Let me start this post by acknowledging that my story is not unique. In fact, there are so very many posts just like this that I almost didn’t write it. It feels like there is no point in sharing an experience that is so universal, so shared by so many. But that’s kind of the idea of #metoomvmt and #WhyIDidn’tReport so here goes.
I’m not brave. I’m sharing this story here, on my anonymous blog, because like Christine Blasey Ford, I didn’t tell. Not then, not now when I’m at the latter end of my thirties.
I don’t see a therapist. Maybe I should. No, definitely I should, because I am living through unpleasant physical manifestations of experiences I lived more than thirty years ago, and other experiences I lived 23 years ago. I suppose it’s fair to say I need help.
But I have also lived through 38 years of being alive while female, which means that every time I need a doctor, I get brushed aside, told I’m overreacting.
I had two slipped discs after my son was born, which I was told was postpartum depression and I should suck it up for a year (which, by the way, is so not an appropriate way to address a very real, very serious medical condition that I didn’t happen to have) until I finally convinced doctor number three to do a scan, and a two level fusion of my spine finally resolved my pain.
I lived with an undiagnosed autoimmune disorder for years while doctor after doctor told me I was fine, until I dug up the research myself and asked the doctor to test my blood for autoimmune factors, a test that was positive.
I broke my leg in three places and had a tech in the ER look at my face and say ‘it’s not broken.’ before a scan showed a destroyed bundle of twigs where my leg bones should be.
I had an ovarian cyst the size of a fucking cantaloupe inside my body, and listened to an old male doctor tell me it was in my head, until the scan proved me right.
And right now I am itching to erase these lines, feeling like you, invisible reader, will think less of me for having this laundry list of maladies, like I need to hide these defects. Little wonder why.
And the scars of abuse I have experienced cannot show up on a scan. I have learned, over so many doctors in different states and countries, that I cannot trust doctors to hear me, to help me. I can only trust the scans, the blood tests. When those don’t exist, I have learned not to seek help.
But I am not okay.
Another clinically interesting fact: I remember the day I realized that I was a victim of abuse. I was somewhere in the vicinity of five years old when the abuse occurred – it’s blurry exactly when, but I don’t think I was in school yet.
It was freshman year of high school when I realized that what I’d experienced had been abuse. See, no one held me down or dragged me into a dark alley. I was coerced through words only. At first, that my beloved pets would be harmed if I didn’t acquiesce to something I most definitely did not consent to. Later, after it had happened a couple of times, the target changed (perhaps I became more resistant.) The new threat was that the abuser would tell my family about the abuse – that I would be in trouble, that my family wouldn’t want me anymore, if they knew. It was a brilliant threat that ensured I would never, ever tell. It was an early influence that would shape all of my thoughts and feelings about my self, a stone that I built myself around, so that even later, when I chipped pieces of that stone away, the scars around it were too central to my whole self to ever erase.
At the time that it happened, these were credible threats to me – world endingly real. Later, as I grew up, I realized how stupid I’d been to believe them, and for years I owned the whole responsibility for being fooled. In my head, when I skirted around the dark things I didn’t want to think about head on, the term I used was ‘the thing I’d done.’
We were not a religious family, but we did, from time to time, visit church. I would sit in the pew, sick to my stomach thinking ‘God knows what I did, and he doesn’t want me here because of it.’
It was only after high school began, when they ramped up the dialogue about abuse, about consent, that realization dawned. Funnily enough, I sat through the whole health session without identifying myself as having been abused. Later that day, standing idly in the outfield (my usual position in gym class baseball) it hit me like a sudden beam of light. It wasn’t ‘that thing I did,’ it was abuse. It wasn’t a relief, I didn’t drop the heavy weight I’d carried all that time. The stone remained. I just thought, “Huh. I guess that’s what that was.”
