Abuse

#Whitehousetoo

Staff Secretary Rob Porter has resigned after two former wives boldly spoke out about domestic abuse.

I won’t go into the issues of the person in the highest office in the land, I’ll just stick to the issues regarding Porter. Here’s what we know:

  1.  Sr Aides knew about the abuse for months.
  2. The WH Chief of Staff (Kelly) knew and praised Porter’s character.
  3. Even after the allegations surfaced publicly, sources told CNN that Kelly did not urge Porter to resign or seek to force him out. Instead, the White House released a statement from Kelly praising Porter’s character (again.)
  4. It wasn’t until the uproar over the allegations grew and more details surfaced that Porter resigned and Kelly put out a second statement expressing concern about the allegations.
  5. The “more details” included this photo: 
  6. CNN puts it well: “Let’s review the facts here. Porter’s ex-wives told the FBI in January 2017 that he had abused them verbally and physically. Thirteen months later, Porter still had no permanent security clearance due to the questions regarding these incidents. That, coupled with the fact that Kelly had come to learn at least some of the allegations against Porter last fall, make Kelly’s urging Porter to stay on the job all the more appalling.”

In the midst of the #metoo movement, where does this leave us?  Let’s talk about this quote from deputy press secretary Raj Shah:

“But you know this was a Rob Porter that I and many others have dealt with, that Sarah (Sanders) had dealt with, that other officials, including the chief of staff, had dealt with. And the emerging reports were not reflective of the individual who we had come to know.”

The emerging reports were not reflective of the individual who we had come to know.

  1.  These reports had been “emerging” for months.
  2.  What do domestic abusers really “look like?”  Do you imagine they come to work and slap around their co-workers?

Let’s unpack a bit about the known qualities of domestic abusers according to Psychology Today: Men that are abuse are very clever, smart, and extremely charming. Most of these men have a personality that draws people in because of their level of charm this is part of their art to deceive and manipulate. This is why often times when a victim does report an assault she is not easily believed because people usually say “not him, he is so nice’ “you are so lucky”, All of this plays into his because if he gets people outside of the home to buy into his deceit the victim has little if no support. Most batterers are seen as “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” because of the stark contrast in their public and private selves.

So clearly 45 can avoid issues of abuse, mistreatment of women, etc.  He’s dodged everything thus far, but those in his office are not immune.  I continue to be shocked (and sad that I am shocked) at the lack of support that women who are disclosing abuse are getting in the public eye.  It takes a lot of courage to come out and say “this person abused me” ESPECIALLY when the person is in the crosshairs of the media.

When will the default be to BELIEVE WOMEN?

Authenticity, Vulnerability

Calling People “In”, The Antithesis of Shame and Blame

Last week was hard, friends.  I faced a difficult moment of truth about myself, and I’d like to share it with you.

Black and white thinking is safe feeling to me. Things are either right, or wrong.  Often this thinking helps protect me from the grey of life, people doing wrong things with right intentions (or no intentions at all), or being able to vilify an entire population like “the church.”  This way of thinking seems so clear.

Therapy has been such a battle for me, as I unpack “big T” traumas (like sexual assault, or abuse), I find that there are more and more “little t” traumas, like how people reacted to my disclosure of abuse, or spiritual teachings gone awry in the church.  It’s been so easy to look at the church as either good, or bad, the people in it are “good or bad”, helpful or abusive.  This has been a protection from me needing to humanize the people involved in my story.

For example, it’s been comfortable for me to look at my former religious life (the church, the pastors, the teachings) as a whole.  It’s all bad, they had poor intentions, etc.  But there is so much more to it.  There is nuance.  Perhaps my pastors give teachings in love, but were misguided.  My hurt is real, but intent may not have been present.  (Or the intent was to guide, rather than to shame.) *Side note, there are people out there who directly intended to hurt others, an example being my rapist, this is not in reference to those who committed crimes nor to people who had true intention to harm others.

When it comes to my pastor, there were several things he did wrong, and many things he should have done better.  When I disclosed my rape on church property to him, the first words he said to me were “well, why were you over there?”  (I was going to a restroom that wasn’t often used, for context.)  When I contemplate his intent, it’s easy to see this as victim blaming, and shaming.  (And it is.)  The choices then become, what do I do with this question and how do I feel?

