I wrote that as my FaceBook status earlier this week in solidarity. I wasn’t going to elaborate because I didn’t feel the need to. Then, I saw a post earlier today that took the breath out of my body. It was something to the effect that a male doubted the validity of all the #metoo posts on his feed because, well…. The women he saw posting it were normal women, leading normal lives. I mean, if you really lived through something that horrible, wouldn’t you be really suffering and not out living a normal, day to day life? Wouldn’t you have reported it and gone through the court system? Wouldn’t your life be in shambles if all that really happened? And IF IT DID really happen, it is your responsibility to report it. If you don’t and he rapes again, it’s on you. Be an #IKnew not a #MeToo….
There is so much I could write. So. Much. But I’ll do my best to be concise at telling a story that has a million chapters. In order to address what I want to in regards to the opinion above, I have to share my #MeToo story. But, I have the problem (not unlike many others) wherein, when it came time to open up and share my #metoo story, it was not a question of how do I tell my story, but WHICH story do I tell? I have a 30-year history of sexual abuse, assaults, and harassments to wade through. Do I share only the really awful ones? Just the first one? The last time it happened? How do you tell a 30-year story that is complex and layered and one in which there seems to be no correct answers to your 40 thousand questions?
Do I tell the worst stories? The ones I can’t write about publicly because the wounds are too deep, and the repercussions are too great? The ones from childhood that shaped me as a person and left me wondering who the hell I could have been had none of it happened?
“You asked him to….”
Do I share the one from my teenage years when and ex-boyfriend decided he wanted one last go around, ignored me when I told him to stop, and so I just laid still and waited for it to be over? Do I share how confusing it was, that I did (and sometimes still do) have trouble admitting to myself that it was an assault because, well…. It was an ex-boyfriend. It doesn’t count if you had already slept with them before… right? And I never fought back, so it doesn’t count, right?
“What, you think you’re the first girl that’s been made to do something you didn’t want to do?”
Or do I share the one from my early 20’s? When my live-in boyfriend was more concerned with getting the “experience” he wanted than he was concerned with me and if I was ok with what was happening. I had to hit him as hard as I could to get him to stop, so does it count? I bled for two days and had to lie and say I hurt my leg muscle, teaching my dance classes while seated in a chair because I was in too much pain to move around. No, I didn’t report it, I assumed it wasn’t a real assault…. How could it be? I was embarrassed, humiliated. He was my boyfriend. We lived together. Does it still count?
“If it really happened like that, you would have pressed charges.”
Do I just tell those really bad ones? Or do I cast the net wider to include the ones where hands were laid on me in inappropriate ways? The 8th grade art teacher who put his hands on my ass and inner thighs because I wasn’t sitting properly in the pottery chair and he needed to correct how I was sitting. Why the F%$# didn’t he say “you need to be sitting closer to the wheel” instead? In what world was it necessary for him to put his hands on my ass and in between my legs?
“Sometimes 13-year-old girls can be dramatic…”
Or that one time I was at a party, and had been drinking. When I went to leave, a guy I had just met offered to help me put on my boots. You can imagine my shock when, instead of helping me put on my boots, he shoved his hand up my skirt. I was so shocked that my first reflex was to kick. I kicked him in the face, and knocked him over. Then I APOLOGIZED TO HIM for kicking him. It was only later on that I realized how messed up that really is.
“But you were drunk….”
Or do I cast the net wider still and include all the times I was harassed? Scared? Threatened? On the street, at school, at work, at the gym, the mall, the grocery store… Honestly, I couldn’t even if I wanted to. Those times are so numerous that it’s just a blur.
“It’s a compliment, you should be grateful…”
“Just wait, a day will come when no one notices you anymore. You’ll miss it then.”
But what does the fall out look like? I’m not sitting in a courtroom somewhere, so was my experience legitimate? If I never pressed charges, why didn’t I? Its hard to describe what a lifetime of grooming will do to you. Grooming to accept that this is just a part of life, what it means to be female. Groomed to believe that it was your fault, and you need to keep quiet so that no one will ever find out how truly awful and damaged you really are.
That’s the kicker. Knowing that, even as I type this, there are people who will read it and fully believe that everything listed above was my fault, or that I didn’t deal with it correctly. I know there will be people in my real, everyday life that will now think less of me, that will view me as attention-seeking, and avoid eye contact with me when they see me in public. How do I know that? Because I’ve watched them do it before. You want to know why women take 30 years to come forward with allegations? Because shame is powerful, and it runs deep, especially when it starts at 5 years old.
“You’re such a drama queen…”
So, if my story doesn’t look like a police report, what does #MeToo look like for me? It looks like this:
It looks like an empty side of the bed. That’s when the anxiety hits the worst, around 2 or 3am. Sometimes I can sleep again before my kids get up, sometimes I can’t and I’m just tired the rest of the day. I make jokes about being a “hot mess” and how my kids kept me up, but often, they didn’t. The reality is that I was awake pacing my house for three hours, trying to calm the thought spiral.
