Reading: A “Why me?” Reinvention

Second Acts

A “Why me?” Reinvention

A random act of violence at 23 nearly cost her her life. Today it's the foundation for her reinvention

By Jennifer Deinard

Photo of a reinvented balloon: with netting
Photo by hipster mum for unsplash

“Why Me?” We ask ourselves this when we split our pants, lose the coveted parking spot when we’re late to lunch, or when our own little princess contracts the barf bug at Disney.

Then there are the bigger ones. Why did I get MS, why did my house burn down, or why did a drunk driver hit my cousin head-on?

Random acts with devastating consequences. Why Me?

When I was 23 years old and working in New York City, a man who had been released from prison 12 days previously walked past the doorman in my building, took the elevator to the 17th floor, opened my unlocked apartment door and violently assaulted me.

During the attack — I’ll be honest — I had a lot of thoughts pummeling my shocked, despairing brain. But the one that never let up for the next 20 years was: Why Me?

Between then and now, much has happened. I healed, I married a wonderful man, I bore two amazing kids, and I was gifted with years that during the attack I wasn’t so sure were in my future. And now, in hindsight, I can say, What a journey.

But it’s not over. Two years ago I found myself moving into the next stage. Not only did my kids not need me as much, but they were old enough to be let in on Mom’s Big Secret. She was a rape survivor, and it was integral to who she was as a person. The trauma, the healing, the trial, the people, the love. My children were finally brought into the most life-changing before-and-after of my own personal timeline. And in doing so, a new mom, or a new person, was freed.

So, after 20 years I knew it was time to put my Why Me to work, using my experience for good. It was time to reinvent.

For the previous eight years, my most rewarding outside-the-home job was working with Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing as a coauthor, writer, editor, and pre-reader. I realized that working with people on their personal stories was for me both an enormous privilege and a delight. I loved the one-on-one interaction with another person’s narrative, and it was an honor to be brought into the deep, important work with what I call “the stuff of real life.”

I knew despair and I knew joy. I could help and guide others with theirs.

Despite a deep fear about returning to school after 25 years, I decided to apply to New York University to earn a diploma as a professional coach, and additionally get certified — for me an integral part of answering the Why Me call. The course wasn’t easy, but then what is that’s truly worth it?

After the learning, the graduating, the certification came building the business. I had built a freelance writing and editing business before, so I knew what it took.

Today, three years later, I have a three-pronged business: I work with teenagers on their stories for their college applications (I love other people’s teenagers…), I have a one-on-one (in-office and virtual) coaching practice with my beloved clients, and lastly I have my Why Me clients, sexual assault survivors. After survivors recover from the initial trauma, I work with them on their personal narratives, helping them heal and transform, sometimes by the act of writing down their stories, and moving their experiences from the inside out.

And as I work I continue to learn.

Interestingly, the #MeToo movement has shown me that the violent crime I suffered was actually my fourth unwanted sexual advance. The first one happened at age 12 in sixth grade when a certain boy would routinely grab my breasts in the busy hallway of my middle school during the short breaks between classes. I was too shy and scared to tell anyone.

The second came the summer I was 18 and sitting on a public bus reading on my way home from an internship. I felt something touching my inner thigh and it was a man’s hand that had managed to slowly creep under my long skirt toward my crotch. I was simply disgusted, and stood up and walked away.

The third was when I was 20 and a man at a nightclub grabbed my backside and pressed his erect self into me. I figured in my tight dress I deserved it.

The fourth was when I was raped, tied up and left alive.

Before #MeToo, I had never “counted” those first three. But they matter. Oh, they matter. If they happened to my daughter today, they would matter.

So now, after all this time, whenever I think Why Me? I answer: Why Not Me?

  1. Pat Cowan

    Oh, Jen, your story brought tears to my eyes. I’ve always thought of you as the lovely CCNS Mom with a great laugh, a winning smile, and a kind heart (as well as being a talented writer).
    Now I add brave-beyond-measure and an inspiration to all.
    Thank you.

  2. Mica

    I loved reading this piece. Knowing you for so many years and loving our college friendship, I feel so proud of you and want to say what luckily children to have such a fabulous Mommy! Best wishes! XO

  3. Wheaton

    Thank you for listening and helping others heal.
    I’m so sorry from the bottom of my heart for all that you have been through.

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