I will be meeting with him in the near future to ask him about this question, which he likely will not remember.  Which brings me to point two.

As I move into preparing my statement for my former pastor, I am starting to reassess my beliefs regarding his response to one of the biggest “Big T” traumas.  Maybe he asked me the question of the location in order to know more about what had happened.  Perhaps he was wondering what had prevented me from using a restroom that someone could have hurt the assault happening in (close to the youth group room). What if he was feeling guilt and wanted to know how far his responsibility went towards how he could have prevented this crime.  Hopefully he wasn’t asking this to question the validity of my experience.  The fact is, I don’t know what his motive was.  It’s easy to assume that he was victim blaming.  (And this has been a huge part of my story.)

This brings me to last week, where I stepped in it.  I had read a post about using handclaps in social media posts (as in one clap in between each word) and how it was seen as cultural appropriation.  I read more about it, and was very interested that it was seen that way, and recognized the connection of the emoji to the culture of a population that I intrinsically don’t belong to (I’m caucasian, and it refers to the handclaps as being appropriated from black culture.)

While I don’t use them in my posts, I knew of a close friend who did.  Knowing her, I knew she never wants to offend anyone, as she is a social justice warrior herself.  Then, I jumped the shark.  I messaged her the article and said “I’d imagine you’d like to know, the handclap between words thing is a cultural appropriation issue.”

I left no room for connection.

The way I said it came across as accusatory, and as if I was the end all and be all of the issue.  I called her out, instead of attempting to connect with her as a fellow human being and “call her in” to conversation about what she thought.  And as one would guess, she responded in frustration and anger about what I had sent, rather than wanting to explore the issue further.  I found a week later that she was upset, and when I explored what might have been wrong, by looking at my messages to her, my comment was glaring.  This way of stating my feelings has been consistent in my communication, and I’ve been called out on it more than once.  I tend to try to be direct, but it often is (or comes across as) harsh.  I needed to find a better way.

This week I finally dove into “Braving the Wilderness” by Brene Brown.  I tend to really love hate her books, and the margins are always peppered with curse words as she calls me out to be better, more vulnerable and seek connection with others, especially over challenging issues.  Anytime I read Brene, she speaks right to my soul.  This week I was on chapter 5 “Speak Truth to Bullshit.”

Brene speaks of several instances where people called her out, rather than calls her in, and her response to the person.  She describes how when people make black or white statements, or accusations (as I had done with my friend) it bounces her soul right into the reminder of the “if you are not with me, you’re my enemy” thinking.

It’s not that she says “don’t challenge the status quo” or even “keep your opinions to yourself”, but rather to take a moment to process your statement and thread civility into it.  By remembering that most people act from a place of good, learning more about their motivations can help you both get to a place of openness and connection about even the most challenging issues.

I will continue to talk a bit about her approach, with this caveat, my friend’s statement to me was not bullshit, nor was her use of handclaps.  This is important to note, as Brene describes issues of difference (as it pertains to not embracing change or desiring to self-reflect) as “bullshit.”  This needs to be really clear.

When an issue of conflict in belief comes about, Brene talks about…

Avoiding creating an environment where there are two sides.

  • Setting up a black or white response framework cuts off the ability for understanding and the nuances of why the person believes what they do.
  • Perhaps they just don’t know (but why would they admit it, if doing so would make them look like an asshole because you are accusatory?)
  • Perhaps they do believe a variation of what you are asking about, but have reasons behind it. (But why would they explain that if you leave no room for conversation?)
  • Perhaps what you THINK they believe is actually not even the case (or only some parts are true).  (Why would they take the time to explain it, if you are accusing them of being one way?)
  • *Side note: there ARE black or white issues.  This is speaking more about the nuanced belief systems. But, even those issue have nuances of reasonings and explanations that we could learn more about.

What could I do better to not “call her out” but “call her in” (to conversation)?

  1. I could have mentioned this article I read in a WAY better way.
  2. I could have asked her about her feelings about the article, rather than implying “dude, I see you do this, knock that shit off”, “this article is true” and “what are you going to do about it?”

Looking back, I would bring this issue up like this:
“Hi friend!  I read this article the other day, and was curious what you thought about it?  I notice you use handclaps in your statuses frequently, can you tell me what that means to you? I’d really like to talk more about this with someone who utilizes this tool in their communication to learn more about it!” 

