I don’t want to brag, but I just changed the world. Not kidding. I know, I know…one person can’t change the world, right? Well, that’s sort of right. I mean, what can one girl do? The world is so big! But you know what? I might not be able to change a whole lot, but I can change some. A little. Even one single thing. Change one person’s perspective. Yep, I can do that. I know this, because I just did. And that’s how you change the world, right? One person at a time.
In a recent post of mine (Post Election Triggers), I talked about how, as a sexual abuse survivor, I was triggered by the audio tapes of our president elect, describing how he can sexually assault women because he’s famous. Most people don’t understand this. I can see that. If you haven’t been sexually assaulted, you can’t understand. Even for many women who actually have been sexually assaulted, they don’t understand, either. These women I’m referring to have fascinating, intricate brains that changed thought processes after the abuse as a coping mechanism…essentially numbing them through denial or self blame. I know this because that used to be me, until I was lucky enough to find myself on a path of healing. I performed exhausting work on rewiring my brain, and people like me are fully aware of the effects of trauma. Just because I’ve rewired some of my thought processes, doesn’t mean I’m immune to triggers.
I have to say, listening to the actual tape was not the worst part for me. Sure, hearing him talk stirred up emotions of fear, shame and anxiety. Worse, though…it was the response of much of the country that hurt. It was listening to people minimize, dismiss, laugh at, demean and criticize my feelings. It was listening to people say they didn’t care about what he said or did. It was listening to people call the accusing women “liars”. It was listening to people compare his words to “50 Shades of Gray”. It was listening to people say they were fine with what he did, because the husband of his opponent did the same thing. And it wasn’t just people…it was my friends. It was painful to listen to people that are supposed to care about me, not care about me. I listened to them say that his abuse is okay because other people have done the same thing. Crazy.
I did my best to explain that I was not criticizing people for their political choice…we all get to choose who we want. My problem was with people choosing him and not calling him out on the hurtful things he said. Whether it was about sexual assault, racism, mocking disabilities….I have a real problem with people not condemning these things…not so much politically, but on a human level. Yes, you can stick to your political party AND call these people out on their hate. You can do both.
I lost a few friends over this. They couldn’t get past the political part, and were not going to bend for anyone. They didn’t care who got hurt, as long as Clinton did not win. One girl, who had been my friend for 30 years, stuck to her political guns and stood by her comment “Adult women have a responsibility to report sexual assault at the time of the event, or they are just as guilty as the one who assaults them” (referring to women who wait years to come forward). Well, I waited 30 years to tell my story…
I let my emotions get the best of me one day, when I posted a quote on Facebook about many women watching the equivalent of their abuser being elected to the presidency, and to be kind to them…as chances are you know multiple. Obviously, the post was referring to me. The first comment was from a male friend who said “…and 4 brave men in Benghazi were unavailable for comment”. This was a perfect example of how crazy this election was. Here I am, putting it out to the world that I am hurting because of sexual abuse, and a man minimized it, because of what happened in Benghazi. Don’t get me wrong, I feel horrible about what happened in Benghazi. I hate that those men died. It was truly awful. But what the hell does that have to do with sexual assault?! It’s OK for sexual abuse to occur rampantly in this country because people have died elsewhere? I should shut up about my pain and not care about Trump assaulting women because of what happened in Benghazi? I don’t matter because of what happened in Benghazi?
I told this friend to “eff off” and deleted him…along with a few others who chimed in. One of them said “Whoa! So you think rape is worse than murder?” …like it’s even appropriate to compare the two things. Rape is OK because murder is worse?? It made no sense, and was so cold and hurtful. I really struggled the week of the election.
