Setting Boundaries and Cleaning Up Toxicity Part I

Updated: Jun 19, 2020

Most of my adult life, I have always wondered if I am pretty enough, smart enough, or if enough people like me. My experience in the military had actually affected my self-esteem and I am still dealing with that today. I always liked school (for the most part because I got senioritis as I was graduating high school). It was an escape for me. I had a mostly good childhood but things at home were not always that great so school was an escape for me. I moved from the inner city, the summer before 7th grade, to a small rural town with a pretty good school system (compared to where I was at before). I began to be challenged and when we moved again before my freshman year in high school, I was ahead in some respects. I did well in high school, playing sports, despite my lack of coordination and making honors while taking mostly advanced and AP classes. I had dreams of getting into an Ivy League school, but the thought of student loans or dropping out because I could not afford it scared me.

Around the middle of my Junior year in High School, because I truly could not afford college, I sought out an Army recruiter, lost a bunch of weight, and eventually graduated high school early to leave for basic training. I had a rough time. I couldn’t shoot well, I was clumsy, and tended to crack under pressure. The drill sergeants all knew my name by the end of the first day. All 13 of them. I was called a “rock”, “stupid”, “r*tard”, and many other fun things by even my own peers. I knew it was the DS job to break me down. I was only upset my peers treated me so poorly and carried it into the first duty station.

I still graduated and finished AIT but I could not shake the feeling that maybe I was not really all that bright. This carried on into my first unit where before I showed up after a month of leave, some of the people I went through training with “warned” the NCOs about me. I showed up to a very toxic environment where I was already labeled a “challenge” and a problem child. I was not given any meaningful tasks, was labeled incompetent, and was always lost because from day to day I felt I had no purpose. I was treated like I had done something wrong. Maybe I did and still sometimes I think back to those days and wonder if there was something actually wrong with me. The unit I was a part of at the time was a pretty toxic environment. Most of the leadership was in it for themselves and my peers treated me as some sort of punching bag.

I had gotten hurt and was just getting to my first duty station. I had a problem with my feet and hips; I had to take a week or two off of running mainly due to overuse. Nothing big, and nothing some rest would not fix, so I was directed to walk with the people on profile temporarily. I had to walk with these two ncos talking about waivers to PFC (I was a PV2). I said I had looked forward to trying to get a waiver, but I was already labeled difficult due to my facial expressions (which some of them I had no idea what they even were) and generally not being so social. I was told by these two NCO’s my attitude was terrible and I would never get a waiver. I never did anyways and realized it really was not that important in the end but that made me feel unworthy. I was so excited to be in the military but had started off so horribly. I felt that people were talking down to me without anything constructive, so my “attitude” got worse, I guess.

I remember one time when I’d been at the unit a few months, we were waiting around to get released for the weekend and the platoon broke into sections. The other section, including the NCO, was pointing at me and laughing and I had no idea why. I still do not 9 years later but every day even if just standing there minding my own business, I would hear snickers and comments behind my back. I am nearly 6 feet tall and very broad shouldered for a woman and as a 19 year old girl, I was still very self-conscious. Some of the snickering was related to that as in they all used to call me an ogre. Maybe that day, something was wrong with my uniform or something; I don’t , but all I knew was they were laughing at me and I had no idea why. Usually I looked “lost” but I was usually daydreaming about being alone and away from them as much as possible...the weekends brought me solace because I was away from the teasing and could be alone to talk to friends and family at home or play games. I was depressed and not really interested in mingling either. I dealt with some harassment from leadership as well.

I had an NCO repeatedly getting on my back to get a response out of me; I was going through a lot at this time. My grandmother whom I was very close with was getting sicker and none of us knew what was wrong, I missed my friends and family, and I was kind of still trying to adjust to the military. This NCO fed off of it and found something wrong every second it seemed, and he was doing it to elicit a response. I would get frustrated and roll my eyes etc and he began to punish me and smoke me in front of anyone who would see making the issue even worse. This went on for a week or two until one day I snapped and somehow, he backed off. He turned it into somehow testing me and even told me he would break me at one point and turn around and say he liked how much heart I had. I was young and naïve but knew he was playing some sort of game with me; and it did not feel right. He even used to accuse me of being promiscuous when I was still a virgin. I am prone to UTIs. I have to make sure to pee a lot. It is what it is. One day when I went to use the bathroom, he stopped me and asked why I used the bathroom a lot (maybe once every 2-3 hours) I told him that and he told me it’s from dirty dicks.

