For you this may be new-
this get back, keep your distance,
everything-poses-a-threat kind of life.
Six feet away feels more like six feet under.
But since I was little
I learned that the way I maneuver in my world would always be dictated by external sources.
Don't wear this, it will draw the kind of attention you don't want.
Don't sleep in the night, you'll be unprepared for the midnight monster.
Don't eat food in phallic shapes in front of hungry men.
My body has never been my own, it's been hijacked.
It follows societal instructions-
not based on my will or my agency
but from the rules that help me fly under the radar of greedy men.
Because how can you ever really trust a stranger when the people you know turn like snakes?
your eyes are opened to see the invisible dangers all around-
every surface contaminated
every person infected.
The virus is everywhere you always overlooked it before.
In the same way-
I catch the nuances of men's bad behaviors before the evidence
piles up as bodies at your feet.
I'm in an unending quarantine-
the threat never passes
the air never clears
my body is always telling me to stay 6 feet away.
I don't feel protected
I feel provoked-
like a jack-in-the-box, my body is crushed into accordion folds, pushed back into the box and told only to come out by the lever in your hand.
Eighteen years ago I walked through these doors.
So heavy I almost felt weightless.
One last cigarette
flick of the Bic before I spilled my guts to a jury of my peers
and all that tried to steal my confession as their eyes relayed their contempt for me.
They didn’t believe me because they thought they knew him.
They didn’t want to believe me because they really did know.
Because the truth is a stone that’s hard to swallow.
And if it were true, what would that make them? The ones who entertained him in their homes, and with their children?
The friend of a pedophile?
The coffee date who was so sick he lusted after a little girl?
I snuffed out my smoke
floated through the metal detector
walked up 2 flights of stairs I hoped would never end.
I sat in the box
(on what felt like a stage)
I confounded his attorney
he told enough truth that it made his whole story
I sat in the hall
staring at these doors
as the strangers I’d met only a few weeks ago
wrote my fate on a piece of paper to read to a judge who knew nothing about me
Would they believe me?
Ushered into the courtroom
diverting my eyes from all of those that heard the explicit details of everything I ever tried to hide.
He looked like a beaten puppy:
head down, sad eyes
I a l m o s t felt bad.
“Guilty” to every charge.
“Guilty” to 13 pleas.
It rang through the courtroom as
I entered my body again
breathed through the burning in my chest.
Relief and fear and sadness and happiness
and I didn’t know what feeling to land on.
He was taken away until sentencing.
Him in his orange jumper
feet and hands shackled.
No more puppy dog eyes
no more pouty face for the jury
in his ice blue eyes
as he glared at me when he walked by.
It was then I remembered
that I didn’t have to feel guilt over him living in the horrors of prison
because I didn’t send him there
he did that all by himself.
I was too weak to speak
I propped myself in the doorway in the hall
and whispered a thank you to each and every juror that walked by me.
With every syllable I felt the thumping in my chest rise to my throat and steal my breath from me.
He got 5 years.
They told me that was good
for a first offense
with no prior record.
for the insecurities and nightmares
for the jagged edges created in my world.
He did his time, I guess.
I’m still doing mine.
Trauma can radicalize the amount of time I spend in the past. Even when my thoughts are in the present, my subconscious mind is always searching for unsafety. The moments when my children's laughter grounds me, or I experience total embodiment from a beautiful sunset, those moments only last so long. Those brief and enlivening moments when I am fully present though, they are what it means to be human. So I want to keep my eyes on the tender moments of now, so that I can experience my children's laughter without looking for sharp edges. That I can see the beauty of a sunset without the fear of the darkness that accompanies.
Maybe instead of time being the one that gives (because it never does), maybe I need to bend a little more to the holy time that I am given. I can't smooth the wrinkles of life, but I can coalesce to the grace of the moment. The grace that's always there when I'm looking for it. I've found that I can't be what everyone needs me to be. I can rarely be what I need for myself. But I can slowly pour myself out: offering a hug, a roof, an ear, a meal, a heart of compassion. In giving, I'm also surrendering. Surrendering my expectations, acknowledging my limitations, understanding that it was never my role to be everything to everybody.
All I can do, all that is really asked of me, is that I pour myself out. My insubstantial and fragile abilities and efforts could be broken like the little boy's 5 loaves and 2 fish. That all I have to do to participate in the miracle, is to show up and be willing. To come with my holy and meager offerings by saying here I am, and to know that God's hands can take the little pieces of me and spread them before the multitudes with grace and fulfillment (and even leftovers). There's always multiplication in the breaking. When I give what I have, (which is never enough, but always the right amount), when I am broken from the inside out, I can expect the empty spaces of me to be filled with God himself, and that my life becomes more of a blessing because of it.