The tone is SO different.  Instead of learning about her feelings in a way where she felt she needed to be understandably defensive, we could have had a good conversation about the article and come to conclusions about its implications.  I deeply care about my friend, and the way that I approached this issue with her was totally not valuing her as the strong, thoughtful, and aware woman I know her to be.

This is Brene’s second point, Speak the truth to bullshit, but BE CIVIL. Rarely is a good conversation where both people are heard, respected and learning started with such direct and pointed conversation.  She brings up the acronym BRAVING again in this chapter. (Brene’s words in italic.)

B- Boundaries- What’s okay in a discussion, and what’s not?  How to you set a boundary when you realize you’re knee deep in bullshit (either from them, or from you?)

R- Reliability- Bullshitting is the abandonment of reliability.  It’s hard to trust or be trusted when we BS too much.  (I take this as both people involved!)

A- Accountability- How do we hold ourselves and others accountable for less BS and more honest debate?  Less off-loading of emotion and more civility? (Again, from both sides.  For me, it was “how could I have promoted a valuable conversation, rather than hurt my friend?”)

V- Vault- Civility honors confidentiality. BS ignores truth and opens the door to violations of confidentiality.  

I- Integrity- How do we stay in our integrity when confronted with BS and how do we stop in the midst of our own emotional moment to say “you know what, I’m not sure this conversation is productive” or “I need to learn more about this issue”?  (We couldn’t even get to a place of conversation, because I had shoved the door open and pulled her inside, rather than gently inviting her in.)

N- Nonjudgment- How do we stay out of judgment toward ourselves when the right thing to do is say “I actually don’t know much about this.  Tell me what you know and why it’s important to you.” How do we not go into “winner/loser” mode and instead see an opportunity for connection when someone says to us “I don’t know anything about that issue?” (In this case, what I knew was I read an article.  I knew my friend used them.  The jump I made was launching right into the issue with a “this isn’t right”, rather than seeking understanding and connection with someone I cared about.)

G- Generosity-  What’s the most generous assumption we can make about the people around us?  What boundaries have to be in place for us to be kinder and more tolerant?  (Though I made the assumption that my friend wasn’t using handclaps to be offensive, I equally assumed that she was wrong. The former was not even implied in my message to her, but certainly my view of “you are wrong” came across strongly.  Though my intent was not to call her out, I did.)

I read this section of the book today and though I had already apologized to her for how I approached this, Brene really “called me in” to do much better.

I’m sorry, dear friend.DFwOGZFVoAAdIPG.jpg

 

Process, Vulnerability

Be Still

As we enter into the holiday season, my heart starts to settle a bit.  My assault anniversary is now behind me, and I find that my heart starts to still.  What comes with outward stillness, is inward movement.  My brain is famous for stirring up all sorts of memories and thoughts and I find that I start to spin a bit.

This year was a bit different.  I am and was dealing with a health crisis around the time of the assault anniversary, leading to my need to backburner my feelings.  As the emergent issues of that health issue passed, I found that the refuse of the anniversary remained, strong as ever.

So what happens when life around is still, but your mind is moving so quickly? What happens when there isn’t a big T trauma happening?  Where does your mind go?

For me, I start to spin on trust. My physical issues have led me to need to step back from my roles as wife/mother more and rely heavily on my partner to take care of a lot of the day to day things I’d typically do.  This dependence has created a feeling of vulnerability in myself.

What IF our value was simply based on what we contribute?  And if that is the case, when our ability to perform those roles diminishes, what do we become?  Are we less worthy?  Are we less of a partner? Are we less of a value?

When looking at the 5 love languages, I fall STRONGLY into the quality time and acts of service camp when giving love to others.  I deeply desire to connect authenticly with those that mean most to me, and when possible, meet needs.  Over the past months, my ability to do either one has gone down severely causing me to question my value in my friendships.

Being still, and vulnerable is a very big struggle for me.  What am I if I am not at my best?  Then, to unpack that further, what is “best”?  Once boiled down, “best” equates to optimum efficiency and output, as if I am a wifebot, mombot, or friendbot and my value is based on what I can do, how much and how well I can do it.  And isn’t that the kicker?

