As part of a friend’s Facebook initiative to #testify in support of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s brave testimony before congress, I offer the following:
Thursday, September 27, 2018.
As I listened to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testify to congress today about the sexual assault and battery upon her by Brett Kavanaugh when they were both teenagers, her testimony resonated with me in so many ways. Her account of the incident itself was quite different than my own experiences, but the terror she felt, the fear of death, and the ongoing anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms with which she has coped throughout her life spoke directly to my own experiences. As Dr. Ford implied through the telling of the impact on her focus, her educational and professional performance, and her personal life, this act of violence shook her foundation and caused irreparable damage. Still, she struggles with anxiety that makes it difficult for her to be in confined spaces, and that led to her insisting upon installing two front doors on her home. I would guess that there are many other ways, ways less obvious to those around her, that this trauma has impacted her life, her thoughts, her health, and her behaviors, as has been the case for me.
My own experiences began with sexual molestation by family members as a young child of less than 10 years. I have only one clear memory of a specific incident during which a perpetrator attempted to penetrate me vaginally with his penis. I do not recall if he was successful, but I do have a very clear memory of the searing pain of the attempt. I also remember hiding in closets a lot, trying to avoid my molesters. Mostly, I have no memories of my young years. I am told that this is a common trauma response, that it is our brain’s way of keeping us safe and allowing us to function and thrive despite the damage.
At age 12, a married man for whom I babysat, a friend of my mother, made numerous advances, touching me and making his attraction to me clear. Finally, when he took me home one day after I babysat, he came into my house, sat me down on the sofa, and told me how attracted he was to me and how he wanted to have sex with me, how he wanted an ongoing relationship with me, and how we would have to keep it a secret from his wife and my mother. I don’t know what I said or how I escaped his hugging and kissing and convinced him to leave, but he did leave. He made some sort of threat that he would deny it if I told my mother, telling her I stole something from his house or something like that. Like Dr. Ford, my memory is not complete, but what there is of it is clear. I never babysat for him again. I remember shaking in terror, praying he would not come back up the stairs to our apartment. I never told anyone. I do not remember this man’s name.
At age 13, my mother’s live-in boyfriend attempted to have sex with me, but I was able to stop him. He threatened me against telling my mother, though I do not recall the nature of the threat. I tried to kill myself, and then disclosed what had happened to my mother. Shortly after, we moved out of state.
At age 14, a man who worked at the hospital at which I volunteered, taking books and magazines to patients, was very nice to me. He took me out for meals and bought me things. He told me he loved me. He took me to his tiny apartment and had sex with me often. I became pregnant. My mother forced me to have an abortion. I know she wanted to press charges against the man, but nothing ever came of it. Instead, we moved again, back to my hometown.
I had a very nice boyfriend my age for a couple years after that and we had a lot of sex. His family took me into their fold and it was a wonderful time. Then I met a grown man who became my next boyfriend and left the sweet, innocent boy who might have made a good husband behind. This became a pattern for me, serial monogamy of a sort, which lasted for a couple decades. I had many relationships, one at a time, most centered around sex (which probably explains why they didn’t last). I even married three different men. The first husband left me when I was pregnant with our daughter. I ran from the second one with my daughter in my arms as he was breaking down a door to get to me in a drunken rage. The third one issued the unprovoked warning that if I had an affair he would divorce me without discussion. Not good choices on my part.
Throughout my teens and young adulthood I felt like a magnet for sexual predators. Men would touch me without my consent, try to convince me to have sex with them, and even threaten me when I resisted. Sometimes, I complied. It was very confusing for me, because I knew their behavior was inappropriate and yet I was fearful, in some cases paralyzed, unable to protect myself. There was also an element of normalcy to this predation because I had experienced it throughout my young life. I would later come to know this as some of the manifestations of misogyny, but at the time I was very conflicted. Sometimes alcohol eased the confusion.
Some of my relationships were brief, others lasted years, but all were tainted by my false beliefs that sex was love and that my sexual attractiveness determined my worth as a person. Of course, I was not aware that I thought these things at the time, they were just built-in ‘truths’ learned from my experiences. While intellectually I came to know that these beliefs were false, they were deeply ingrained, and I continued to operate from this perspective through my thirties. I felt I was worthless if I was not in a romantic relationship or if my partner was not satisfied with me in any way. My intellectual knowing and my experiential knowing were at odds with one another; I was experiencing what is known as sustained cognitive dissonance. Again, I had no awareness of this, it was all just very frustrating and seemingly out of my control. My experiences during my long military career reinforced this thinking through on-the-job harassment and deeply misogynistic practices, including blatant improprieties ranging from cat-calling in the halls to threats against my safety for not going along with the advances of powerful men. I was also subject to gender discrimination on two occasions, the latter of which was so egregious it drove me from the military with just four years until retirement eligibility. I simply couldn’t bear it one more day.
When I found myself alone and unemployed in my forties, my drinking increased. I fell into a community of people who had open sex among the members. There were always people with whom to have sex, men and women, usually in party or club environments. I met my last long-term partner through one of these groups. Is it any wonder that the relationship was a disaster? It became my job to help us both obtain additional sexual partners. How the hell did I end up in such a situation? As I now know, this was merely an extreme manifestation of my untreated, unresolved childhood sexual trauma. Eventually, I self-destructed. I drove away my daughter in the process, a sadness I continue to endure.
I was wise enough to reach out to a psychologist who helped me understand what had happened to me and how to heal and move forward. I have had the good fortune of being able to start over. While there is no way to ever erase the scars of the damage I suffered to mind, body, and spirit, I am no longer a prisoner to my past. I am kind to myself and take care of my body and say yes to myself as much as practical. I am even coming to like the chubby, middle-aged woman with the double chins that I see in the mirror – she’s kinda sweet, and she has a good heart and kind eyes.
I see the scars of my past and I apply salve to them in the forms of self-love, self-care, and self-validation. I take positive action for myself and others when I can. I am pursuing my education so that I might become a better advocate. I am speaking out about the injustices I see, even if I am a bit like the proverbial bull-in-a-china-shop doing it; I definitely lack the polish of those who were fortunate to come from supportive environments and obtain their education early in life. But the point is that I am doing it. I have found my voice, messy as it is. I am living. I am thriving, though sometimes still with a bit of trepidation, which I think is called “being human,” not some latent defect of being a survivor. My heart is healing, and I am moving forward alone, bravely facing everything with open eyes and a willing spirit.
I am one of the lucky ones. I survived. I still battle anxiety and depression, but my illnesses are not so debilitating as to keep me from walking through the fear into the light. I have considered suicide many times, and even had a plan twice. Fortunately, I didn’t act on it. I just keep walking toward the light. Sometimes I am lonely, but that passes. I know I am not alone. I am surrounded by survivors.
[…] to hoots and hollers in the workplace, to intimate partner violence, to workplace discrimination, I offered a broad disclosure of the way these things impacted my life and made me an unwitting participant in my own […]