Thousands of women put two words as their social media status:
I join them. I walk to the line and reach my hands to either side. I acknowledge: I have been sexually assaulted. I endured sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and rape. I call these acts what they are: Crime.
The who and what of the acts which I suffered no longer claim me. The humiliation, degradation, years of shame and terror, worked themselves into my DNA and took my neuro-pathways in directions that nature did not intend. I own that. I spent years cringing at the gentlest touch. I crouched in bathrooms shuddering, glaring at my nakedness, afraid to open the door and let someone whom I believed loved me see my bare skin. To say that what happened to me changed my entire life, every waking moment, understates the impact.
I suppose that I might have healed more soundly, more surely, more quickly, with professional help. Certainly, people suggested that I needed it, but usually on the way out the door after letting go. That’s not a basis for belief. Telling someone you love them and want to be with them, admiring them, praising them; and then spitting out that they need help as you abandon them, lacks believability. But I knew that many survivors of sexual abuse and family violence have gotten help from therapists, counselors, and peer groups.
Why didn’t I? The answer lies in the very shame which my experiences stamped on my soul. I felt unworthy. I did not value myself. Clearly, I lacked worth or what happened to me would not have occurred. That seemed logical to me. I had validation for my theory — everybody left me, didn’t they? Obviously, I was not worth the time and effort that it might take to stay and help me deal with my damaged heart.
But I worked through it. Decades slipped through my fingers, loose sand falling and blowing to the ends of the earth. Days that I can never reclaim. Now, whole though pasted together, I can stand and say:
Recently, I explained in three paragraphs why I rejected someone’s position that they had done right by me. I stayed as true to nonviolent communication as I could. I avoided personal attack, keeping to an explanation of the events at hand. I edited the paragraphs for clarity and to avoid grandiose vocabulary. I wanted the make a strong but clear statement. I didn’t come as close to non-violent communication as I wanted, but fairly close. I sent it, strong in my beliefs and wanting to give the person a chance to understand.
The person responded by saying that my email was “dribble” on which the person would not “waist time”. (Sic, sic.) “I’m sad for you,” the person concluded. Luckily, I recognize both bad vocabulary and gas-lighting when I see it. That’s one of the benefits of living as long as I have with the memories that I have as well as access to the workshops which help me guide my clients safely through recovery to survival. It’s what abusers do. They hurt you, then tell you that you are crazy. They take your money, your pride, your safety, and your love. They spit on you, and then tell you that your protests are “dribble”.
The person in question did not assault me; the person just mishandled a business transaction that the person had pledged to handle for me. It cost time, additional money, and aggravation. Another day, I would have considered that I deserved nothing better. Another day, I would have assumed that I must have done something “wrong” to prompt the mistreatment. Another day, I would have looked at what I knew to be the facts and questioned my perception. But with good people by my side to call reality to my attention, and strength borne of healing, I stand in quiet confidence.
It was not always this way. Because I have survived sexual assault, family violence, and rape, I struggled for years to accept that sometimes I am right. You know — you, who read this. You know what I mean because you lived it.
On the other side of healing, I can accept that I am worth someone’s time and trouble; someone’s fidelity; someone’s empathy and compassion. So I ask each woman who experienced sexual assault, harassment, abuse, or rape, to look in the mirror and tell yourself that EVERYONE HAS VALUE, EVERYONE DESERVES TO BE TREATED KINDLY, EVERYONE IS LOVABLE AND WORTHWHILE — and yes:
It’s the seventeenth day of the forty-sixth month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.