I’ve had this in me for a while, but I wanted to write about us, not about him. About how when most claim “we believe the women”, how we say we care about them and yet when they come forward and share the depth of their pain from being victims of sexual assault, some of us tell them they were weak for not being strong enough. Or we chastise them for not disclosing sooner. We barely conceal the thin veneer of guilt and shame we force upon them.
But I couldn’t figure out how to draw the pieces together; stories like Dr. Ford’s and my memories. Every time a story like this happens, comments and posts flood social media and so do the memories.
In fact, my memories were getting in the way of the writing. It was taking too many days for my post to come together. So I let it go, I took a break. I had a walking meditation to facilitate anyway. Just a short talk on labyrinths and meditation, then I figured I could try to get back to my blog.
As I started to talk about the benefits of walking meditation, I heard me mentioned using the intention of connecting with the healing energy of the earth. Just like an exhaled breath takes toxins out of the body, I don’t have to ask for the relief I need my soul needs for it to go. How that deep hidden flow can calm the storms within us if we let it. I waited until everyone else left and had the entire space to myself.
As I walked, I could smell the rain in the air, the ground still soft from the day before. I touched heel to pavement and invited my heart to open and everything came pouring out.
I had said no, more than once. He said he knew I wanted to anyway. He was 20 and I was 17. So naturally when he forced himself on me, I thought he was right; I must have wanted it.
My mother gave me a set of books on anatomy and the body; she never talked to me about sex. I didn’t have anyone telling me I had a right to say no, or that no was a complete sentence. I never knew I had a choice. As a matter of fact, what I learned about sexual contact taught me the exact opposite.
The first time was New Year’s Eve. We always kept our lights up until New Year’s Day. I remember because I kept focusing on the Christmas lights in the living room partition… the red looked so much brighter than the blue. I was 10 or 11. The last time was the summer before I turned 13. He had groomed me to think his attraction to me, even if I didn’t want it, was all my fault.
Yet I somehow gained the courage to threaten my uncle with exposure, telling what he had done, what he had been doing unless he stopped. He could tell by the look in my eyes I meant it. And I could tell it was finally over. While I can’t remember the exact day, I remember it was summer because I cried through the entire closing ceremony of the Summer Olympics.
I didn’t say a word about my uncle to anyone for years. When I finally did, it was almost 20 years later, and I was told I was “making things difficult for everyone”. Their exact words were “what do you want me to do about it”? The ones that were supposed to protect me, instead confirmed my ownership of the guilt and shame.
The next time I talked about it was in a circle of people who told me I was never alone. They chased the shame away and pushed me to find competent professionals capable of helping me clear the self-hate and to consider that I deserved love and compassion.
I was never able to bring my abuser to justice. By the time I named him, the statute of limitations had past. But the pain I felt in not being believed, in my believing I welcomed what happened to me had settled in and stayed. And it had help. For every three or four supportive souls that heard my story in passing or through my non-profit work, there was at least one person that was felt it their appointed duty to tell me to “look at the part that I played”. Or those eager to tell me to I needed to get over it, to let it go and let God. That I was holding onto the past. Even more told me that I was wallowing in victimhood by calling myself a survivor instead of taking my power back.
I was sexually abused for years at the hands of someone I should have been able to trust. Almost every sexual encounter I had until I sought help was fraught with not trusting myself to know what I could say no to. It sent me on a downward spiral.
Fortunately, I found the support I needed to heal. A brilliant therapist that encouraged me to open up, look closer at what I was holding against myself and that I was not now, nor had I ever been weak.
She taught me a way to take back my power was to first say I wanted it back. I realize the only power someone had over me was the power I gave them. My power isn’t surrendered simply because I admit I have a past. And that weakness came from thinking I was weak and alone.
I learned that a being a victim only means that you were harmed or injured. When did victim become such an ugly word? Being a victim just means that something bad happened to you, that’s it. I mean, doesn’t that sound like most of the people walking around on the planet?
Healing can take a life time. And it can sometimes be an onion to get to the truth any truth. At times like these, it’s important to find opportunity in the disruption to your soul. I had to lean into the pain and call out to the resilient part of myself to focus on my feelings, knowing that feelings are not going to last forever. They never do. And yet, they must be acknowledged if they are going to be transcended.
What can last forever is the turning over and over in my head how bad the feelings feel, how ugly, how bottomless I fear they are. Pain is temporary, suffering is eternal. Asking for someone’s help, a professional’s or even a good and trusted friend’s, can help lessen their grip.
As I stepped off the pitch, my eleven-year-old self thanked me from the bottom of her heart.
I had released the weight of the abuse and the assault years ago. No longer did the shame and the blame rule my life for I had forgiven myself for being abused. Now, I was forgiving everyone else for not supporting me when I came forward. The blaming words, the looks from others not willing to look inside themselves seemed to be leaving me as I put foot to earth.
I let the tears fall, holding nothing back, unashamed of feeling my relief and my power at the same time.
Focusing again on what’s real, not keeping my head in the sand or echoing the perceived judgment of the world on what I should have done, remembering to trust myself, to be gentle and give voice to my soul…steps I had taken before and needed to take again so that I could renew my devotion to my well-being.
Forgiveness gives me my own guiding Light to be the best advocate for myself.
I took the risk of seeing past what I’ve already done, to be open and vulnerable to see my own better life, to be with what encourages me to see the best in everyone around me and not dwell with those that do not have my best interest at heart. When I finally exposed the shame around how and when I came forward, I felt a lightness to my spirit.
The sooner we can get over the idea that there is perfect way to disclose, some kind of perfect timeline with perfect witnesses and a perfect victim, we can move on to be the badass human spirits full of Love that we are.
Unfortunately, sexual assault, especially against children is prolific. “One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old” according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. Like me, three out of four adolescents who have been sexually assaulted were victimized by someone they knew well.
Don’t spread the blame. Stand up and be counted. If you see something or know something, contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800.656.HOPE and online.rainn.org)