If anybody would have told me that twenty some odd years after my first experience with sexual abuse would still involve me actively seeking healing, I would have given up then and there. The journey is definitely different for everyone, the healing timeline is probably always infinite to some degree, yet the wholeness one can experience doesn't always have to be decades in duration. For me though, it has.
These few decades weren't necessarily filled with complete emotional misery. Our bodies have an amazing defense mechanism that allows us to almost totally disengage from our trauma. My trauma was still there, it was just beneath the surface, creating fault lines for me to step on later. Later came several years ago.
For me, the trauma was always so far removed that it was fairly easy to talk about. I have brown hair, green eyes, I love to hike and read, and I was sexually abused. That's about how non-emotive and irrationally calm I was. I mistook all of this for healing. While my mind had fragmented into a million displaced pieces so that I could function in life, I was living in an emotionally detached state. I logistically knew what happened, but I could not emotionally connect with it. I went through an intensive program for the sexually wounded, I had been to numerous counselors, yet it wasn’t until several years ago that this fragmentation began to make me feel like I was actually missing something. This "something" stirred all kinds of horrible emotions that made me spiral. Suddenly, I wasn't rational, I wasn't level-headed, I couldn't look at my abuser's face on the offender's registry and feel impartial. It amazed me what my body had kept secret from me all of these years, and how my unconscious memories came spilling out in the form of triggers to scents and sounds and seasons and those horrible nightmares that used to keep me in fear of sleep.
As my triggers were increasing, so were my anxiety and depression. Unfortunately, ignoring an outpouring of pent-up trauma is not the solution, it's not even a mediocre band-aid, it's a guaranteed way to send yourself into a tailspin. On a map, I could put a pin right in the middle of this tailspin with a sign that says YOU ARE HERE. I can’t sleep enough, I can’t feel content with my life in spite of the multitudinous reasons why I should. I find myself disengaging from my family because the pressure of being needed is, at times, insurmountable. I have isolated myself and kept my loved ones in the dark because being vulnerable on any level has felt violating. It has been difficult to find a therapist that is both covered by my health insurance and good at what they do. I was seeing a very gifted therapist only to have to give up on my sessions because of finances. I left therapy in the middle of digging into my greatest fears and terrors, the deepest depression of my life, and didn’t continue going anywhere at all. Then I went to a sexual healing conference that I thought would be beneficial, but only further triggered and damaged me.
Months after leaving therapy, months after ill-tending to my triggers, months of stuffing the bad stuff and hoping that it will just magically disappear, I found myself almost incapable of normalcy. It's discouraging. No, if I'm being totally honest, it is utterly despairing to feel as if I have regressed, even slightly. Sometimes I wonder if I will always have to fight this hard to experience semi-happiness. Sometimes I wonder if I will ever breech the boundaries of my diagnosis. Then I remind myself that "recovering" is a verb. Recovery takes intention and forethought, and very hard work. It is an active timeline that consists of looking from one moment to the next, healing a little more one day at a time. It's a process that I have put too high an expectation into, and have crashed and burned because of it. It requires great attention and nurturing and untangling. Becoming lax about my recovery process is not something that works, even when I hit burnout mode, even when my capacity is diminished, I still have to do the work.
With this great mess of triggers and tormented thinking, I have come to see that while this feels like a regression, or even a curse, it is really my body ready for the great purge. A purge that I have never really experienced in a way that brings deep healing, because until now, I had never emotionally connected to it. Recovery is about regaining possession of myself, or the parts of me that were fragmented in trauma. I was so young when the shards of myself began to disappear, that I grew as an incomplete person. This purge will bring me closer to myself, more wholly to myself.
So, I have reached out again to a mental health professional, one that I can both afford and have already had some success with. I will practice the methods that I know work for my anxiety and diligently tend to my emotional needs. These practices will make my life far more manageable. While "manageable" is never the goal, I have to be okay with it until it deepens into something more. I have forgotten to be thankful for all of the beautiful things in my life, all of the progress that has been made, and I have felt sorry for myself for not being more than I can be on this dot on the timeline. The shame of my past has been peeled back over the years for sure, but I am learning that I have a really hard time being tender and patient with the parts of me that are still broken. So I will start there.
Healing is not an easy process, but it is one I have to be committed to. Whether I chose to acknowledge my pain or not, I will live from it, oh, how I have lived from it. So I have to have the determination to keep going. I am excited for different therapies that have been recommended, I am confident in my therapist, I am hopeful that if I continue practicing being present with these aching memories and emotions, if I dedicate myself to the work, that the pieces have to find their way back.
because of you...
I cringe at the sloppy slurping of coffee
the sound of a whistle in the air
the warmth of breath in my ear
the pungent smell of bad cologne.
because of you...