OK, I’m sure you’re wondering where the hell the part is about me changing the world. Fast forward to last week: the friend who made the original comment, the guy who I de-friended on Facebook…he sends me a private message, wishing me a happy birthday, sending his love…like I didn’t just tell him to “eff off” 2 weeks ago. I was perplexed. I contemplated ignoring it, but I didn’t. I told him I was surprised to see his message, that it was as if he didn’t recall our interaction. He said he wasn’t going to stop loving me because we had a fight, and he apologized for hurting me and wanted to know what it was he needed to do to make things right with me. Damn. I’ve never had that happen before. That really happened!! I cried. Finally, someone validated me. Finally, I felt worthy to one of “those people” who were making me feel like I didn’t matter. And I didn’t just think of me…I felt like it was validating all women who were feeling this way. I ended up sharing my story of sexual assault and he was so apologetic, saying he wished he had known. I told him it’s too bad that people have to either be directly affected by this or have someone they know be directly affected by this in order to be mindful of feelings. It’s too bad we have to share our story in order to get people to understand, yet at the same time, we share our stories and people still don’t care. We shouldn’t have to work so hard to get people to care.
So, this guy now has a new viewpoint on sexual assault, and more so on people’s feelings. This may sound like a post on sexual assault victims (well, OK…it sort of is), but it’s more about a solution to much of the anger in our country. We need to care about each other’s feelings, even if we don’t understand them. When someone else is hurting, I am not the one who gets to decide if they should feel hurt…they are. If I ever hurt someone’s feelings unintentionally, I will always be sorry and ask what I can do to make it better. I will not make them feel small or stupid or childish for having feelings, whether I understand them or agree with them or not. I will not tell them that I didn’t intend to hurt them, therefore they shouldn’t feel hurt. This is not what’s been happening lately, in this country of ours. People are calling other people losers, whiners, “too sensitive”, drama queens….for having feelings. They tell people to “toughen up” when they are hurt. This makes the hurt person angry, too….which leads them to want to hurt the other person, and next thing you know, we have a country full of people hurting each other. We are all different. We all react differently to situations and trauma. Instead of being a divided country that hurts each other, we need to unite and heal each other.
So, that sounds like a great plan, but is that going to happen? Probably not. The anger runs pretty deep in America. But you know what? It happened between two people. It happened to me and my friend. I can bet the next time he sees a woman talking about feeling scared regarding our president and sexual abuse, he’s going to respond differently. And I’m pretty sure he’s going to come across this scenario, as there’s so many of us out there. So many of us that are speaking up and sharing our stories. Speaking up makes a difference. Calling people out makes a difference. Not to everyone, but to some. And if I can get one person to change their views and want to help heal a person, maybe you can, too. You don’t have to be a superhero and change the whole world. Just be superhero-ish … change one person’s world.
This post is a part of Linda G. Hill’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday. The prompt was “SH”. I had to use a word that had those letters in it, and let it flow…totally organic writing with no edits.
We’ve all heard this question…”Why don’t women tell?” It’s a common one, especially in the wake of allegations against our president-elect. I’ve seen, and partaken in, many highly charged discussions about whether or not those women were making the story up. “Why would a woman wait 30 years, just before an election, to tell her story? Seems fishy.” Sure, it’s possible they aren’t telling the truth. We all know that some women do make up stories, which is unfortunate. However, it makes perfect sense to me as to why they would tell their stories now. I know because, well… I waited 31 years to tell mine. Well, one of mine. Yeah, I’ve got more than one…which I think might be pretty typical, unfortunately.
See, these women all came out right before the election because that just so happens to be when the audio tape came out. You know, that “grab em by the pussy” tape. That’s when they were validated. I can hear their inner voices now, “That’s exactly what happened to me”. I’ll bet they’ve spent all these years thinking badly about themselves…ashamed, guilty, second-guessing…”am I over-reacting? Did I lead him on?” They often end up feeling disgusted with themselves, “how could I let that happen?”, and the last thing they want is for other people to know about it. I know, it doesn’t make sense, but those emotions are really what a lot of women feel after sexual assault. It’s the brain’s bizarre way of making the event easier on you. If you minimize it, or blame yourself, it makes what happened to you a bit more palatable. That is, until something happens and you realize the truth.
