The Impostor

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the fears that people have and how they tend to govern and affect us. I think it’s a really fascinating question that lends a small window into their motivations and many of the choices they make in their daily lives. This is especially true if you can get to their deeper fears; the first ones they name are often superficial.

For me, most of my fears live under a larger umbrella-fear: Failure. Rejection, certain risks, and (sometimes) death, all point back to that one intense base fear.

Still, there is another constant, nagging issue, ultimately linked with my mental illness, that I will be found out to be the actualized version of my own warped self-perception. And, as it turns out, I am not the only one; this disquiet has already been recognized and experienced by millions before me. They’ve packaged it up among all the other disorders and ailments and given it a cute name: Impostor Syndrome.

Once, when I was living in Israel, Miguel’s dad expressed to me his fascination with a particularly successful, high-power woman in Israeli politics. He had been reading her memoir, wherein she expressed her experience with this particular brand of self-doubt. Astonished, he asked me if I had ever heard of such a thing. Little did he know, this is something I had been dealing with for the better part of my life. It is something that still presents frequent obstacles in my relationships. Little did  he know, it is something that had negatively impacted my relationship with his own son.

Only a few short years before this conversation, Miguel had grown restless in Tel Aviv and was getting ready to leave Israel behind in favor of traveling to India. Instead, he found himself compelled to head west to the stark winters of Boston, confident that pursuing a relationship with me was worth forgoing whatever alluring adventure he had hoped the East may provide.

I bore the guilt of his decision for months after his move. Eventually, he became frustrated with my need for affirmation that life with me was indeed what he wanted. There was an urgency for me to believe his security in the choice he had made and that he didn’t regret the decision he’d made.

One night, the pressure overwhelmed me and I found myself sobbing in a heap on the bathroom floor. As Miguel soothed me once again, I understood that it was the last time I could bring this up to him. Still, the fear lingered.  How could I possibly believe that I would be able to satisfy him with my love or my cooking or my sexual expression? How was I to live up to the life-changing experience of  exploring a new country and culture?

Miguel believed in his choice genuinely and honestly. Quietly, I felt we were on a countdown to the day he realized his mistake. Soon, he would find that the things he loved about me were imagined and fraudulent. How long would it be until he saw that I’d fooled him into thinking I was better than I really was and hated me for it?

I would like to say these fears of inadequacy have dissipated over time, but that is unfortunately not the case. My tendency to believe I am deceiving the people in my life extends far beyond my romantic relationships. I operate in a perpetual state of anxiety, always fearful that I’m going to be unmasked and discovered as someone who is valueless and a failure.

My professional life is no exception. I have worked for my company for two and a half years and steadily risen through the ranks. I now hold a position that previously did not exist; have more autonomy than any previous manager; and have developed and intimate knowledge of our operations. Even so, I dread every single phone call, meeting, and email, afraid that I am in trouble or moments away from being fired. Objectively, I know this couldn’t be further from the truth. My work is valuable and consistent. Even so, I live in abject fear that I will be exposed as a con; a garbage person who forgets to make phone calls or is disorganized or doesn’t really understand excel spreadsheets.  I am certain they will despise me when they find that I have been scamming them for both their respect and my salary. And worse: I know that when their hatred finds me, I will deserve it.

In a rare moment of vulnerability, I confided in my mother these deep-seated issues. I called to update her on the goings-on of my love life– one that seems to always fall squarely into the categories “rocky” or “DOA.” I told her of my friend Tony, who I’d recently met on a dating site, to whom I had quickly become close. We had decided early on that a relationship wasn’t in the cards for us, but our fondness for each other persisted.

“He’s about fifty times smarter than I am, Mom,” I wailed to her one day.

My mother gasped at this, and I smiled and rolled my eyes. I appreciated her confidence in my intelligence, but my anxieties forced me to take her support with a grain of salt; how could I trust her convictions to be at all reliable when they were so clearly biased maternal love?

