I don’t know how else to beg, except to plead with you to share this post. After Audrie Pott’s suicide began making the rounds today, I found myself in an increasingly despondent state, wondering how we can stop this from happening to anybody else. The first step is speaking out.
In the last year, these things have been discussed to death, resurrected and put to death again. I’ve even written this post 30+ times in the interests of debating its effectiveness, but after reading about Audrie tonight, my heart is shattered. Her life was not over and neither is mine. None of the discussions we currently participate in are going to do any good until victims of sexual assault feel free to come forward and recognize that they are so much more than this moment.
Recently, I’ve been brutally honest with myself, thinking about my own hesitation to come forward, and what kind of limitations I’ve placed on my healing by refusing to outwardly acknowledge the impact of sexual assault on my life. I stand up for equal rights, for animals, against breast cancer…I even stand up for the Dallas Cowboys year after heartbreaking year, but April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and I want to stand up for myself and other victims of rape and abuse. I want to empower other men and women to come forward with their stories without feeling guilt and embarrassment. What you’re about to read is how I’m starting to do just that.
Rape. I can talk about it and lately it seems like everybody is. Until the last whisper of air is forced from my lungs, I will take up for victims, preach to them the importance of speaking out, and remind people that the fault lies with no one other than the perpetrator. However, what I haven’t been able to do until now is talk about my experience without feeling shame. I know what you’re thinking, “Rape? It wasn’t your fault.” And while I understand that it wasn’t my fault, I also know there’s a certain shame that accompanies feeling like I have to share my story in dark corners with hushed whispers. It doesn’t make talking about it any easier. Not because I think it was my fault, but because talking about it openly sometimes feels like the most isolating and horrifying thing I can do. To talk about it honestly means that I would have to open myself up to criticism, judgment, and admit something that has only passed my lips a handful of times in my life. I’m not ok.
If you’re reading this and we’re friends, you might have heard me mention it. There might have been a quiet moment when I spoke of it in passing. I might have admitted the same thing happened to me after you shared your story or maybe there was a night that we sat at the bar, had a few drinks, and the rum gave me hope that you wouldn’t judge me for it in the morning. In any case, I can almost guarantee what I said as soon as you told me how sorry you were. I told you that I was fine and that I’d been through a lot of therapy. Those were both lies. I haven’t been fine in years and although I went to therapy, I wouldn’t really say I went through it. I lied and told my therapist everything was fine, too. Enduring sexual abuse has taught me to play things close to the vest, so you shouldn’t feel slighted by my omission. I went to therapy and hid everything behind my wit, sarcasm, and self-deprecating humor; my specialties. I tried in vain to make myself out to be some kind of emotional superhero, who had magically been able to navigate the waters of recovery with deep thought and a couple of Dr. Phil books. In short, I was in denial.
I was so committed to the appearance of recovery that I even convinced myself I was ok, however, there have been tell-tale signs that I was, in fact, not. After a fairly abusive relationship and a string of bad decisions, I quit dating. I knew something was wrong with my ability to choose a suitable partner and, frankly, I hadn’t seen myself as worthy of anybody in a long time. I still find it nearly impossible to connect with anybody on an emotional level and I have a startle reflex that fills me with such violent anger that I nearly decked my eight year old nephew after he snuck up behind me in the kitchen one night. None of these are life skills I’m hoping to hang on to.
Some people will say the internet isn’t the forum to air things like this, but honestly, until you’re the one living with the aftermath of sexual assault, you’ll never understand how deafening the silence is. I’m not saying any of this for pity. I’m saying it because I’m finally tired of watching survivors carry the burden alone. Why should we? If we had been burglarized, mugged or punched in a bar, would we fear being blamed for the crime? Would we be afraid to talk about the scars we were learning to live with? We are not the ones that should feel shame or humiliation and this is not the end as we know it. I want to be open about what happened to me and encourage other people to be open about their experiences. I want to promote a world where people can come forward and get the help I wish I’d gotten for myself in the beginning. I’m not alone in this. None of us are. I spent a lot of time thinking about this the wrong way, but now I understand that talking about sexual assault isn’t going to isolate anyone. By encouraging others to speak out, it’s going to free us to heal others and allow ourselves to be healed.