An invitation for #MeToo survivors.
This is a time that I will never forget. I don’t know a single woman or conscientious man who hasn’t been impacted by the circus in Washington around the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh, 45’s pick for the pivotal seat vacated by Justice Kennedy on the Supreme Court. The appointment of someone likely to overturn Roe v. Wade, further expand the power of the executive branch, and give corporations even more power at the expense of individuals and the planet is terrifying. Kavanaugh’s previously-stated positions make him likely to shield our President from having to face consequences of violating laws used to manipulate the election in 2016. The system of checks and balances that have protected our rights up until now, however imperfectly, hangs in the balance.
But the allegations of Kavanaugh’s drunken sexual assaults and attempted rape of several women in high school and college made the whole experience very personal. In high school, I tried alcohol, and like so many young girls, was taken advantage of in much the same way that Dr. Christine Ford describes in her heartbreaking testimony. I have no idea how many times I was raped, or if they actually followed through with it. Friends told me that boys were lined up to enter the room where I was passed out, and assumed that I was conscious and permitting them to have at me, but I can assure you I did not consent. I didn’t want to drink but did it out of the inherent naivete that every girl like me has before or since. This is why we shield minors from access to drugs. We’re not equipped, at that age, to handle this decision. I remember losing consciousness and nothing else after that, until waking up hours later, alone, in the room.
An unconscious, blacked-out person of any gender can not possibly give consent to anything. It was the 80’s, and this was the reality of teenage girls in America at the time. The pressure to fit in drove me and so many others to experiment with drinking. The reality is that alcohol impacts girls differently than boys. We have lower body weights and it takes less alcohol to impact girls and women. That and the culture of disrespect for women and girls means that many more women have been subjected to this horrific treatment than men have in our culture.
I hated the taste of alcohol. Clever boys who had a clear agenda addressed this ‘challenge” by turning me onto a drink called a “fuzzy navel.” The syrupy sweetness of fruit liquor masked the vile taste of the poison I was drinking. It did nothing to soothe the pain of shame and violation I felt, waking up from one of these episodes.
It didn’t sweeten the pain of being laughed at by classmates who believed the stories of the dudes who came to label me as “bananarama,” claiming that I eagerly received penetration by a banana. I have no memory of such an experience. It’s my word against theirs, and I have no way to defend myself since I wasn’t conscious.
I am barely in contact with anyone I went to high school with. I suffered so much from the torment of classmates slut-shaming me and the boys who either actually raped me or told others that they did that I have blocked most of my memories from that period of my life. Therapists tell me that this is a common defense mechanism.
As we are all too aware now, men who commit sex crimes often face no repercussions. Many have or go on to assume positions of power. When one of them became president in 2016 and then went on to mock Dr. Ford’s testimony at a campaign rally in Mississippi two years later, survivors of sexual assault everywhere felt as if salt was rubbed (again) into our wounds.
Women, especially those who are not white, who are not from a privileged class, and queer folks have a very different experience. Most of us have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Many of us, after initial abuse experiences, live lives where we struggle with shame, guilt, imposter syndrome, and lack of self-esteem.
This sets in motion a cycle of self-defeating behaviors that take lifetimes of experience and often, expensive therapy to overcome. For most of the perpetrators of these assaults, their fist-bumps, yearbook bragging and eventual promotions to the highest positions of power are evidence of just the opposite. They were empowered and their egos boosted. This is part of the equation of the lack of equality that permeates all aspects of our culture.
I had other rape experiences that I’m not ready to share. The one above was similar enough to the story we heard from Dr. Ford last week that I had to share it now.
How to survive trauma.
Years of therapy have helped me manage the PTSD that I suffer from to this day, as a result of the toxic rape culture I’ve experienced first-hand more than once.
I learned eventually to avoid triggers, and how to care for myself when they can’t be avoided. Last Thursday, as Dr. Ford testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee with a story so frighteningly familiar, I realized I needed to practice self-care.
They say a third of all women have had some experience with sexual harassment or assault. Now that #MeToo is getting more of us to share openly, I bet that is an underestimation. I knew this but hadn’t realized exactly how many of the women I personally know had stories like Dr. Ford’s and mine.
Triggers were and still are everywhere you look on social media. I haven’t yet been able to bear to be on Facebook since the Kavanaugh hearings started. So many friends and relatives are sharing their #MeToo stories of their sexual assaults there. (Giving that content to FB is another problem, but more on that another time.) Witnessing these stories, as important as it is, is too traumatic for me, on top of having to hear the details that the whole country is pouring over. I do intend to go back and read them when I am able.
Last week after the hearing where Dr. Ford testified, on the day of the first committee vote, I took action to protect myself. I took a personal day and joined a group of activists, artists, and healers at an event that included music, workshops, swimming, hot tubbing, and wild animals. Taking a weekend to meet with like-minded individuals was exactly what I needed.
I attended a workshop developed by a friend who is also a survivor of sexual violence. She inspired a group of us with a fresh theory of how public opinion was shifted by the tactics used by the president in 2016. I’ll write more about that experience in another post. What’s important here is to note that taking action in real life with a group of people, instead of remaining isolated, infuriated, and spitting out angry tweets, was just the medicine I needed. I pray more of us try this. I pray I remember to as well.
I had to return to work on Monday, and have managed to keep my cool all week, somehow.
Writing this post has been therapeutic. I am not sure how I’ll cope if Kavanaugh is confirmed. Senators are yet to cast their votes. As I write this I have to fight off the urge to run out into the streets to protest. It’s funny that protest and protect are such different words.
The fact is that a bunch of protests in San Francisco won’t change the vote. In fact, they will barely make the news. We’re in an age of disruption. Protesting was disruptive in the 50’s and 60’s. But they are not even newsworthy once they become a constant. They have. I’m not saying we shouldn’t protest, just that we each need to weigh the sacrifice against the impact.
We have to re-think our tactics and be more agile in our response to this. And we can’t think clearly when we are triggered and not taking care of ourselves. It is this reality that caused me to arrive at the following conclusion to all this pain:
Emotional sobriety is an act of resistance.
I keep coming back to this. It’s how we are going to survive Kavanaugh. It’s how I am surviving sexual assault.
So many have been depressed since 11-9-16, indulging in all sorts of bad habits to relieve the pain and fear. From excessive drinking to overeating, over-tweeting, and various other ways we cope with depression. I’ve indulged and it hasn’t helped.
Taking a personal day last week to explore alternatives to this helped me realize how critical it is that we reclaim our sanity. Spinning out on news, getting angry with each other, and being depressed serve those who seek to keep us down. We can’t be effective in this state.
Connecting with my tribe of humans, swimming, listening to live music, eating healthy food and hanging with animals in nature brought me to a place of emotional sobriety that I believe we need to actively cultivate.
After a week of hashtag surfing, calling Senators in vain, watching as many of their floor statements as I could stomach in the false hope that something would intervene in this insanity, I can say my emotional sobriety is once again in jeopardy.
I’m taking the rest of the weekend to rebuild it. As write the Matador Soul Sounds is performing at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival. Their song #Covfefe brought a welcomed smile to an otherwise tense face.
Watching the webcast is fun, but I need humans and sun so I am headed there now.
I’ll leave you with something a friend shared recently that I hope helps you counter the stress you most likely endured reading this and living on earth this week. Let me know in the comments if it helps you. It’s been helping me.
Renee Ostertag teaches a simple technique to strengthen your emotional health right now.
How are you staying sane and reclaiming your emotional sobriety in this crazy time?