It is these same anxieties that nearly convinced me to stop spending time with Tony altogether. My profound enjoyment of his company was becoming increasingly overshadowed by the certainty that he would soon learn I was not the person I presented myself to be.

I admitted the same to my friend Harriett: “Every minute more I spend with him is another minute closer to the day he realizes I’m not as smart or as interesting or as attractive as he thinks I am.”

I was frightened that when Tony discovered this, he would immediately revoke both his attention and affection. The thought of prolonging the inevitable discovery of my fraudulence filled me with guilt. I knew that I was tricking him and that doing so proved I was a terrible person.

Most of me knew this was my mental illness talking. Part of me was afraid it was Miguel all over again.

Maybe then, this is why in the previous few months I had opted for someone who wasn’t my intellectual match. I wasn’t satisfied, but I did not feel the angst and the shame of this supposed deceit.

These fears are echoed even in my activism. Every time I agree to speak or write or meet someone I begin to feel overwhelmed. I am one of the most active members in my organization and I am convinced that I am always on the verge of letting everyone down. Furthermore, when this inevitably happens, I have no doubt that they will hate me because I will have fooled them into believing I am something I am not. This organization is filled with some of the most wonderfully supportive people I have ever met. Around them I feel ashamed, as though I have infiltrated, playing the part of a kind and capable activist when in reality my abilities and my goodness fall far short.

At this point, I’ve been coping with my mental illness and all of the ways it seeps into my life for over 15 years. The dysthymia is constant and the suicidality comes and goes. I’m a high-functioning depressive, so unless I talk about it loudly and frequently, most people don’t know. From the outside, I know everything seems pretty okay; I don’t miss work, I find extra-curriculars, and I have an active social life. I know that I do my best to be kind and honest and giving and introspective. But my brain doesn’t like to be objective and often my energy is too used up to fight that fight.

One thing that helps though, is when I see other people talk about this. So for now, I’ll talk about it too. Loudly and frequently. Just in case.

Taking Liberties

It looks like we need to have a conversation about Rape Culture.

Still.

Again.

The truth is that I shy away from calling Rape Culture by name, despite my usual candor, because I find that the term makes people irreversibly defensive and unwilling to hear–much less examine— any point that follows. I find myself sugar-coating my explanations and experiences of daily misogyny and objectification simply to be believed and heard. Frankly, I’m tired of it. I’m exhausted and I’m bored. And you know what? Rape Culture should make you recoil because it’s disgusting.  Instead of protecting the people who are put off by the term we should take more action to dismantle the thing itself and protect those who are affected by its existence.

This weekend the White House announced that President Trump named April 2017 as National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month.  My Facebook feed was suddenly filled with posts by outraged women and comments by oblivious men asking, “Isn’t this a good thing?”

Because so many people don’t seem to understand, let me give you a cursory overview: Donald Trump has repeatedly sexually harassed and assaulted women, even to the point of alleged rape. He has openly bragged about some of these instances. He has unabashedly commented on and criticized women’s appearances and equated their value and skill to these physical evaluations. In the face of all this, he has insisted upon his superlative, unmatched respect of women. Tell me: would Eric Harris or Dylan Klebold be an appropriate person to announce a Gun Safety Awareness Day? Would  Richard Spencer or Stephen Bannon or literally any KKK member be an appropriate spokesperson for Holocaust Remembrance Day  or Black History month? Should we support people who feign to champion causes to which they are directly opposed?

When you refuse to acknowledge Donald Trump’s past actions and their direct conflict with this cause you are perpetuating rape culture. You are allowing a sexual predator to move on with no accountability, claiming he has done something good and right. Wolves in sheep’s clothing are common in Rape Culture and so is your unwillingness to see them.

A few months ago I was assaulted by a friend outside a bar just down the street from my job. I knew I was too drunk and I knew that I was in over my head. I managed to leave during the few minutes he was in the bathroom, but not before we kissed and he choked me so hard I thought I was going to pass out.