I hate laughs that suck air through closed teeth
I am unnerved by uncovered windows in the night
simple catcalls trigger PTSD
paranoia grips me when I hear the clapping of shoes on pavement behind me.
because of you...
I have to unlearn fear
undo the foundation of rot
relearn every moment of every day to release the tension that builds and builds in my neck.
I have to figure out how to jump from this revolving door you have thrown me in,
while you walk down the street not casting a single glance behind you.
Lately, I’ve been meditating a lot on happiness and what role it should have in my life. On the depression spectrum, I suffer from dysthymia, which is essentially chronic depression. Because of this, I carry this propensity to badly prioritize and sometimes even hyper-focus on happiness since there is often times a lack thereof. I can settle into a state of unrest when I see how much harder it is for me to experience happiness when joy is all around me in the faces and hearts of my children and husband. I struggle with feeling ungrateful, like a bad parent, or like I'm some kind of pseudo-Christian or hypocrite because I struggle with happiness as a whole, when I should feel eternally joyful.
The lie I am susceptible to believing because of my struggle, is that everyone is happy except me. It's simply a misappropriation of my feelings. When I look around I see a culture that is ravenously seeking to be filled with joy and contentment, often at their own expense. Our culture puts so much emphasis on doing what lights up our pleasure centers. Our nose in further rubbed in this philosophy when it says to look inside of ourselves for the answers, to do what feels right to us individually, and to rid ourselves of the things (and people) who no longer serve us. While we are all created for and need to experience the rawness of beauty, chasing our own happiness is quite a different beast.
There is a bit of wisdom I have found in the holy scriptures that caution us about our indulgences. It says that while everything is permissible, not everything is profitable. Just because we can do something, certainly doesn’t mean that we should. Our focus should never be on happiness alone because we will never come to the end of ourselves or our hunger. When we feed desire alone, we reach for the thing that brings us a relative amount of ease, and ease doesn’t promote growth. I spent so many years of my life snowballing bad decisions that seemed so "right" at the time, only to realize that I was suffocating beneath the burial of my choices. You see, I didn’t stop to weigh the freedom that my choices would bring, I thought only of my own fulfillment.
Our hearts are a war. No matter your spiritual proclivities, we can all agree on that. There is a common thread in religion that unifies, and its that we are fallen, degraded, and incomplete. So if the desires of self exist within us, how can we "follow our heart" and not expect it to lead to destruction?!
The next part of this same scripture speaks of not seeking our own good, but on the well-being of others. Our freedom doesn't exist to satisfy our every whim, but to fulfill our spirit by serving others in love. It is this very freedom that allows us to deny ourselves and to think of others instead. This is all very much contrary to what our culture feeds us, and the polar opposite of what our hearts crave, yet it's the very thing that frees us and gives us the ability to appropriate happiness into our lives. It amazes me to look back at my life and to compare the years of self-fulfillment to the more current years of self-denial. I am much happier now than I ever was then. I'm not turning to anything but the God who formed me with his hands and breath, and ignoring the darkness of my heart that threatens to wage war against me.
Over the past few months, I have come to a place in my questioning, where I accept my struggles. Not that I live in doubt that God can bring me to a deeper healing of the events that pushed me into depression, but that I can feel content regardless of where I'm at in this very moment. Happiness is subjective and temporal and fleeting. So I will no longer bargain for or feel defeated by the lack of happiness I have because that will only further sink me. I'm learning to be content surrendering myself one moment, one decision at a time, to a God who sees the larger picture, who nudges me past happiness (at times) towards a more lasting way, and that is the way of freedom. I'm learning to take the moments that come easy, and to burst with gratitude over them. In the moments that are darker, I hang on to the knowledge that God is with me, that he's present, and he's enabling me to even stand in the times I feel I cannot. I am trusting that the more ground I gain with freedom, that the happiness with surely follow.
”Me, too” I whispered after the years of intuitions.
Learned insomnia, nicotine-stained fingers and more fear than I could hold.
Me, too. And I changed my outfit since I’d be out past dark.
Avoid eye contact and hope for the best.
Me, too. And he slithered up the stairs and made me a statistic.
Haunted by numbing deja vu’s, me too.
Me, too and I swallowed my voice like glass and turned silent. Only learning to speak to my too-young children about the patterns of grooming in hopes of lowering their chance of becoming a 1 in 6 or a 1 in 33.
Me, too as the hand cuffs and “guilty’s”and restraining order came.
Me, too as I traded in my number the day he was given one of his own on the back of a state-owned jumpsuit.
Me, too. As “justice” was served and didn’t give me a damn bit of peace considering he was just one out of a million.