If, like me, you are a sexual assault survivor, you are struggling right now. Dr. Ford’s testimony was more than one woman’s story; it was a testament to what so many women have experienced and hidden for most of their lives.
I have similar stories in my life—so many traumatic stories that when the movement started, all I could admit is #MeToo.
I knew all my abusers: I can see their faces, hear their words, smell their scents, and feel their hands and bodies on mine as if it were yesterday. I may not be able to recall the address of each of the locations or the first and last names of my abusers—but I’m pretty sure if I had to, I could research those things based on the details I do remember.
That’s how traumatic memories work—the things we wish we could forget burn themselves into our long-term memories. They become the very fabric of our lives and shape every decision and thought process afterwards. The nonessential details or the mundane experiences fade.
These sexual experiences have created relationship and self-worth issues for me that have taken countless therapy sessions and self-help books to correct. I’ve worked hard at denying the lies I believed about others: that men were justified in their abuse because I deserved it. I now know that I am not responsible for other people’s choices and behaviors. However, I still battle with the lies I believe about myself: that I am only valuable as a sexual object and that no one can ever truly love me for who I am. I am getting healthier but am still not completely healed yet.
After the assaults, the only things I could control were what I did with those memories. Mostly, I kept them to myself. Why?
- Because I fear that I wouldn’t be believed. I couldn’t imagine sharing the deepest pain of my life just to have people not believe me or accuse me of ulterior motives. Or even worse, to have my abusers deny what they did to me instead of apologizing for their behavior. The additional trauma I would suffer would be exponential.
- Because, to put it simply, I don’t want to share my stories. They are painful. They have been shoved so deep in my memory that it gives me physical and emotional pain to recall them.
- Because I’m ashamed. I know I can’t blame my 5, 10, 18 or even 23-year-old self for what teenage boys and men did to me, but my shame shield is immediately activated when I think about what these things may say about my self-worth.
- Because sharing sometimes has negative consequences. The few times I have shared a story or two, either I felt so much shame I ended the friendship, or I received sympathy—not empathy—from the person I entrusted; it somehow made me feel less than human. Sharing would also mean I’d have to open myself up to be scrutinized or ruin my or someone else’s life with my truth.
- Because most of my abusers were teenagers. As I age, I realize many of these boys were probably lost, confused, misinformed, or maybe even hurting. My hope is that these boys changed, that they realized the error of their ways and became better men as they matured and had families.
Yet, I still fear that my silence has continued the cycle of abuse. What if my silence allowed the boys to continue assaulting others? What if these boys who took advantage of a lost, wounded, little girl — for I was always a lost, wounded, little girl even at 23 when I found myself in that small, dark place — grew up to be men who took advantage of lost, wounded, little girls? It’s too painful to think about, so instead I chose to believe my teenage abusers were driven by youth and curiosity, rather than evil intent. Perhaps that makes me naïve or a coward or just an optimist, but whatever the label, I did what I needed to do to survive and heal.
With healing, I have been able to use my painful experiences to become a better person, mother, and teacher. I can empathize and support those who have experienced similar pain. I can guide, advise, and correct those who need help understanding gender inequality and what it means to be a woman. I have already made my peace and continue to use my experiences to help others.
I guess the only other question I want to ask and try to answer is: What would it take to give actual details of the assaults?
It would require something of monumental importance for me to name my abusers and share the details—something that would require me to sacrifice my personal safety and health for the greater good. The decision would not be made lightly, but with soul searching, plenty of counsel, and the hope that it would make the world a better place.
Honestly, I still don’t know if that would be enough to dredge up the past, but a few things I know for sure: I would never relay the details of those nightmares to get attention or for a political agenda. I’m worth more than that.