I spent the next few days emotional and unnerved. Other than a few close friends, I told no one. Despite knowing otherwise and my consistent advocacy to women in this situation, the truth is that I felt like I only had myself to blame. I was in this situation with someone who was much stronger than me and who made me fear for my safety; his choice to pin me down and wrap his hands around my throat until I couldn’t breathe was his own. Rape Culture tells me that I was Asking For It, and despite all my advocacy to reject this, I still find myself internalizing it.

I broke our month-long silence and told my ex boyfriend about this encounter. I sought our old familiarity in an effort to comfort myself after a harrowing experience with a new man. He suggested I go to the police and seemed impatient when I tried to explain the nuances of my hesitation and the complications that course of action could present to me. Finally he gave up saying, “I don’t know, Marie. You’re smart and have a good head on your shoulders. That’s why I always liked putting my balls on you.”

A couple weeks ago I told a new romantic interest about the night outside the bar in preparation for the possibility of the two of them meeting at a social outing. I looked for outrage in his face and found none. If there was concern in his voice I did not hear it. We didn’t talk about it further.  I didn’t press it, suddenly anxious that I was overreacting.

These are symptoms of Rape Culture.

A month or so ago I was talking with a friend about various sexual experiences we’ve had in previous relationships. I mentioned that my most recent ex had a habit of “taking liberties” when it came to certain aspects of our sex life. I expressed this casually, as though it were acceptable for him to assume access to any part of a lover’s body at will. My friend stopped me: “Taking liberties? You mean partner rape?

And he was right. He named the thing I had been silently mulling over but had been unable to admit. For months I thought back to the instances of anal sex I didn’t want and wasn’t prepared for and that caused me pain. I thought of the countless times he woke me up by mounting me or jabbing me with his erection in pursuit of a late-night fuck and how much sleep I lost because of it. Then there were the times I was made late for work because he insisted I perform oral sex, even just for a minute, before I left. I thought about how irritable he got when I resisted, sometimes inconsolably so. I thought about the times he posted pictures of me during these acts that showed my face, despite agreeing not to. I thought about the times he broadcasted us having sex without my knowledge.  But mostly I found myself wondering, “Was that rape?” 

Sexual abuse is been wholly accepted by our culture and the blame placed squarely on victims. I am not the only woman who, after months of being violated by the men we love, have tried to package it up tidily with a cute bow and a nice name: Taking Liberties. I don’t want that job anymore.

This is a symptom of Rape Culture.

So, with all that in mind, for National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention MontI’d like to say this: I am intimately aware of sexual assault and of Rape Culture. We all are, including those who benefit from it. We know well to be suspicious of both lovers and authority figures who attempt to tout their desire to protect us but act otherwise. So if you’d like to prevent it? Please stop assaulting us.

 

 

 

I didn’t ask for it

I never meant to be an activist.

Even now, I have trouble thinking of myself in the light. The word activist has always conjured up a certain image in my mind: someone in the thick of the battle, shouting, unwavering. All I’ve done is write.

A couple weeks ago I was honored with an invitation to speak at a summit for the Restaurant Opportunities Center in Boston. They are currently campaigning not only to raise the minimum wage, but to abolish the substandard minimum wage for tipped employees. I was there to add my own testimonial to the ways in which server’s incomes are unreliable, citing my own experience with sexual harassment and the effect that had on my tips. Despite having written extensively on this subject, I had never spoken on it publicly, save a few phone calls with local reporters two years ago. This time my voice shook.

There is a difference between the carefully crafted words I can lay on a page, chosen for their power, and the words I try to speak, my voice trembling, to a room full of people including lawmakers and press. As I stood among my allies, I realized that my story no longer belonged to me. And perhaps, in some ways, the specificities of my experience aren’t even important. Instead, I have unwittingly taken on the burden of sexual harassment and assault in the restaurant industry as a whole. The details of my account matter – but only as a corroboration and testament to the existence prevalence of such a culture. My story isn’t about me; it’s about everyone who’s faced the same hardships.

