Facing Catastrophe: Is this Growth? Pt. 1
TRIGGER WARNING: Emotional, Substance & Sexual Abuse (no cat puns this time, sorry.) I’ve struggled with writing this story for the past 6 years or so. I’ve written it, rewritten it, thrown it out, and started all over again more times than I count. Reasons this second blog post hasn't been published until now. I struggle with writing this, not only because I’m still so scarred from what others have done to me, but also, I’m still scarred and struggling with the damage I have caused to myself and others. I know I can’t address one without addressing the other. I have always tried to be proactive, so let’s begin.
It’s no secret. I don’t have a healthy relationship with alcohol. As a result, I have done reproachable things. I know that shit is fucked up and I still struggle. I stood on a table and yelled at someone I thought they were taking me home and not the person they took home. I have been naked in places I have no business being naked in. I’ve gone straight up bat-shit. I hit on a married man at a function (which I was reprimanded for). I have been unprofessional and hurt many. To those affected by my actions, I am sorry. I have attended AA meetings and been in and out of therapy and continue to do so and look for more ways to do better. Am I “better”? From what I used to be, yes. I am no longer performing the above atrocities. But, I do fall off the wagon and abuse alcohol at times. For some, I’m at a point they can be my friend. For others, I’m not there yet. For some, I will never be there. All of those responses are completely valid. I have earned that hate. It is not something I wear proudly, but it is something I acknowledge. I continue to get back on the wagon because I want to be better for me and all those that meet me in the future. My progress isn’t a straight line, but it is progress.
While I wanted to address my own shortcomings, I also wanted to talk about a time (among many) that I was abused in this industry. I will not name names. For one, I would like to keep my career and those involved have been and continue to be senior leadership in this industry. Second, this happened early in my career and as much as I have changed, I am hoping they have too. Shall we?
When I signed on at this company, I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Many would even call me naive. I was brought on as the Community Manager for a new title and leading the charge for building a community. I felt like I was doing good work. I ran successful follower growth campaigns. I had a 98% Twitter engagement rate. I created “fluffy-word” moderation which is used by many in the industry today. (I say created because I attended Sega’s GDC party after the fact and was speaking with their CM Lead. She said something along the lines of, “Oh, that was you on that project. I have two CMs on my team that started doing that because of you.” So I feel that is something I had an influence on creating that method.) I was a bright, young, promising professional. But, as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. Those that know me will tell you, I AM AMBITIOUS. When I was younger, I was ambitious and hungry. At the time, I was attending up to 4-5 industry events a week. If there was an opportunity to drink with senior/C-level after work, I was there. Those opportunities would prove to be my downfall.
While I could tell you about the time the GM insisted on walking me home and told me along the way I must have Daddy-issues because I am too ambitious. He, then, proceeded to come inside after me trying to indicate that’s not ok via long convo on the steps. I proceeded to go into my bedroom, shut the door, and text my roommate for him to leave. He proceeded to come into my bedroom and kiss me on the forehead before leaving. I want to imagine he was trying to be fatherly and clearly from his comment thought I needed that. But this post isn’t about that. This post is about the relationship I had fostered through those late nights drinking with our executive producer and the way my boss treated me. God, I got to this point on a roll and have just been staring at the page for the last five minutes. It is hard to write. He has 15-20+ years plus industry experience. He held all the power in this situation. There’s a part of me that looks back and still thinks he cared about me or makes the excuse that we were both drowning in our alcohol problems. But, there’s a part of me that realizes this behavior was predatory and shouldn’t have happened. To my knowledge, he was asked to leave over a sexual harassment claim another woman made, so there’s that.
As was our form, those nights out drinking with the team. We were always the last two left. I would ask questions about the industry and he would offer advice. One comment, in particular, has always stuck with me. He was the one that told me, “You’re ambitious, but that’s not always a good thing. You’ll have a fast climb to middle management but will get stuck there. Not just because you’re a woman, but because you’re an ATTRACTIVE woman. So men and women will want to see you fail.” I cannot tell the times I’ve pushed too hard because I wanted to prove that comment wrong so fucking bad. But, it was comments like those that made me feel like he had the best intentions. At some point, those late nights at the bar turned into a weekly drinking night at his apartment just the two of us. On a weekly basis, we would finish off a bottle or more of Maker’s Mark. Yes, full bottles, weekly. At first, it was, “You can sleep in this bed alone.” Then, it moved into someone joining me in bed in the middle of the night. Next thing you know, it was weekly sexual relations. To be clear, I do not recall ever having intercourse with this man. He did tell a mutual friend that intercourse had happened. While I thought these events were a secret, I later found out that was not nearly the case.
Simultaneously while this relationship was happening, my hiring manager was forced into another position and internal promotion took place. I do not know if this man’s hate towards me is because he felt I was trying to sleep my way to the top or something else. BUT MAN, did he have it out for me.
I would write an email; he would come over to my desk (in an open office setting) and yell at me that he thought my bullet points were too harsh and I didn’t add enough “fluff” and compliments to my emails. He made it a rule that he must read all of my emails personally before sending them. I remember a specific instance he was in a meeting, so I had HIS BOSS read the email before I sent it. He came out of the meeting furious, stomped over to my desk, and berated me for the entire office to hear. I simply responded with, “I had your boss approve it.” When I had trouble with another employee in another office ignoring company processes and making plans for my job description (they were QA), he moved me to another team. I would pitch an idea in a meeting; he would tell me it was ridiculous and dumb. This happened to the extent another employee (male) offered to pitch my idea in the same way. We did this as an experiment to see if the ideas were bad or if he really hated me. He was told they were amazing ideas and I was asked why I hadn’t started on them. Even though this abuse continued to grow, I was awarded employee of the month on our team for the work I had done reforming one of our community programs. Two things happened next. First, the abuse became so maddening that another team member went to HR and told them I was being single out and bullied by our boss. Additionally, a position opened up on the events team under a team lead I still hold great respect for today.
This is when I learned that HR is NOT on the employee’s side. During the “investigation” HR asked leading questions. Manipulated my answers. Forced me to tell them who let me know I had a target on my back. To deem that harassment was not happening, I was just emotional. When I went to our HR manager before I applied for the events role. She looked up my file on her computer, told me I was in good standing. She told me I just have to email my boss prior to letting him know I would like to change teams. I was early in my career and I didn’t want to switch companies. So I did. The next day, I was pulled into the Head of HR’s office and put on a PIP (Performance Improvement Plan). I had just received "employee of the month" on my team, one month earlier. I confided in our executive producer. He told me very plainly that is what a company does when they’re pushing you out of the company.
Surely enough, all of my 1 on 1’s were positive, but on that fateful last day. I was pulled into the Head of HR’s office again. They placed a silencing agreement in front of me stating I wouldn’t sue the company. I told them I didn’t want to sign it. They told me to sign it or they wouldn’t give me the two weeks of additional pay. Either way, I wasn’t working at that company anymore. If you know anything about how entry-level Community pay, then, you know how I was hurting. One of the reasons the Head of HR stated for my departure was that I was visibly distraught at my desk and others were taking notice.
Shortly after my departure, the executive producer stopped communication completely. There are some that know pieces of this story. I had a 5-year silencing agreement; that agreement has ended.
I share this story because we have a problem in our industry. I have contributed to it and have been a survivor of it. I want to be part of the solution. Part 2 to this series will be ideas of how we as individuals, we as companies, and we as an industry can change and move forward.