*Content warning: Rape and sexual assault.
It started a few days ago, spurred on by incessant reminders in the media that men do horrible, violating things to women, that they (that I) aren’t always seen as having bodily autonomy. The tweets, the emails, the text messages, the sessions I’m having with my clients—I’ve been bombarded by sexual violation a lot these last few days.
It’s not that I haven’t known. It’s not that I’ve forgotten or overlooked these truths. I’m conscious and aware. I understand how the world—how the patriarchy especially—works. But something about this particular round of news headlines is making me pay closer attention. I am listening and witnessing their stories, and as I’m listening and witnessing I am being given new language to use about experiences like these—theirs and my own.
I think that’s when the memories started to resurface.
Things I haven’t thought about in years. Incidents that were passed off as insignificant pieces of my teenaged experienced, neutral and unimportant. When I’ve thought about my sexual violation, when I’ve sat down to heal it in session after session with my therapist, these memories never really came into mind. They were strange circumstances, yes, but they were harmless. And I always thought that if it had been “true” violation, I would have felt something large and invasive in the moment that it happened. I would’ve felt scared, maybe. Or sad, or angry, or disgusted.
But in the moment I laughed these experiences off. Sometimes I even luxuriated in them. To feel a popular kid’s eyes on me, to feel his hands on my body, to hear him say things about me that I only ever heard in rap songs. . . I felt special to be chosen. I felt wanted and adult-like. I thought that that’s what it’s like when a boy really like-likes you.
Now I am starting to see these experiences for what they truly were—or at least, I am allowing my mind venture more in direct thoughts of What if?
What if it wasn’t a misunderstanding? What if I wasn’t being overly sensitive? What if I wasn’t making a big deal out of it? And what does all of that mean?
The realization that my body has been violated many more times than I have initially thought has been making my stomach sick. The realization that one of my first assaults sexually might’ve been from someone really close to me is making me question my own sanity. The realization that there is more trauma in me that needs to be resolved is bringing up a lot of hard feelings.
I was talking about this with Jonathan a few nights ago and I let him hold me as I cried—not out of sadness, but of exhaustion. I’m tired of caring for wounds that were given to me thoughtlessly without my consent. I’m tired of having to babysit my anxious thoughts about sexuality. I’m tired of healing.
And I’m angry. Angry that this is done constantly to women. Angry that the society I live in continues to perpetuate rape culture. Angry that we coddle rapists, make excuses for them, more than we tend to the destruction of their victims. Angry that we’re so quick to give our violators the benefit of the doubt before we listen to the blaring truths of our own bodies. Angry that toxic masculinity—its entitlement, its hatred and dismissal of the feminine, its total disregard for our humanness—has robbed so many of their ability to feel free, whole, safe.
I’ve thought more than once over the last few days of acting out violence toward men and the people who excuse their actions, but that’s not what is scaring me. What’s scaring me is that even though I know the truth of my own experiences, even though I can remember the room, the position of the sun, what jeans I was wearing, the look on their faces when my body was invaded by unwelcome hands, there is a voice inside of me that still asks, “Are you sure?”
“Are you sure that what happened actually happened?”
“Are you sure that you weren’t overreacting?”
“Are you sure that he meant it that way?”
“Are you sure that you weren’t in some ways asking for it?”
These questions feel like demons which chisel away the belief I have in myself, the stability I have in my own knowing. These questions feel just like the hands that have touched me over and over without my consent, dirtying me up from the inside. These questions are not from my own voice but from the voices of my violators.
So what is there to do about all of this?
What steps toward closure? What steps toward healing? What moves to make that help me feel like my body is safe?
I keep coming back to self-care—getting off of Facebook, ending friendships with people who apologize on behalf of and perpetuate rape culture, talking about this as a way of space-taking, which is a way of standing in my own truth, which is a way of gentle healing.
But more than that, I keep coming back to self-affirmation.
I am doing such battle with those demon voices which try to discredit my own knowing. And I so often side with the voice that tells me I’m making something up or I’m leaving something out, over what my intuition, my memory, tells me about those situations. I always believe my violators—their “good intentions”, their misplaced affections, their confused expressions of love. But what if I believed myself, unequivocally?
What if I was totally loyal to the feelings and sensations of my body? What if I operated always from a place of believing my own experiences of violation, not just because I am an advocate for my wellbeing, but because I know I am an intelligent, reasonable, fully awake woman?
What if my “Are you sure?” was replaced with an automatic, “Yes, I believe you”?
I’m not entirely sure, but I think I would find wholeness and stability in myself again. I think that believing the truth of my experiences would break me open as I would have to face the harsh reality of what they mean for me, but I think I would find liberation there, a new understanding of my own strength and my resilience.
This is all very new to me. It’s all very uncomfortable. I don’t like to talk about it or think about. But I don’t want to hide from the difficulty of these emotions and conversations. I don’t want to run away from my anger, from my exhaustion. I don’t want to heal myself in the dark. I want to move forward—gently, steadily—to the light with my eyes wide open. I want to find closure by opening myself up to hard truths.
I talked to my mom about all of this last night—namely, the likelihood that someone very close to us might’ve been my first experience of sexual assault at twelve years old. She listened quietly, and I could hear in her voice caution as she tried to digest this possibility—so as to not implicate this person, so as to not jump to certain fuzzy conclusions.
And while I could feel my own self sinking back into that unspoken “Are you sure?”, while I started to hear my own self say, “But I could be wrong”, I stopped myself and took a breath and told her in not so many words that, in this case, I’m choosing to believe myself, my inner knowing, my body’s sensations.
That, to me, is one of the best ways I am beginning to release anger toward my violators and on the people who cater to them: by standing up and affirming myself, telling myself over and over and over, “I believe you.”
That is how I am healing myself.