I have begun to feel this pressure immensely. I felt it especially as I recounted my history as a server, hoping to play a role in changing the laws and tradition of an entire industry. What I was doing was activism.

The issue with being an activist is that it is so much messier than anyone realizes from the outside.

When the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office announced its plan to pursue litigation against the Route 9 Diner, it initially felt like a victory. After nearly six months of late nights; tearful, exhausted skype calls; a barrage of personal attacks; and a move back to my home country, I exhaled thinking I could rest easily for the first time in months.

But within days the owners of the diner closed their business without warning. They gathered their employees in the dining room to break the news, where they insinuated that the AGO had forced them to shut down. Cruel messages on social media from the diner’s most recent servers began to pour in, attacking me and the others who had shared the abuses they endured at the diner.  Soon, it became to difficult to feel uplifted by the progress we had made since writing our initial blog posts.

From the other side of the world my ex boyfriend told me, “This may not feel like it from the frontline, but from home, we see this as a victory.”

The problem was that the diner was more than a building; the consequences were reaped by more than the owners. We were not all immune to the struggles we had caused our former coworkers; people who, despite their aggression toward us, were people for whom we still cared. Fierce debates broke out within families and many of the girls began to quietly delete the blog posts that had garnered so much attention. Though the community rallied behind us, it was impossible to ignore the fallout. As Elizabeth Adams, former coworker, wrote: justice doesn’t always feel just. The aftermath doesn’t always feel like a triumph; there is almost always collateral damage.

This became obvious even among the women who had once so bravely spoken out against the treatment of women at the Route 9 Diner. While we were once a closely knit group of endless support, our individual ideas of what justice should look like began to clash, and slowly we unraveled. I lost friends on both sides of this fight. Some hated me because they had convinced themselves I was overreacting to the trauma I had endured and blamed me for the accidental and unfortunate consequences they now faced.  Others told me I was weak when I gave in to the need for self-care after an emotionally charged fight I never truly intended to start. Was this what justice was supposed to look like?

Now, two years later, I have picked up the fight again. Whether or not I want it, I have a platform to advocate not only for victims of sexual violence in the restaurant industry, but for those who have experienced it at any point in their lives. It is my good fortune that people have been willing to listen to my words and hear my voice, small and trembling as it may be, and have continued to give me the opportunity to speak on the issues about which I am so passionate. It is both humbling and gratifying that despite the backlash and self doubt, more and more women have said, “me too,” and added their own cries to the ever-growing chorus of resistance against a culture and society that allows our experiences and our stories to be considered negligible and normal.

Last week I had the pleasure and honor of posing for Anja Schutz’s photoseries #GrabHimByTheBallot. It is a response to Donald Trump’s casual lewd remarks about sexually assaulting women without consequence. Like me, Anja stumbled into activism accidentally. I cannot speak for her, but I can identify with the overwhelming feelings of gratitude and validation that come with numerous women standing beside you, gratefully empowered by your work.

My own empowerment doesn’t always emerge in the form of the written word. My activism is not always a battle cry.

Today, they look like this:

 

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#PussyGrabsBack

 

The Shaman

I recently came across an open letter to a man I once thought I knew. His name is Colin Garland, the owner of Raven Adventures/The Global Classroom.

The letter, written by a woman only two years my senior, details the multiple encounters she had with Colin, all of which were manipulative and abusive, and many of which involved rape.

It was a challenging read. However, the difficulty did not lay in struggling to believe the author’s account of her experience with Colin. Instead, I was forced to sit with the pain that came with remembering my time with this man and how all of his actions fit so neatly into the pattern of abuse described by the author. There was no relief in the realization that my gut instinct over our last few interactions had been correct.

I met Colin through my highschool ecology teacher Will Kiendzior. We dedicated a class to showcase the myriad adventures Colin had been on in Costa Rica and Mexico. We were invited to embark on his annual trip with students from my highschool to Central America to explore and learn about his conservation efforts.

Yesterday, before his website was taken down, I scrolled through all the pictures of former students, all about 16 years old. Some I knew personally. I wondered how many have had similarly alarming and abusive experiences with him. I felt sick to my stomach.

