It’s been a rough time for me ever since the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings. But not for the normal “I’m a liberal and I’m supposed to be outraged about this” reason. Not even because of the constant “this country is on a runaway train headed straight to hell” feeling that has lived in the pit of my stomach ever since the 2016 election kicked into high gear. This is different. This is personal.
This has been a brutal, infuriating and yes, triggering time for me because (deep breath) … I am a sexual abuse survivor.
As a kid, over a period of several years, someone I was close to coerced, manipulated, and shamed me into doing various sex acts I did not want to do. On at least one occasion, this person sexually assaulted me. And I never told another living soul about any of it until I was forty-seven years old.
Why did I stay silent? That’s … complicated. I didn’t report it because “I was just a kid.” I didn’t report it because “it was no big deal.” I didn’t report it because I loved and looked up to him — hell, even after everything, I still love him, even if any respect is long gone. I didn’t report it because I didn’t have the ability at the time to put into words what was happening, or why it was wrong, or how it made me feel. I didn’t report it because I didn’t think anyone would believe me. I didn’t report it because I was ashamed.
But the biggest reasons I kept quiet is that I thought I was alone, that I was the only person this was happening to, and that everything that was happening was my fault.
This is why the confirmation hearing and the circus surrounding it was so brutal for survivors like me: Every time I heard about poor Brett Kavanaugh and how much he was suffering during this ordeal, how his reputation was being destroyed, how his life was ruined — I couldn’t help but think: Really? Brother, you have no idea what ruined feels like.
Every time I heard someone say “If this was so traumatic, why would she wait thirty-five years to say anything?” I would bite my tongue and squeeze my eyes shut to keep from blurting out: I KNOW EXACTLY WHY! Because I couldn’t tell anyone either. Not my friends, not my pastor, not my mother, not my father, not my sisters, and certainly not the police. Heck, I was married for over twenty-five years before I could even tell my wife.
And every time Christine Ford was questioned and sometimes even outright mocked for her lack of perfect recall, I was reminded of my own fuzzy and tricky memories. How I’ve spent a lifetime trying to forget everything that happened, how those hazy gaps could be used as a weapon against me, and yet how despite my best efforts, other things remain “indelible in the hippocampus.” Things like the freefalling in my gut when his comforting touch on my shoulder suddenly and unexpectedly turned threatening.
Every careless word from a friend over the last many weeks brought it all back, and the scars I thought had healed would tear open, just a little bit, all over again.
I’ve written before about my mental health issues. Depression has been a lifelong companion of mine, with a side order of anxiety. I get antsy in crowds, in stores with tall aisles, sitting in traffic, anyplace where it feels like my escape path has been cut off. I get jumpy at unexpected loud noises. Not only that, but up until a couple years ago, there probably wasn’t a day that went by — good days and bad days, happy days and sad days — when I didn’t think about killing myself. Not that I woke up every morning with a plan to kill myself, mind you. That really isn’t how it worked. Rather, there were random, unbidden, unwelcome, persistent thoughts that would tap me on the shoulder: Hey, remember us?
These thoughts were something that for the longest time, I just accepted as normal. The background noise of life. But it wasn’t normal; it was residue.
Are my mental health issues entirely the result of this particular trauma? That’s hard to say; brains are complicated. But there is zero doubt in my mind that this is where the path forked for me. So I did what all survivors do; I made the best of it.
I have had much happiness and love in my life. I have wonderful people who love me, and whom I love deeply. I have a deep faith that has comforted me and given me strength. But the shame and the anger and the fear and the anxiety never really left me. It was always there, lurking in the background. Sometimes it rushed into the foreground. Occasionally, it overtook me.
A few years ago, when I finally did tell someone what happened to me, I told my wife, my therapist, and my best friend. They have been amazing in helping me put this back together. It’s been a slog back to wellness since then, but we’re getting there.
I have also told a few other select people when I felt it might be helpful to them in understanding something, but mostly this is something I don’t like to talk about, for the obvious reason that it’s still pretty painful, but also because, honestly, my personal trauma is none of your damn business.
Yet now, here I am, telling the internet.
So…why? And why now?
Because I’m tired. Tired of being quiet. Tired of biting my tongue, of worrying about whether I’m making everyone uncomfortable. I’m tired of keeping secrets, of giving other people control, of letting them dictate when it is or isn’t “appropriate” to tell my story. Yes, this is a shitty story, but this is my shitty story. I did not get to choose what happened to me, but I do get to decide who I tell it to, when and where I tell it, and how and how much of it I tell.
I believe in the power of stories to change things. To change people. Even if they are shitty stories. Maybe especially if they are shitty ones. So I’m telling mine now. Not because I want your sympathy, and not because I want to exact revenge. I’m telling you simply because it’s time.
The biggest lie they told us is that we were alone, that we were the only ones this was happening to. But that was never true. There are a lot of us. I’m not going to go into the statistics, because I kind of find them overwhelming. But the sheer volume of women and men and girls and boys who have lived through some form of sexual violence during their lives is heartbreaking.
But there is also a strength in these numbers. Because there are enough of us — more than enough of us — to make a difference. To change things.
That change starts when we take ownership of our stories. When we tell our stories if we are able. When we remind each other that we are not damaged. When we remind each other that we are not ruined. When we state loudly and clearly that This. Was. Not. Our Fault. That we have nothing to be ashamed of. That we are strong, and that we are brave — that this is how we got to be survivors.
I am a sexual abuse survivor, and I am not ashamed.