I saw the Facebook statuses—my newsfeed was full of brave women coming forward, openly talking about personal experiences with sexual harassment… #metoo, and then some. And it made me—me the “healing out loud” girl—uncomfortable. What in the fuck? I couldn’t believe that this patriarchy-conditioned part of me that I thought was dead was suddenly awake for a feeding. In my upbringing, I was trained to hear “sexual harassment” and immediately follow the words with “always the woman’s fault.” That means I have blamed myself for countless horrifying interactions. I didn’t claim victim; I have seen myself as the perp. The 2016 election started to break down those old ideas I had; I started to see misogyny and sexual abuse more clearly and honestly, but I still sat in my self-made jail with a head full of regret and shame for all of the sexual harassment I thought I caused myself. But ALL of these women were writing #metoo with personal stories included, armed with the keys to my handcuffs, ready to show me the escape route if I wanted to be free. I did want to be free. I had been standing atop the cliff, peering over the edge for hours thinking, jump jump jump, it will feel good. And in a sudden burst of willingness, I went for it:
I tried to count how many times but I couldn’t keep count so instead I counted how many times it was so bad that I still feel sick over it/ so bad that it messes with my sex life today and I landed on 13. No wait. Not 13 times. 13 different men. One stalked me for a year before I said anything about it because I thought it was my fault. I didn’t go to the police because I was advised that it could escalate things and I was totally afraid of the worst happening. And the others…. they were employers, older men who were trying to “help me” when I was 16, people I went to college with, oh and a boyfriend too. Oh and family. DUH- silly me- How could I forget?
I’ll write with more wisdom about it one day. I’ll write with abandon about it one day… maybe soon. But, for now: yes, me too. For now, I feel you and I stand with you and I love you. And my heart breaks that we’ve elected someone to office who has preyed on women in the same fashion.
Of course my heart is always open to anyone who needs to talk or get a hug.
I feel strongly that things are changing. And I feel so good with all of the women coming together to HEAL OUT LOUD, yo.”
Fear and insecurity hit instantly. I felt sick. I felt ashamed. I felt afraid people would call me a liar or dramatic or judge me. Was I a liar? I felt afraid that people wouldn’t “like” my post, that my words would go into a vacuum, people wouldn’t validate or hear this incredibly vulnerable thing I just said. I could always delete it. I have been so open about so much in my life—vulnerability is one of my greatest values, but, suddenly, I felt too exposed. I was cowering, covering my body, just praying people wouldn’t take this chance to hurt me. I’m so afraid to bear any extra insults to my inherent womanhood that I have chosen to bow my head and ignore as much of my past abuse as possible. Only, that’s not how it works. I don’t get to simply “ignore.” I have since learned, to my own dismay, that years of sexual trauma, years of being treated a certain way, dig into the body and STAY there, causing all sorts of physical and emotional pain.
I went to the OB-GYN last month because I’ve been experiencing a significant amount of pelvic pain. My complaints were so explicit that five different doctors examined me for over an hour. Dripping with gyno-lube, after an hour of prodding and “massaging,” I was left alone for five minutes so the team could discuss my results in private. Two nurses came back in, one of them taking a seat in front of me and ever so gently beginning to question my current relationship. I knew where she was going. I stopped her, “he’s great. He doesn’t abuse me in any way, everything is consensual.”
“OK,” she said, “I believe you. What is most concerning about your exam is that you have sexual trauma. Your body reacts strongly and fearfully, all your muscles contract when any kind of penetration is anticipated. It appears you’ve been having this reaction for so long that the muscles have been overworking for years— resulting in your pain.” I stared at her, having forgotten to breathe, tears welling in my eyes. My throat closed, she put her hand on my knee, and I sobbed. Because I know. I knew. I know. And I know that it all comes back to my relationship with my father. And my father is the person who had me believe that it was always my fault. If a man treated me inappropriately (including my father himself) it was because I asked for it. So through every uncomfortable/unbearable interaction, I continued to blame myself. I was the patriarchy. And I’m proof that all of the work we are doing is creating a change. I am changing. I am healing.
As the “thumbs ups, hearts and sad faces” started pouring in, I felt more at ease. In fact, with each acknowledgment came a bit of restoration. No one was calling me a liar, and my mom didn’t call or text demanding that I immediately take the post down. I expected her to. I expected a lot of people to, especially because I mentioned FAMILY. I kept circling back to that family comment so afraid that someone was going to become combative, forcing me to defend my truth. Because it’s not something I’ve ever talked about. Until right now…
When I was 16, I woke up from a drunken sleep to an older family member touching me inappropriately. I didn’t tell a single person until I was in my mid-twenties, and even then, I only told my mother, and I told her half-heartedly, “oh yeah this thing happened… but maybe it didn’t happen actually.” I had a million excuses, “ I was drunk and imagining things, I don’t want to embarrass him, I guess I put myself out there for it, I shouldn’t be that way, he was just drunk and didn’t know what he was doing, I must be making it up for attention, no one would believe me, I don’t want to get him in trouble, he’s just lonely, I wish I could fix that for him, I HAVE TO PROTECT HIS REPUTATION. I LOVE HIM.” The truth is, I know exactly what happened. I was afraid and uncomfortable, I did not want to be touched like that. AND I felt guilty.
That’s just one small experience. There were plenty before and plenty after—_way scarier, way more invasive, way more demoralizing. And, truly, up until Donald Trump’s enlightening “grab ‘em by the pussy” business, I thought it was my fucking fault. That was the beginning of my anger and my clarity, but the healing… that is JUST fucking beginning.
With everyone who posted “me, too,” I felt a little lighter, I started to see clearly that it was never my fault— not the family member or the stalker or the guy who inappropriately touched me in a bar… all of that counts as harassment and none of it is acceptable or something I have to “learn to live with.” And to the men on Facebook who said, “I believe you,” I’d like to say thank you. However, while that is such a cozy sentiment to cuddle up to, it doesn’t have half the weight that “I believe me” has. Because of each brave woman coming forward, fifteen years after that drunken night, I am able to say for the first time, “I know exactly what happened that night. I believe me.”
With a tremendous amount of love,