One of my less traumatic stories only took 3 years to tell. I had received a gift certificate for a massage as a birthday gift from my sister. Turns out, the massage therapist was a former co-worker of mine, someone who I’d heard was let go for sexual harassment. I never really knew all the facts to the story, so even though a red flag appeared when I saw it was him, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Plus, I was already harboring my almost 30-year-old, much bigger story, so I was in no position to stand up for myself. Anyway, the massage starts out normal enough. Half way through, I roll over, under the sheet, for him to work on the front. You know, they rub the front of your legs, your arms, face, shoulders, breasts…oh wait, that’s right. Breasts are not normally part of a therapeutic massage. Unfortunately, lying naked in a corner office on the second floor of an isolated building while harboring 30-year-old secrets of sexual abuse does not make one feel very strong. I hightailed it out of there as soon as it was over, just wanting to put it out of my mind.
I kept this story to myself for 3 years. Do you know what made me decide to tell, after all that time? A news story. I read a news story about him being charged with inappropriately touching a woman during a massage. The police were asking anyone with more information to contact them. Should I contact them? It’s not like he raped me. That’s right, I seriously believed “groping” was not sexual assault. While working at the hospital, I remember telling another nurse the story I read in the paper, and describing my massage event with her. As I was saying, “what if I say something and I’m making a mistake…what if it was just part of the massage?” , one of the doctors overheard, and interrupted me. “Are you kidding? A man touched your breasts and you’re wondering if it was just part of the massage? Have you ever seen me touch a woman’s breasts during an examination? No, you haven’t. That’s because I’m not a gynecologist”. Wow. I felt dumb, yet validated. I ended up calling the police station and giving my statement. I never did hear what happened to him. I’m sure he got off on some technicality, or some lenient judge, or any of the other reasons men get to keep doing these things to us.
Like I said, that’s just one of my stories. That’s the least damaging one. Just groping. Compared to the other things that have happened to me, it seemed silly to even talk about it, except really, I know it’s not silly. It’s serious. Damn serious. It’s too bad that all my previous sexual trauma normalized this experience, and made it seem silly. It’s too bad that groping, sexual comments, inappropriate touching…all the “minor” unwanted sexual assaults are so common in society that it really is no big deal for people to hear about it. It’s accepted as something that men do. Women who complain about it are often brushed off, not believed or thought of as drama queens or prudes. Who wants to go through that, after having gone through the damn assault? No one. And the thing about telling is… no one will ever look at you the same again. Even if they don’t believe your story, you won’t be just you anymore. You’ll be “the woman who lied about being groped”. I’ve just started telling my story. No, not the massage story. The bigger, dirtier, more traumatic story from my childhood. The hardest part about telling was wondering what people…what my friends… were going to think of me. 30 years of shame led me to assume everyone was going to think of me as dirty, as disgusting…as shameful. They didn’t. But they do look at me differently. I’m not just Jami anymore. Now I’m Jami, the childhood sexual abuse survivor. People can’t help but associate that with me now. I don’t blame them. If you’d heard the story, you would too. I spent 30 years telling myself a different story. I spent 30 years trying to create a new person…”Fake Jami”…someone who was not dirty, not insecure, not weak. Once I shared my story, the jig was up. People were going to know I was a fraud. It was really,and I mean REALLY hard to share my story. It took months of intense therapy to get me to the point where I could say it. I can try to explain it here as much as I want, but honestly, if it hasn’t happened to you, you probably won’t get it. And that’s the problem right now…people don’t get it. Half the country doesn’t get it. They don’t get what it’s like to go on Facebook and see a meme making fun of the accusers. They don’t get what it’s like to have your sexual assault compared to 50 Shades of Grey. It’s a fine line between standing up for yourself and being the “annoying feminist friend”. So, I can shut up, stay out of it and let things stay the way they are, or I can speak up and try to change even a tiny bit of this rape culture that our society has normalized. Guess which one I choose?