Admittedly, it was not my time spent with Colin in Mexico that makes me uneasy. Though tainted now, I thoroughly enjoyed the trip. Still, I have a distinct memory of affection and praise with which he showered my best friend. He marveled at the symbols she drew in the sand, saying they were rich with meaning and that she was clearly in tune to something greater. After we got home, she spent weeks corresponding with Colin through email. I was envious of the attention she received. I was frustrated that he didn’t see that I too felt I had something deep, primal, and attuned to something beyond myself.

Six years later I was in Israel when I received a message from Colin, telling me that I had been on his radar. He told me that he had been thinking of me for a long time but had hesitated to reach out. We made plans to see each other the next time he was back in Massachusetts.

In the time before he made his return I began to confide in him about my history of depression and the difficult childhood that had led me there. In fact, I later posted a short series on this blog entitled “Letters to Colin” that I copied from those letters that unreservedly and unapologetically detailed my disjointed upbringing and early introduction to mental illness. It was clear that I sought to heal in some way and Colin appointed himself the one who could do it.

It wasn’t long after that that he told me I was a woman coming into my power. He told me tales of my psychic ability. He urged me to travel with him, to allow him to teach me the ways of a healer. He spoke of Native American customs, of the medicine wheel, of shapeshifting. He told me that I simply hadn’t made love until both me and my partner had shifted into the form of a dolphin. He of course, was the one to teach me.

I remember that he was hesitant that I wanted to bring my boyfriend the night I agreed to come to his house for a healing session. I remember that up to that point, and for some time after our messages on Facebook somehow made me uncomfortable. In nearly every message he told me how much he loved me and how beautiful I was. I pushed my misgivings aside. After all, Colin was a Healer and wanted to help me. I was certain that the issue lay within myself; I wasn’t used to being loved so purely. I wasn’t being open. I needed him to heal me. I thought of the time I had heard that Colin had slept with a former classmate of mine, nearly 30 years his junior. I pushed the thought out of my head, convincing myself I did not understand the experience or the depth of Colin’s love and shamanic powers.

Now, when I reread our messages and see how I exposed my vulnerability to him I am uneasy. I realize now that this was not a safe place; his intentions were more sinister than I initially knew. While I thought I was seeking solace in a wizened old friend, I was playing squarely into the grooming tactics of a well-rehearsed predator.

I believe that as humans, we all have a deep-seated desire to be seen. We feel that there is something more we can offer the world, if only we had the means to let that part of us out. And I imagine this is particularly true of women, as we frequently have to prove ourselves as worthy and capable in ways that men do not. Colin Garland, pseudo spiritual leader, has found the perfect way to prey on young women and girls via this innate human condition. He fancies himself a shaman and uses his influence to create a harem of women to exercise his manipulation, abuse, and assault.

There are countless women who have had similar experiences with this wannabe cult leader. I am fortunate that my own did not escalate past this degree. Please consider the ties you have to this man and others who exhibit this behavior within your community.

 

A page has been set up as a platform for other victims and their supporters. Please share widely.

UPDATE: Another woman has written of her abuse at the hands of Colin Garland. TW – sexual assault

 

Note to self.

When he posts those kind of pictures –yes those ones— the kind you asked him not to, he is the person you were afraid he could be.

When he tells you to forget him and find someone new, only to punish you for weeks and weeks and months and months when you try to follow his advice, to relieve yourself of the heartache and ashes and rubble he has left behind, he is the person you hoped he was not.

When you are suffering and cannot leave your bed, researching lethal dosages of household medication, and he will not come — when you put down your best friend’s dog and are choking on your tears and you beg for him, but he refuses, he is not the person you loved.

When you plead for him to call you for some reason – any reason- except to feel your lips wrapped around his dick, and he resents you, gaslights you, he is poison.

He is not who you believe he might be.

He is not who you’re sure he could be.

There is nothing to read between the lines of,  “Are we ever going to get another guy?” and days of silence.