The day I snapped was the same day I found out my grandmother was dying from cancer. I went home from a long day and had to use a friend’s phone because I’d already forgotten mine in someone’s car and was pissed about that already but knew my grandmother had found out what was wrong that day. I broke when I found out and ended up calling my own NCO (he was a good guy actually) and speaking with his wife. I got help making an appointment with behavioral health finally because of how I was being treated at work and the situation at home. I went and got in to talk with someone and returned periodically. Later I would realize I was diagnosed with “adjustment disorder”, “low self-esteem”, and “maladaptive behavior”. I look back in abject horror because I could have been discharged for these diagnoses and no one at the time could understand what hell I was going through; even before the rape.

After the day I snapped, we got a new guy. We had to lay out parts for vehicles. The new guy did not know what this entailed, and I’d been there a few months at that point and knew what to do so I was helping him. His NCO, one of the ones that told me all that stuff when I was on the walking profile, pulled him away. I would later find out he was pulled aside and told to stay away from me and not listen to me. They made me out to be a huge troublemaker when all I did was keep to myself or play PC games in my spare time. He’d told me later he did not understand why he was told that because I was a giant goofball (a title I wear proudly). This was how I was ostracized leading to that one night. I tried to say something about this but was also told I needed thicker skin. Maybe it was just me being overly sensitive, but I knew what was going on was not normal or right because when I went to other places later on, I was not treated even remotely as bad. Sure, I had my days still, but I could not compare it to that. The military you have to be tough, but your leadership and peers should not be actively working to break you down like that. I always, even to this day, sometimes wonder if there is something wrong with me but slowly over time, I begin to tell myself it isn’t all me.

This was actually the unit where I was sexually assaulted because a peer pressured me into going to a party and had pretended to be my friend weeks before and up to a week after where she then went silent. I have many trust issues because of her.

Me allowing myself to be a doormat had slowly changed when I had my kids. I began to realize I had babies that did not care how smart I was, how I look, or how well I can perform tasks. They just wanted their mommy. I realized slowly over time that my kids are watching me, and I do not want them to think that type of treatment is ok. I feel like if I stick up for myself more, my children can follow in those footsteps. Not everyone is going to like you and it can be difficult to remember that but never try to get anyone to like you. Be yourself.

In the past few years since leaving the military, I have set up some boundaries. I really do not hang around people much physically; I work remotely and go to school mostly online. However, when I do interact with people, they are nice to me; I believe that they like me. When I was leaving the military, I was told I would never have friends like that again. Well, I did not have many friends while in and did not feel a close bond with many people further making me ask was it me? Or was it the environment? I honestly do not miss it and I do not miss many people either. I met some pretty great people, but I could never find much in common. What I had started to do after leaving active duty was cut people off. If I associated them with bad memories of how I was treated, I blocked them. I used to let people insult my intelligence, my looks, the way I dressed or acted because I wanted them to like me and I just could not put my foot down. Upon leaving the military and starting full time college, it was so strange at first. I was going through a period of re-traumatization also and was heavily triggered at the time. I had just come from 8 years in the military and it was so strange sitting in a classroom full of mostly young kids. I was literally thrown into it. It was strangely pleasant, however. I had not all that great an experience and reflecting on that while starting full time college was an experience because no one really cared about what I looked like and I felt I could provide some meaningful input to some of these young kids. Maybe they thought I was a goof too, but it was okay because for once, no one was talking down to me. This kind of behavior is what bred what had happened to me. The treatment I received after did get worse as well too. I need people to be aware of what is going on in these environments. Sexual Assault in the military is not typically isolated and it is a toxic environment that brings on the sexual assaults.

There is a lot more that goes on after reporting the assault that I will touch on in the second part of this.

Lisa Nolasco


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