I cried today. I haven’t cried in weeks, maybe longer. There was a period of months this year when I was hard pressed to find a day where I didn’t cry. I’m not like that anymore. I’m better now. I’m stronger now. I’m out of my cocoon…aren’t I? I thought I was. I peeled off those painful layers and processed each one…sobbing, aching, fearing…I did that already. I’m all done with the part of therapy where you physically feel your emotions and memories. I’m all done with flashbacks, nausea, hyper-vigilance, insecurity, depression…fear. I made it out to the other side. I found my voice. I told my story. I released my shame. I became confident. I became me. Right? Isn’t that what I’ve been telling you all about? About finding me? Becoming the butterfly? I’ve been admiring my wings for weeks now. That part was over….wasn’t it? I’m confused. Why would I start crying today? Why would I feel nauseated, nervous, and small? Because someone I didn’t vote for was elected president? That happens all the time and I just roll with it…that’s how democracy goes…you can’t win them all. No, it’s not because my choice didn’t win. I knew my choice wouldn’t win. I voted 3rd party. What the hell was going on?
It started this morning, driving to work. My eyes started stinging and a few small tears rolled down my face. Where did that come from? I rubbed them away and went into the office. Coming home a few hours later, it happened again. I went inside and it just flowed. Sobbing, I started to release pain I thought I had already released. Wait…why is this still here? I already did this. I spent thousands of dollars on therapy this year. I’m better now….aren’t I? As I realized those emotions were real, and I was turning into an earlier version of me, I panicked and I stuffed them down. I stuffed those emotions back into that box that held on to them for so many years. I had to sit on the lid to make them fit, but I did it. Snap out of it, Jami. Stop being such a baby. You’re acting like a drama queen. I scolded myself, which I’m not supposed to be doing anymore, but it worked. I proudly pulled myself together, pulled up my big girl panties, stopped crying and went back to work.
As I went about the rest of my morning, I held the lid to the box down pretty good. I could tell it was trying to open, so I had to be vigilant. I kept busy with work…my go-to distraction. Still, in between those distracting work thoughts and chores, I did my “other” work. You know, the thinking work. The work you do during therapy to process everything that’s happening. The work you don’t really want to do, but you have to do. The work that comes with the package of opening up that damn box. I kept thinking about why I was so tearful. What was it, exactly, that was making me so….so what? I couldn’t even come up with a word for it. Sad? Angry? Scared? Disappointed? Sort of. I did feel a little bit of all of those things, but that wasn’t “it”. I started to judge myself. I mean really, how would I feel if she had won, instead? I know I wouldn’t be happy then, either. I hate what happened in Benghazi. She’s politics as usual, and I hate politics as usual. So, what the hell is wrong with me? I thought of all my friends who voted for him, along with half of the country. Oh. Wait a minute. I think I’m on to something. As soon as I started to think of his supporters, I started crying again. Weird. What is it? What is THIS feeling? Oh, I’ve got it….abandonment. Of course! This is triggering feelings of abandonment in me. That’s why I was feeling so small, so invisible, so…unlovable. So similar to the feelings I had when I was being abused and the people who were supposed to support me, supposed to nurture me…looked the other way. I know, I know…the people who voted for him weren’t knowingly telling me my feelings don’t matter, they weren’t intentionally telling me I’m not worthy, but that’s how it felt. Intent or no intent, feelings are feelings. Ha! And here I was, all cocky, saying things like, “Back when I had PTSD”. I just figured I had conquered PTSD because I went to intense, frequent therapy. I worked at therapy like it was a full-time job, and I was successful. I crawled out of that hole and the PTSD was gone. Poof! So easy, really. All you have to do is put in the work. Symptom free for months now. Ha ha. So not true. I haven’t been having any PTSD symptoms because I had removed the triggers. I removed my husband, I removed my toxic family members, I spoke up for myself, I gained confidence, I spoke up against misogyny …all was well. But only because I removed my triggers, and I never even realized that was what I was doing. Then, the election neared. Yes, he was a giant trigger. But somehow, he seemed so distant, and by speaking up against sexual assault, I felt powerful. No way would America choose someone like this, someone who likes to intimidate people, speak down to people, mock people…just because of their race, gender, religion, disability or country of origin. No way would they choose him, especially with Republican women like me speaking up. No way.