He is not your fantasy.

He is only what he does.

 

 

An Open Letter to Johnny’s Roadside Diner

To the Yee family:

My name is Marie Billiel. You have perhaps seen my name sprinkled in the local media throughout the last couple of years in correlation with the criticism and closing of the Route 9 Diner. I posted the original blog post Tales from the Diner that led to many other women sharing their own grisly experiences with the former staff and management during their employment. As I’m sure you know, the details we shared were so appalling that the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office took notice. Because of the negative publicity,  the owners made the decision to close, thus allowing your family the opportunity to broaden your horizon within the Pioneer Valley’s restaurant scene.

I know well that the Route 9 Diner’s closing was a loss to the community. During my tenure there I grew to know and love many familiar faces: the many late-night fraternities and sororities who would stumble in at 4am and never seemed to know the size of their parties; the early morning regulars who listened with rapt attention to the goings on of my personal life; the elderly people who enjoyed the ease and comfort in the routine of eating lunch at the Route 9 Diner and taking their leftovers home for dinner.

Because of this, I have routinely championed the opening of Johnny’s Roadside Diner. I was grateful that the building would no longer stand vacant in the Stop n Shop Plaza as a reminder of its quick and sour ending. I was confident that your family would breathe new life into the tired old space.

It is because of this that I am concerned with a piece of information I was given recently. About a week ago the Attorney General’s case against the former owners and management of the Route 9 Diner once again made headlines. As with every bout of media attention, I received hateful messages from former coworkers. At this point  they have become less painful and I recognize that although they are sent my way from a place of anger and hurt I do not have to engage with them. However, one of these messages revealed something to me that makes me feel as though I would be neglecting my due diligence were I to ignore it: I learned that you have chosen to hire some of the former cooks of the Route 9 Diner.

As I’m sure you know, there are many public recitals of the atrocities we were subjected to by the Route 9’s cooks. Some of us were forced to show our tongue before being given our tables’ orders; were regularly accosted in the walk-in coolerand were pressured for dates and sexual favors. Of course, that’s hardly the tip of the iceberg.  It is because of this that I am admittedly uneasy about your decision to hire anyone in their former Back of House.

Allow me to make clear that I in no way attend this to be an attack on your business or your integrity. I do not claim to know who it is you opted to hire nor what your terms were. I was downright ecstatic when I learned that you hired some of the diner’s former waitresses. They were undeserving of the fallout caused in the aftermath of the Route 9 Diner’s closing and I was grateful they were able to once again find a place in that chrome community staple.

It is in this same vein that I must acknowledge that the cooks and dishwashers also experienced their own hardships with the sudden loss of their jobs. I am putting my faith, albeit hesitantly, in the idea that these men, though previously consistently inappropriate and sometimes predatory, have learned that this behavior is unacceptable. I trust that the change in management and corresponding shift in culture sees that the work environment is no longer a toxic and hostile one, but one of growth, opportunity, and safety.

I am leaving behind my dismay and anxiety in favor of hope.

Respectfully yours,

Marie Billiel.

What’s in a name?

Last month I received a comment from someone named Tara Kroes, the writer of The Traveling Waitress, letting me know that I was unintentionally stepping on her toes with the name of my blog, Adventures of a World-Traveling Waitress.

In truth, I was defensive. How could I change the name of the blog in which I had poured myself so openly and explicitly? But as much as I tried to ignore it, something Tara pointed out nagged at me: Adventures of a World-Traveling Waitress doesn’t really describe the content of this blog anymore. It has been over year since I have traveled; it has been at least two since I have written about it.  It was a bitter pill to swallow, but I am no longer a world-traveling waitress. I am a cafe manager who writes brutally honest pieces as a form of unapologetic feminist activism. I am a 20-something woman trying to reconcile an unstable upbringing by smashing stigmas about mental illness.  The light-heartedness of “World-Traveling Waitress” doesn’t suit me any longer.

So, then. What does?

 

Help me decide!