In the teen years (and into the twenties) it looked like disordered eating, cutting, and terrible poetry. It looked like a hatred towards my own body that was so intense, it is painful to think about years later. At times in my teens and twenties, it also looked like a pain so great, I just wanted to go to sleep and not wake up…
It looks like counselling appointments and crying behind closed doors. Sometimes, it looks like medication. It looks like books and workshops and other methods of “self-care” and “self-improvement,” because I will go to the ends of the earth and back in order to make up for all these faults… It also looks like fear. Fear that I will be judged as an unfit parent. Because if you are a mother and you admit to struggling with mental health issues, god help you…
It looks like horrible anxiety. Terrified that the worst thing in the world is just around the corner at all times. Some days are ok, and you get on with life. You look normal. Other days, every time your child leaves the house, you’re imagining school shootings, abductions, and drunk drivers. Dropping them off at school takes work, so, so much work. Nearly every time your husband leaves for a hitch you keep the last shirt he was wearing and don’t wash it, because when he is killed (like you’ve imagined 1000 times before) you want to be able to remember his smell. Nearly every time your family is in a car on a highway, you have to work extremely hard not to hyperventilate, even though the next deadly car crash is just a moment away. This makes family vacations super fun.
It also looks like Disney and the Food Network…. Because I can’t risk getting triggered by something upsetting in a movie or TV show. I can’t risk getting lost in a thought spiral or a flashback. I have to make two lunches, pick up my daughter, and make it to the pool in time for swim lessons at 4, I do not have time to fall apart. I have to be so incredibly careful of the media I consume, because I can’t afford to be “set off.”
It looks like crying, big, heavy tears, and apologies to my husband. Apologies that I am “damaged goods” and that he got cheated out of something better. No matter how many times he reminds me that “damaged goods” is a concept that simply does not exist, that we all have our baggage. No matter how many times he reminds me that everything I have gone through has made me the person I am today, and it is this person he chose to marry and be the mother of his kids… No matter how many times he tells me how valuable I am… That patriarchal crap runs deep in my veins, and it is hard to shake.
For some of us, it gets worse with time and not better. Having kids of your own is a particular curve ball in all this, especially when you have daughters… Sometimes you really can’t wrap you head around just how young 5 years old really is, until you are staring into it’s tiny face at your breakfast table each morning…
This is a small slice of what #MeToo looks like. There are a million other stories with a million other complexities. Most of this is never spoken about, never shared. You never see the repercussions of anything, because we keep it hidden. Because I keep it hidden. Because that is what we’ve been taught to do, what I’ve been taught to do. Be ashamed, be embarrassed, keep it hidden.
“Don’t let anyone know. It makes people uncomfortable. No one wants to hear about this. What will people think? Don’t air your dirty laundry…”
The reality is that, we are all coping the best we can, and pretending that everything is fine. You think we are nice, normal people, just going through life, because that is what we’ve allowed you to see. Just because we aren’t falling apart in front of you, don’t assume it isn’t happening.
There are so, so many reasons why women stay quiet, why I’ve stayed quiet. If you speak out, you are treated differently, you are judged harshly, and you have to be able to take it. You have to be able to lose friends and family, entire support systems. Not everyone wants you to have your validation, to have your story heard. To be frank, so many of us don’t speak out because we don’t have it in us to deal with the fall out. We don’t have the financial or emotional stamina to deal with the court system, especially if the abuse/assault was years ago, and especially if we haven’t lived the perfect “lily white” life that is expected of victims. We don’t have it in us to take it all on, and leave the process emotionally and financially empty, with little to no chance of conviction for our perpetrator. When you already feel like a broken shell of a person, how do you take on that kind of judgment and damnation? How do you take it on without completely breaking? We look around, see how hard it is for the ones that do speak out, and stay quiet…
We’ve kept so much hidden, not spoken about, so that everyone around us can feel comfortable. No one wants to hear about these things, no one wants to feel the awful feelings that come up when these things are discussed, and so we keep it hidden. No one wants to deal with their own crap, and what they’ve done that has contributed to the problem. No one wants a part in this. They want to pass blame, put it on the one who is hurting. They want to point a finger anywhere but in the mirror. And so, they do, they blame others. It’s on us to prevent terrible things from happening, no matter what the circumstances are.
So, we smile, we make jokes, we live our lives… and we pace the house at 3am. All so that you don’t have to deal with us, and what has happened to us over the years. All so that you can feel comfortable. Comfortable knowing that “If it really did happen, she should have pressed charges. It’s on her.”
If any of the italicized comments above upset you, know that they were said to me by women. Its not just up to the men to change, we all need to. Like I said, that patriarchy crap runs deep… For the sake of the next generation coming up, can we please start talking about this and dealing with it? Can we please start doing things differently? Because I’ve had just about all I can handle… And I’d really like a full night’s sleep.