SAAM Day Six – why bother?

The “On This Day” feature on Facebook tells you what you were posting on a given day in previous years. Today (April 6), I was reminded that last year someone I didn’t know (met through an online conversation) took offense at my speaking out about rape & sexual assault likened me to a Nazi, and said that the men who raped me should have killed me. I wish I could say that this was the only time this kind of thing has happened, but it’s not. I get far fewer actual threats than some folks I know, but I do often come up against a question that just baffles me … why do I bother sharing my story and speaking up?

Some of the people who ask are genuinely concerned for my safety, and my mental and physical health. Most of them, however, would just like me to be quiet, to keep things to myself, to not disturb their view of the universe. They’re afraid of what survivors face each day. They’re afraid that people they know, their friends and family, have been the victims of such horrible crimes. And they particularly afraid to admit that someone they know might well have been a perpetrator. They cloak their fears in kindness, asking if it wouldn’t be better for me if I just “put it all behind you” or “move on”.

They have a point, I suppose. It is hard work, all this speaking out and advocating. As many of those closest to me will attest, it requires a lot of crying, and praying, and worrying, a fair amount of chocolate (and coffee and wine), and sometimes hiding under a blanket until I can face it all again.

But, at least for me, what is worse is the silence, bearing the story inside of me, alone. At least spoken my story can be shared, carried together with those who love and care for me. And perhaps spoken my story can change something – one person’s view of the world, one  congregation’s ability to understand and support other survivors, one community’s efforts to end rape & sexual violence.

I leave you today with these words and images below from the amazing Audre Lorde (and if you don’t know who Audre is, please go forth immediately and learn about her here … Audre Lorde – Poetry Foundation … go now, seriously, she’s epic!).

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i-write-for-those-women

 

SAAM Day Five – Memories

When I was in high school there was an innovation in television technology called picture in picture TV. The idea was that there would be the usual picture taking up most of the screen, and then in the upper right corner you could have another smaller picture from a different channel playing. The marketing was mostly to people who wanted to be able to watch two different sporting events at the same time.

I’m not sure it ever really caught on, and then the internet came and changed how we watch TV, but the idea of picture in picture has always been a helpful way for me to describe what it’s like inside my head as a rape survivor.

Please understand that this is MY experience, and every survivor is different.

The present moment – me sitting at my computer surrounded by napping kittens, drinking coffee, thinking about worship things for Sunday, wondering if I should make oatmeal cookies, wishing I hadn’t forgotten to get tater tots at the grocery – that’s all the main picture, the big screen of the TV inside my head.

But there is always that smaller picture playing in the background. It plays on a constant loop, reliving and remembering – the events leading up to my rape, the events of the rape, and the aftermath as well.

On good days (which are most), it works with the memories quietly playing on the side while I go about my life, but there are days…

There are days, and moments, when the screens switch, when the memories are the bigger picture, and the present moment is shoved off to the side. All kinds of things can trigger the switch – stress, the weather, a particular smell or taste, having to go somewhere unfamiliar, certain days and times of the year, a song on the radio, not getting enough sleep or the right foods. And sometimes I’m not even aware of what the trigger is.

I’ve spent lots of time working with my psychiatrist at getting control of the switch, of learning how to navigate the triggers in an unpredictable world, and how to calm myself down and get my brain to bring the present back to the big picture.

IMG_0030It’s a daily practice. Some days it works, and some days it doesn’t. Some days the memories are overwhelming. Overall, I think I do it well, but I know what that kind of mental energy costs me.

Perhaps this will go a bit of the way towards helping people who aren’t survivors understand the kind of internal gymnastics that are required to go out into the world, to get the groceries, go to work, meet people, go out to eat, attend concerts and classes, and all kinds of things that a “normal” (neurotypical) brain takes for granted.

SAAM Days Three & Four – Support

There’s a lot in the news these days about survivors who didn’t report, or who waited to report, their assaults to the authorities (police). Much of what’s written comes with a heaping portion of judgement – if you didn’t report it wasn’t that bad, or you wanted it, or you’re trying to cover something else up (like underage drinking, or drug use, or the like).

I’ve heard survivors told that they HAVE to report in order to prevent someone else from being a victim, in order to end rape culture, in order to bring themselves some kind of closure. I’ve heard people say that anyone who doesn’t report their rape isn’t really a victim since they didn’t take it seriously enough to wade into the legal system.

NONE of that helps. I’m going to say that again in case you weren’t listening … NONE of that helps.

Survivors don’t need your judgement, your critique, your commentary on whether or not they’re really survivors. They don’t need your advice, from a place of relative safety, or your back seat “help” with what would be best for them. They surely don’t need anyone telling them about how much better they will feel when they report and prosecute (as someone who did report, and went through the nightmare that is our legal system’s prosecution of rapists, I understand why someone wouldn’t ever want to do that – it reopens all kinds of wounds, and the victim is often put on trial themselves … more about that in another post).

What survivors do need is your nonjudgemental support. They need to know that you’re there for them, walking with them whatever the darkness brings. They need to know that you aren’t going to run away when the going gets tough, when the memories are a living nightmare. They need to know they aren’t a burden to you, because they feel like they are, all the time, that their story is too much for you to bear, that you don’t want to know why they’re really struggling with.

What survivors need …

  • to be reminded that they are not alone;
  • that you believe them (say these words … “I believe you”, it matters more than you can possibly imagine);
  • that it isn’t their fault (say these words, “it’s not your fault”, say them more than once, trust me, the survivors won’t be able to believe you the first time);
  • that you support them whatever choices they make (about reporting, counseling, medical care, and well everything);
  • and for you to be there for them, to listen, to help with the laundry, to drive them to their appointments, to cry with them, and to listen (yes, I said it again, it’s the most important thing you can do).

For some other ideas, and ways you can support survivors, check out these resources:

Help Someone You Care About from RAIIN

A survivor’s advice for supporting someone who has been assaulted by Alison Safran

#saam

#breakthesilencesunday

SAAM Day Two – Somebody

It’s Saturday, and I’m a working pastor who has to lead worship twice tomorrow, so today’s notes shall be a bit brief…

Often, when we talk about rape & sexual violence there’s this strange thing that happens. People tell you to think about what would you would feel like if it happened to someone you love – your mother, your sister, your wife, your daughter.

I know they mean well by trying to personalize the issue, but it means that we, as survivors, are defined by our relationships to other people (very often as women who are somehow attached/connected to men).

It irritates me. Yes, I am someone’s daughter, and sister, and mother, and aunt, but I am somebody without all those categories. I am me, a human being, deserving of respect, and decency, and kindness, and compassion even if I weren’t someone’s daughter, sister, mother, or whatever.

That I am human should be reason enough to not hurt me. That someone, anyone, is human should be reason for them to not have to fear the violence of rape and sexual assault.

So the next time you see one of those signs or memes that invites you to think about how it would affect your sister, or brother, or some other relation, remember that we are all sisters and brothers and when any one of us suffers, we all suffer together; when any one of us is not free from violence and fear, none of us are free; when one of us is raped, all of us are raped.