I could talk about why I think this is true, from a historical and cultural standpoint, but this post is already much too long, so suffice to say that I think those of us socialized as female have a muscle memory tendency to take whatever is done to us, all of that sense of wrong, of bad and tainted, and gather it into ourselves. Maybe it’s just me, because that’s how I experienced these things, but I think not. I think many of us do it, accept the blame into our identities, our selves. I think somewhere, deep inside, until or unless we get the right support and help (and maybe even if we do) the whisper of ‘the thing I did’ never quite fades, even when we know it’s wrong, it’s not true. This is another reason why we don’t report.
I don’t know why now, this time, this news cycle is so different for me. I do know that part of the secret to my continued functionality is the world I have built around me, a world populated by a different sort of man. I know men who can’t imagine discounting a person’s value, a person’s consent because of the body that person was born in. I surround myself with them, and stay away from the other sort. When I cannot escape, when I run into someone who discounts me, invalidates my worth in the way that breaks me, I spiral down into this place.
The man I married is a good man, an ally in every sense of the word, but he doesn’t understand why it happens. To him, I am made of titanium – stronger than, sharper than, greater than whoever is triggering these feelings. To him I am a conquering Goddess who should take pity on these small, lost men who don’t understand what’s right.
He doesn’t understand that when I break, I am suddenly small again, helpless and lost where there is no one to save me. Where I can never ever tell the things that hurt me, can never let anyone see my pain. It isn’t the client who is thoughtless or unkind that breaks me, it’s the reminder that he represents of the world that let me be broken, the world where my body isn’t mine, where my thoughts are without value, where the only driving force is that at all costs, I must hide.
And so I break, and I hide the pain. It’s my secret special skill, so cherished and long held that doctors see me and can’t imagine I’m telling the truth about my condition. Surely pain like I’m placidly describing would unravel me, would leave a mark.
It comes and it goes, good days where I almost forget how broken I am, and then sudden destruction, when I’m reminded again of how small, how invaluable I really am in the world where I live. But it’s a good place, where I live, a small good place in a bad world, and the breakages are manageable, the cracks mostly easy to hide.
Only now the world is on fire, and I’m suddenly breaking open, poison running out, black and choking. I can’t feel it, I feel strangely detached, listening to the whole fucking world say, out loud, that I was right all along that my body is not mine, that my consent is not needed, and I punish myself, hating my weakness, willing myself to ignore the poison, to hide the pain, berating myself because I can’t ignore it anymore, breaking a little more every day, because I don’t know what else to do.
I am not fine.
But like every other human in this mess, I’ll adjust my armor, take a steadying breath, and go back to work.
It should help – knowing that the man I love sees me as so strong, so bulletproof. It should be empowering. But his bewilderment only triggers the voice in me that says, “hide your weakness.” And I’m alone again in the dark, in the bad place.
And that’s the hardest part – wondering whether he’ll ever really understand. He will listen, and he will hear, but he won’t see the broken mess that I become, he’ll always see the illusion I have built, Wonder Woman, hands akimbo, ready to face all comers. He’ll remind me that’s who I am, not seeing the dark place that’s all around me. I knew it then and I know it now – there’s no dark place quite like the one that surrounds you, moving between you and the people who love you, who would protect you from demons they cannot see.
I read Christine Blasey Ford’s letter. I knew, as I opened it, that I shouldn’t, but I read it because it didn’t seem right to turn away. A funny thing happened, when I read about that party, about the way they pushed her into that bedroom, turned up the music. I could see it, that bedroom, that stereo, the bed. It was a real place, a place I have been before, a place I never want to visit again.
And then, with a sickening lurch, as a camera zooming backward, I realized that I am not alone. How many women, do you think, pictured their own deceptively domestic hell, reading that letter? How many CD players, mp3 players, record players, 8 tracks are playing, louder and louder in their panicked thoughts to drown out their frightened voices? How many of us are there tonight, in a million myriad versions of that bedroom, waiting for Brett Kavanaugh to return to finish what he started?