What if they don’t find me valuable anymore?

We all just want to be seen, heard, connected and valued.

 

 

 

 

Process

Same office, different hour.

Once (sometimes twice) a week I walk into a room where I don’t have to speak French to talk about trauma or “not trauma.”  I can walk in and speak about whatever I want, and know that I can be understood.

At times, that is the most freeing experience ever, and at times the most frustrating as I can’t hide anything.  I can’t hide my microexpressions, my breathing, nothing.

Trauma is isolating. Survivors are isolated from the world, from non-survivors, and from each other.  We are on an island.  I don’t get to therapy early because I don’t want to sit there in the waiting room and see other trauma survivors and not talk to them.  It’s already so isolating.  I don’t even look at anyone in the eyes in the office because I know that they have a story I can relate to, but I’ll never know it.  It’s worse to be surrounded by them, and know that you can never know.  Being aware these are your people, and you’ll never know them, it’s incredibly hard.

It’s worse to be lonely, than alone.

One day when I walked into Jess’s office there were drawings left over from the previous hour, another client… a drawing of a spider, on pink cardstock… with the words “fuck u.”  I saw that and just got them.  I got IT.  Sometimes that’s just how we deal.  We sometimes feel like we are just balloons floating around the world that doesn’t get it.

For me, I often have/had to approach the world with a “fuck u” attitude.  You think I can’t make it? Well, fuck you.  You think I need to trust everyone?  Fuck that and fuck you. (And so on.)  The Survivor’s Guide to Life is defense AND offense.

This little glimmer of the Fuck U spider was a moment of the humanity of someone else battling their own war.  Jess cut it out for me, and I have it in my wallet, to remind me that even though I don’t see them, somewhere out there, there is someone out there who gets it.

Over time, I’ve formed a music playlist that has been my go-to source of inspiration, and often play it in therapy.  I shared it with Jess and she asked if she could share this list with another one of her other clients.  Music is a huge part of my soul, and to pass it to another going through trauma was a gift I was thankful to share.  It gave me comfort to know that the notes that I curated into this list were being given to another.  Eventually, the idea was floated to connect the two of us. This person had no name, it’s like they weren’t real.

Until they were.

 

I got an email in my inbox, from the same office… different hour.

Subject line: Insert Awkward Subject Line Here.

Right then I knew, Hannah was good people.  Right off the cuff she was snarky, fun, and made fun of the therapeutic process, as we hardcore PTSD clients are prone to do. (It’s a coping strategy, don’t judge.)  Within days we developed a good rapport where we were able to express some of our challenges (what brought us to our hour) with ease.  It was amazing to be able to not only talk about those challenges without needing to interpret why xyz might be complex for us, but also knowing Jess allowed us to understand how that expression might play out in the hour.

My therapist offered a bridge between our two islands.

Suddenly, I wasn’t quite so alone.

