This one is for the women (and yes, men, too) who aren’t ready to talk, who aren’t ready to divulge the details of probably the worst days of their lives. It is for the people who bravely wake up, day after day, and carry on despite the weight of their secrets. This one is to say that consent in silence matters, too.
Last night I shared my own #metoo (or #ustoo) post. Writing It isn’t just #metoo took a lot out of me but I felt moved to write it and so I did. I believe that there is some force that often speaks through me in those moments, the ones where words fill me to the brim and threaten to overflow. I face those linguistic monsters because something inside me says, “someone needs this.” So, I armored up. And, besides, I have never been one to stand down when faced with a challenge. I am often stubborn to the detriment of my own health. This last blog was no exception.
There is no doubt in my mind that I wasn’t ready to let those secrets come out into the world. As I tossed and turned in bed last night, I felt the presence of dark shadows. I saw ominous figures on the walls. I closed my eyes, hoped for sleep. But my heart raced, beat fast and hard against my sternum. Had it not been caged, it certainly would have sought some greater safety than that of my body. Because, last night, I was keenly aware of just how unsafe it is to exist in this world, in this body.
It’s been quite a while since the last time anyone has hurt me physically/emotionally, in part because I stopped putting myself out there. I stopped letting people close. I stopped making friends. I stopped living life. I ate my feelings rather than face them. I gained weight, knowing full well that our society is shallow, that fat and layers upon layers of clothes could act as a sort of quasi- shield. But none of that was real. None of that gave me any genuine safety. That kind of guarantee can’t be promised to anyone. And that hurts.
It hurts so fucking bad, knowing that nothing I do can protect me, that nothing I have done protected my friends from similar fates. Knowing that the few things I did that actually seemed to have some effect in my own life are the very things that made my trauma symptoms worse. I was isolated, lonely, depressed, disengaged from an embodied existence. I didn’t want to live. I was hypervigilent (okay, am still scared of everything, desperately aware). I was unable to experience joy or happiness. I forgot what it was like to have fun, to be silly, to let down my guard. That isn’t the kind of life I wanted or deserved. I was “safe” but I was dead inside.
When I started therapy in September, I knew that the time would come when I had to talk about and process my trauma (though, we have done very little of that and now I see why). I knew that eventually the secrets would need to come out. And, so, I think I have tried to push that, tried to get it over with. The words never come in session but I write. I blog. I give the experiences, the secrets shape here. Test the waters. Feel it out. Somehow this is safer. But, it doesn’t protect me from the nightmares. It doesn’t protect me from the sleepless nights. It doesn’t protect me from the knowledge that men have started their old tricks. The more I poke my head out of the turtle shell of protection I have been living in, the more I am cajoled, hit on shamelessly, ogled. It is terrifying. That terror is amplified in the telling.
Part of what kept me silent for so long was the knowledge that exposing my secrets would make me more vulnerable. And it was vulnerability that I have been avoiding for so, so long. Breaking the silence means risking the loss of friends and family; it means risking not being believed; it means risking blame; it means risking confirmation of all the false beliefs you’ve come to hold about yourself and others; it means risking the disintegration of everything you hold dear in the world around you. I know this probably seems dramatic to anyone who hasn’t been through sexual assault or abuse. I know it doesn’t make sense. But this is what it looks like to have been convinced that it was your fault, that you were being punished for being bad, that you were the gatekeeper of adult secrets, that if you told the family could fall apart. This is what it looks like to not know whether or not your friend would take his side or yours. This is what it looks like every time someone says, “why did she wait so long to say something?” Because the telling is, in and of itself, a type of assault.
And to risk that assault, it takes bravery and courage. The kind of bravery and courage that I know survivors have by the boat full. But, it is vitally important that she has the space to say “no” to speaking her secrets. It is crucial that you give her the space she needs to not speak, if that’s what helps her feel safe. Let her consent. Give her the very thing that has been taken from her time and time again. Not just give, let her take consent, let her own it, let her wear it like a badge of honor. She has earned it. She is a warrior. There are storms that wage inside of her, that threaten to break her open from the inside. But, still she rises. She is a respectable, fierce survivor. Envelop her with acceptance, with loving kindness, with the space she needs to quiet the tsunami in her mind.
To all the brave women who, despite the restless nights, continue to fight on: you are loved, you are honored, you are seen. Whether you are ready to tell or not, your story is valid. I believe you. I stand with you. I cherish the ferocity of your womanhood.
Society has taught us to be timid, delicate, easily manipulated, easily silenced. But, I know. I know that isn’t our story. That isn’t the way that this goes. Society can beat us, bruise us, carve us into what it thinks it wants us to be, but it can never keep us down. We are women. We are powerful. We are valiant. We are dauntless. Keep fighting, loves. Keep being fearless. Keep being true to who you are.