30, that the stalker would plead Not Guilty because “they always do,” and that the judge would decide bail because, “they always do,” and that I could testify by phone in the presence of a notary.  He gave me the number to call at 4:20 and said the proceedings never lasted more than 15 or 20 minutes.

I called the local notary and he agreed to meet me at his office for the call.  At 4:20 we called the courts.  I spoke with the receptionist and was put on hold for seven minutes.  Then the call was disconnected.  We called back; it went straight to the court voicemail service.  We called back again, and again.  Our calls were never answered.  Finally, at five minutes to five, I said, “we might as well stop trying; it’s probably over now anyway.”  So I drove home.  I got home at two minutes past five.  There was a message on my machine from a woman at the courthouse who said she “wanted to go over what happened in court today.  We close up shop at 5.”  I tried calling immediately in hopes of reaching someone, to no avail.

So, I had NO idea what had happened.  I didn’t know if he was still in custody or if he was out (I found out later that the presiding judge did not want to hear testimony over the phone. I was a little {ok, a lot} irked that they just hung up the phone without explaining why). I had to find out, though.

I looked up the number to the county jail and called the jail directly.  I explained the circumstance and was told, “He’s still here.  His bond is $10,000 cash.  And since he’s still here, now, it’s a safe bet he’ll be here all night, if not longer.”  I was also told that if he did post bond, the Victim’s Advocate from the court (someone I’d not yet met or spoken with) would be notified before he was released, and she would notify me.  “Even if it’s three in the morning?” I asked.  “Yep – even if it’s three in the morning.”  So I tried to relax.  I had, for the time being, a $10,000 bond, a phone tree, and borrowed handgun between me and the stalker.

But the stalker didn’t like being in jail, held on a bond he couldn’t afford.  And that’s when things got interesting.

P.S. What a devistating time to bring up my appreciation for and practice with guns.  But people have been patiently waiting for the next installment in this story and it would not be an honest, chronological account if I omitted this entry.  I do not want my comment section to become a space for debate over gun laws.  There are other places on the net devoted to such discussions.  There *is* so much more I want to say on the topic ~ of guns, personal safety, societal safety, RESPONSIBILITY…. Maybe another day.  This post is Part V in a series that I want to keep intact and undiluted.

Part VI is HERE


22 vs 44

To make things perfectly clear re/the post below, Part IV:

Neither Mike nor I are DIRECTING ANYONE to SHOOT ANYONE in the LEG!

His words are a visceral and accurate description of the .44 Mag.  If you shoot someone in the leg with a .22, they will continue moving forward.

Here’s a photo showing the difference.  You can see my shot with a .22 pistol next to the Pepsi logo near the center of the can.  And then Mike’s shot with a .44 Magnum made the enormous gash.  We were standing side by side, about 30′ from the can when we did this.  The .22 makes a sharp loud crack when it’s fired, and the can didn’t really move when I shot it.  When Mike shot his .44, I felt the boom under my feet.  The can flew.  This is all to say, the .44 Mag is a beast.  It’s to protect oneself against grizzlies.  And this happens to be the gun the cops found, loaded, on the stalker when they arrested him.

To reiterate, in stating these comparisons, I’m not advising to shoot the leg.  Or to shoot once.  Or to shoot at all.  I am not advising, period.

Guns are an enormous responsibility and no one should learn technique from a website!  That should be done in a safe, hands-on environment with skilled, safety-oriented mentors.  I am not giving tactical advice here.  OK?  OK.

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