Process

Brokenness

Broken

a :damaged or altered by or as if by breaking 
:having undergone or been subjected to fracture 
:not working properly 
:disrupted by change
:made weak or infirm 
:subdued completely (a broken heart/broken spirit)
:cut off 
:imperfectly spoken or written
:not complete or full 
The vulnerability project was born of brokenness. Of a desire to put together pieces of my soul and spirit in a new and unique way sure, but at its core, out of brokenness.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been processing an event that occurred more than a decade ago.  Part of trauma is the constant cycling of information in your brain, the recycling even of new ways of looking at the same event.  My therapist would refer to it as processing (UGH).
I’ve loved, truly loved, two men in my life.  I’m married to one of them.
This event involved the other.
More than a decade ago, I worked at an overnight camp and fell in love with an amazing person.  He was strong, kind, and knew what it was like to live through something hard.  At the time, I was still going through night terrors and reliving my own trauma, and he was able to empathize as he was a vet with PTSD himself.  The ability to speak the same language with him, without ever actually talking was unique and powerful.  For the first time in years, I felt like I wasn’t alone.
So much could go unsaid. But not like in the outside world.  Words could go unsaid because finally there was understanding.  I could bring up a trigger, and I didn’t have to go through the full story.  He could do the same.  It was like being in a book group, with someone finally reading the whole book, just like I did.  It was a breath of fresh air.
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I felt broken for years, alone, like a jagged shard of glass, but around him… since he had his own trauma, I thought perhaps we could be more like sea glass.  We could tumble a bit together and become something less sharp, if only because we had a mutual understanding.
Maybe together, we could both heal.
One night in the pitch black we went walking together in the neighboring regional forest next to our camp, after work.  It was dark, but I was with him.  I was with him. We were just talking.  I said something that caused him to be upset with me.  I recall he stopped. We stopped. and then he left me there.
And suddenly I was alone.
I remember my thoughts running in fast forward.
Where did he go?
Why did he leave me here?
Where am I?
I have no way of getting back, what will I do?
I.AM.ALONE.
I am going to die here.
And then I started to panic.
My mind flashed.
Suddenly I wasn’t in the forest, I was in my assault, and he put me there.  He left me alone in the middle of the woods, he knew what he was doing, and he left me unsafe.
Someone I loved, someone I trusted.
someone WHO.KNEW.BETTER.
I came back to my body in a violent landing, like a comet hitting the Earth because that’s exactly what I had done.  I was on the forest floor on my hands and knees, wondering why it was so loud.  What is that horrible noise?  What is dying?
That noise was me, screaming.
Time stood still.  I screamed and screamed.  I had no way of getting back, I didn’t know where I was in the park because I thought I was walking with someone safe,
someone I loved,
someone who would protect me.
He was in the army for god sakes, leave no one behind?
I thought I was going to have to wait until daylight to return back to camp, and if I had to scream until then, I would.
Time passed.
Days.
Years.
Minutes.
Seconds.
He finally returned.
We walked back together, and by that I mean somehow his body and mine shared space along the way to where we needed to go.
I moved my things out of his cabin that night, and he kept moving them back in.  I recall sleeping next to him shaking.
I spent time thinking about this throughout the following days/weeks and made a conscious choice to put it aside in my memory.  “You’re broken,” I thought.  “This might be your chance.  He gets that you are broken, and stays anyway. This might just need to be the way it is.”
So we moved on.  We stayed together for several more months together until we broke up in the fall.
Years go by, and we reconnect.  He has married and has a lovely wife and kids.  I do too and we realize that we still both deeply care for each other.  We have great conversations, and I look forward to any time we are able to talk.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago.
Out of nowhere, he says (I’m paraphrasing) “You know, I’m sorry for what happened in the forest. I knew it would trigger your PTSD.  That’s why I stayed nearby, you couldn’t see me, but I was nearby.”
……… And I look at those words and my heart sinks.
He had left me there and heard me suffer.  While he listened nearby, triggering me into a trauma space.  And as someone with PTSD himself, doing that knowingly.  Suddenly my narrative of the situation drastically changed.  I thought he had left and then returned when he noticed I hadn’t made it back.  Instead, he was nearby, listening to me scream.
I spoke with him via skype because I needed to know what he was thinking.  I needed to know one thing.  Had I triggered HIM, with something I had said?  This was the ONLY reason I could come up with, the only acceptable purpose for him leaving me in that moment.  It was the first time that I had HOPED that I had royally messed up and done something egregious.
But I hadn’t.
And I knew I hadn’t.
He said I hadn’t.
I had “frustrated him” he said.
I started to spiral and went into a very dark place.  How could someone I loved so deeply do this to me?  Could I trust anyone to not do this to me?  I had recently lost a friendship with someone I had cared about who hadn’t valued my friendship, was this a pattern?  Am I broken?
Could I trust myself, my heart, with a person who would purposely do something to trigger me into a deeply traumatic space, regardless of our history?  I found myself mourning the idea of losing someone who had been a big part of my life, and someone who was truly one of the only people who spoke the trauma language fluently in my life.
This relationship is broken.

Broken

a: damaged or altered by or as if by breaking 
bhaving undergone or been subjected to fracture 
cnot working properly 
ddisrupted by change
emade weak or infirm 
fsubdued completely (a broken heart/broken spirit)
gcut off 
himperfectly spoken or written
inot complete or full 
e3594e608b8a8ad58cca8201613eb1df--vikings--vikings-lagerthaI HATE that this situation has now spun me into questioning whether other people I love and care about will also “leave me in the forest” triggered, and terrified for reasons that aren’t equivalent to the amount of terror that it imposes on me.
Will my husband?  Will my friends?   Will my care team?
I feel vulnerable.
I feel that I let my guard down, and I’m now reaching for my shield again.
Vulnerability

The Vulnerability Project

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When I started the vulnerability project, I assumed that because I was in control of the situations of vulnerability, that I’d always leave feeling positive about those experiences.