But choose him, they did. And that is hard for me to handle. They are just words to them. Words said 11 years ago. No matter that those words were him admitting he sexually assaulted women= No matter that those words were him admitting he entered the dressing rooms of 15-year-old girls= No matter= No matter that it bothers me= No matter that I’ve been sexually assaulted= I don’t matter. Intellectually, I know that is not true. I know I matter. But, that’s the thing with trauma. It doesn’t really give a shit about how intelligent you are or what you understand about trauma. It bypasses your intelligence and hits you where it counts…in your soul. You can’t just talk yourself out of that shit. You just can’t.
I emailed my therapist today. I had a check in with her a few weeks ago after my husband moved out. Nothing major, just checked in. I’ve been kind of proud for not needing to go there anymore. I’ve been feeling like the badass, appliance fixing, independent single mom that I became over the past few weeks. Today, while I was crying, and not crying, and stuffing emotions back into that horrible box inside my soul, I wasn’t badass anymore. I was ashamed. I felt ashamed for feeling so emotional about something as routine as an election. Do I need more therapy? I felt like a failure. How could I have gone through all of that intense therapy, done all of that work, felt so damn good…fixed my damn washing machine TWICE… and be right back where I started?! I sent her an email, just looking for validation, I guess. Honestly, I don’t really know what I was looking for. I asked her if I was normal. I asked her if this was what all women like me were going through today. I asked her, “It’s going to go away, right?” I figured I would get a response tomorrow morning, as that’s when she seems to check her emails. So, when she called me, I wasn’t ready. I already stuffed the damn feelings down, Susan…I can’t talk about them now! I stared at the phone, deciding to let it go to voicemail. I just couldn’t bring myself to answer. I felt ashamed for feeling ashamed. God, I hate this. At the last second, I answered. She asked me if I was OK. I started crying, but I didn’t want her to know I was crying, so I kept my answers short. I was embarrassed. I was driving and hoped the sound of the car would hide my cracking voice, but we both knew better. I said I was fine, just surprised at the emotions I was having. She let me know I was not the first one to call today, and that a lot of her clients were upset and crying. I said, “Oh good, that makes me feel better”. But I was lying. I’m sitting there crying, listening to her tell me that there’s other women doing the same thing, and a voice in my head is calling them whiners. And that voice was calling me a whiner, too. Jesus, what the hell is wrong with me? She asked again if I was ok, if I wanted to come in. I’m fine. Just surprised. I think I said that phrase 3 or 4 times, acting as though she’s the one who initiated contact, not me. We hung up. I went in my house, flopped on the bed, and let it out. I mean LET IT OUT… crying like it was last February and I just told her about my abuse for the first time. Crying like it was this summer and I was confronting my husband with things I can’t share with you right now. Crying like I hadn’t done a damn bit of therapy. Like I was still “damaged goods Jami”.
I posted a tweet on Facebook about asking people to be nice because many women are going through what I was going through today. The first comment was from an old coworker, saying something about the men that died in Benghazi. His comment totally dismissed what I said. I told him to “fuck off”. I never do that. I always try to be respectful, even when I disagree. But you know what? Today, I just did not have it in me to respect people who would cause me to feel this way, specifically after I asked them to be nice. I did not have it in me to be respectful to people who only respect things that are convenient or easy for them. I have no problem respecting people who vote for Trump, when they acknowledge how horrible his behavior is. I get it. We had two shitty major candidates to choose from, and you have to choose someone. I get it. What I don’t get is choosing one and not acknowledging the horrible things, and only acknowledging the horrible things the other candidate has done. Not fair. I told him that Benghazi has nothing to do with sexual assault. I am sick and tired of people justifying bad behavior simply because other people have demonstrated worse or equal bad behavior. Like saying Trump’s “words” are not as bad as Clinton’s “actions”. Bullshit. They are both bad. Both Trump and Bill Clinton sexually assaulted women. One is not worse than the other. Why can’t they both be denounced? Benghazi is bad. The emails are bad. It’s all bad. How can they decide which “bads” to dismiss, and which “bads” to be angry about? I don’t get it. I don’t want to get it.
So, that’s my vent today. I can’t be badass every day, you know.