An addition: When I first started drafting this, I hated Trump. I didn’t think that there was much he could do to push my opinion of him any lower. And then the “locker room” talk came out. I’ve been hiding from the media, refraining from talking about why what he said is problematic. Hell, I even debated not posting this blog because of the current climate. Then I realized – this blog is more important that it ever was. Trump’s comments about women are not only disgusting, but they are proof of the culture we live in. Trump’s absolute ignorance about how to treat fellow human beings (especially women) has made it all the more important for women like me to speak up and out. I was raped repetedly as a child. I was assaulted as a college freshman. I’ve been groped, pinched, smacked, and pretty much everything else that happens to women on the street. My list of attacks against me and my body is too long to tweet at Kelly Oxford (though I think her idea is brilliant).
This past week on my campus was Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Awareness Week. I usually make a point to participate in a few of the events. I can’t do it this year. I can’t bring myself to visit the Clothesline Project. I can’t bring myself to walk in the Take Back the Night Rally. A year ago, I gave them my shirt, but this year I don’t think it would be healthy for me to step into the role of “healed” survivor.
For those of you unfamiliar, the Clothesline Project exists to “[bear] witness to violence against women…” To learn more about them and their amazing, powerful work, check out their website here. It took me 20 years, but last year, I finally made and gave my shirt (you can read about that experience here).
I wasn’t ready before that, even though I knew the project existed. Seeing the volunteer march off with clothespins in hand to hang my representation of my story is probably one of the most healing moments I’ve yet experienced. Though I do believe that the kinds of abuse that I and so many (too many) others have faced never fully fade, I do think it is possible to reach a level where the scars no longer inhibit actions and choices. This place of healing is not a place easily reached – it requires hard, consistent work and a level of honesty that can only be experienced to be understood. Further, once you reach this spot of “healed,” there is no guarantee that you’ll stay there. Hit the right trigger and everything can collapse around you as if the years of work were no more than a house of cards made on a windy day.
I’ve healed – a LOT. I look back at where I was a year ago, five years ago, a decade ago, and the changes I see are amazing. I can’t help but be a little proud of myself and the strength that I’ve displayed in fighting back against my demons. But this year, I can’t face it. I can’t bring myself face to face with the vulnerability that came with announcing my rape to the world. Sure, I went “public” with my story years ago, but that was to spread awareness, to use my story to help others. Now, seeing my shirt would be as if my rapist were to show up where I’m typing this – massively triggering and disturbing.
The design of the shirt, though simple and, let’s be honest, not terribly beautifully executed, is the visual representation of the holes he tore through me when I was a kid. The wound still bleeds and still hurts. Each year, it gets a little smaller as I heal and begin to replace the feelings of rape with the feelings of sex and intimacy (when rape is all you know, sex becomes trigger Russian Roulette). Being touched (with consent) is okay. Enjoying that feeling is okay. I’m not dirty, I’m not “ruined,” I’m not broken, I’m not guilty, and I am not to blame.
But as I think of the exhibit, the people seeing my shirt, the visual representation of all that he did to me, I feel sick. I want to hide in a closet until the feeling passes or throw up or take a scalding hot shower to get him off of me. I haven’t seen this man in twenty years, yet he’s still with me everyday, whispering in the back of my mind, telling me I’m not worthy of love, that those who I care about will be hurt because of me. It’s a quiet voice, but it is silencing at the same time.
One day, I’ll march with the Take Back the Night Rally. One day, I’ll be able to be the much needed shoulder for other survivors to lean on. Today is not that day, and that’s okay. Sometimes, we need to take care of ourselves first.
So, to all of you who have been support through my life and my journey to healing, I thank you. I know it hasn’t been easy for you – the irrationality of some of my fears are just plain annoying sometimes. I especially want to thank those of you who are survivors and still helped me. You are some of the strongest people I’ve ever met.
And, last, to my rapist: you didn’t win. I may have had a rough week in terms of triggers, but you didn’t win. You have no power over me anymore. You are nothing but snow that melted years ago – gone, though the grass may be a little different because of it. You will never see court, let alone a jail cell, but you will also never have me again. Your name will not go down in history – rather, it will simply be forgotten. You are no longer in control, and that will bother you until the day you die. I’ve taken my agency back; if you somehow happen to be reading this, that is the sweetest revenge that I could ever serve you.