I’ve discovered this just isn’t the case.

The Vulnerability Project is hard.

Vulnerability is hard.

 

Part of me is extremely thankful that those around me can’t relate with trauma.  What kind of person would I be if I wished those around me to have that experience in order to have them be able to be on trauma island with me?

Recently I went to another Authentic Relating event where I shared that I have PTSD.  This is a vulnerable this for me to share with relatively new people, and I didn’t feel seen or understood. Not only that, but focus quickly shifted from me to someone else.  This is a frequent occurrence when people are uncomfortable, and when those around me are unable to relate to my experience.

Recently, my mother was vulnerable with me, sharing her feelings about her parents quickly descending into dementia.  In exchange, I was vulnerable with her I shared that I just wanted to check out of life, and she said “some people just can’t cope with trauma” and compared my experience by proxy with a breakdown my cousin had.  This felt really discounting and dismissive of my experience.

I half-joked with my therapist that I just wanted to have a cot in her office and move in.  There needs to be a primer written about trauma.  Trauma language, how to relate with those who have experienced trauma.  How to be value and share space with people who are sharing their experiences and being vulnerable.

Maybe THIS is what I need to write.

 

 

 

Uncategorized

“You’re So Brave.”

Brave: having or showing mental or moral strength to face danger, fear, or difficulty; making a fine show 

“You’re so brave.”

When people say this to me in regards to my story, my go-to outer response is “thank you.” My inner response is “I have no choice, so it’s not bravery, it’s survival and even that isn’t always a given.”

The past two weeks have been full of the bravery of a different type, simply figuring out a way to stay alive. I walked among the living, not feeling a part of them.  I smiled and joked, and played the part of the living, but was not one of them. I am around people, but alone.

PTSD is a Liar.  Anxiety is a Liar.  Depression is a Liar. Trauma is a Liar.

As someone aptly mentioned, trauma is like “my neighbors who not only play their music super loud but have extra bass that you can feel from across the apartment.” Wednesday night, that music brought me to the brink after a full week of operating at emergency trauma level, and I took a handful of pills on top of my typical nighttime medication.  This was brought about by quite a few of events involving a mix-up with a member of my care team, a person from my past coming up on Facebook surprisingly, and continuing feelings about the friend-breakup from the prior weeks.

 

My thoughts were scattered when I made this choice.  I can’t describe it.  I didn’t want to die.  I just didn’t want to live.  Or didn’t want to feel.  I’m not sure, maybe both.  Trauma is a liar. You can’t escape your brain, it’s always there.

So I talked about it.  First in a terrifying text to my therapist- where I downplayed exactly what I took.  Second, to my husband when “the story in my head” told me that likely my therapist would call the police to do a wellness check (which didn’t happen.)  Third, I reached out to my sister-wife, Diana.  Fourth, to Katherine.  Fifth, made a small circle post to my trusted people.  Oddly enough, the scariest reveal was to my bodyworker, as I was totally feeling very vulnerable about sharing this very deep scary part of my soul.  With previous attempts, I kept silent.  This time needed to be different.

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I was talking with a gal on Insta today about how she was worried about her mental health stories being depressing.  And maybe they are.  Maybe we ARE telling the depressing stories.  We talk about clawing against the walls to get out of the well.  We talk about the awful side effects of medication and how we want to crawl out of our own skin with it, and without it. But here’s the thing, these stories HAVE TO BE TOLD.

Mental Health HAS to be talked about.

Suicidality has to be talked about.

I can appear at a mom’s group at 9:30 AM on Wednesday looking perfectly functional, joking, and at 5:30 pm try to end it all.  The person right next to you could be struggling with trauma, PTSD, depression, anxiety, all sorts of things and we AREN’T talking about it.

This HAS to change.

I’m not brave.  I’m alive.

Sometimes, despite my best efforts.  This week, despite my best efforts.

Bravery, in this case, is “Making a Fine Show.”