This year brought up the #MeToo movement, and with it an avalanche of stories formerly relinquished to the shadows, that can now courageously be brought into the light of day. I find it sad and angering that all too often as a brave individual comes forward to speak their truth and share their story, they are greeted by often men in positions of power saying, "if something really happened, why did the person wait until now to tell the story or report it?" A question like this reflects both a lack of understanding of the nature of trauma, and a total lack of compassion for the stakes a survivor of trauma must face when speaking up.
Trauma breaks something fundamental in our expectations of human experience. Having a safe environment, having the boundaries of our bodies and hearts and minds respected, and being treated as though we matter, are as important for our psyches as being able to count on food, clothing and shelter.
Trauma is like a wrecking ball that crashes through the fabric of our hearts and lives. Our hearts, bodies and minds become overwhelmed in the moment by feelings, thoughts and reality that are more than we can process or truly bear. Our feelings, thoughts and somatic experience fragment and shatter, as we move into a frozen holding pattern that can last for decades. Our actual memories, thoughts and feelings are buried deep down in the recesses of our consciousness. Even if we want to talk about what happened, we often are not able to do so. Our voices are frozen, along with our memories and our bodily experience.
Healing from this kind of trauma is a courageous journey, and one that must unfold in its own right time and place. A safe healing environment, facilitated by a skilled and respectful therapist is often critical to recovery. This is a very personal journey, and one that is often invisible to even friends and family of a trauma survivor. If it takes courage to embark on the personal healing journey, it takes even more courage to tell ones story, even to those closest to us.
Speaking about trauma in a larger, more public context presents a tremendous risk. Subjects that sit in the collective unconscious evoke dark triggering shadows when voiced. Our collective ignorance, fear and the reactivity that comes from ignorance and fear jump out at the courageous speaker, often with fangs and talons. To stand up and speak about sexual trauma, especially involving people in positions of privilege and power is to risk being a lightning rod for all the fear, anger, judgment and rage lurking in the shadows.
If my college professor harassed me, was the dean of my college really going to believe me? If they did believe me, would they want anyone else to know or tell me to just move on and keep quiet? No one wants bad press. No one wants to take someone off their laurels. And if I was a student and a young woman, my place in the power pecking order was not significant enough to pay heed to really. And I would be blamed and judged and shamed...even when people had not heard my story. Speaking up was the equivalent of volunteering to wear the Scarlett letter, and be banished into the shadows of invisibility, because no one really wanted to believe what I had to say.
So, beyond my own personal wounding, my awareness of the price I would pay for speaking would keep me silent. After all, self-preservation is pretty important. And who wants to be a sacrificial lamb? Though I don't really like the frame of victimhood, speaking out as a survivor of trauma or assault then subjects you to a downward spiral of intensifying and unspoken victimization.
I had no choice but to speak out about a major life threatening trauma that happened to me at the hands of a stranger in an alley on my way home from my job when I was 16. If I did not tell the story, I would not survive. But a story of an attempted rape and murder of a 16 year old girl by a stranger is more hearable than a story of sexual abuse by a freaked out father who could not deal with the fact that his daughter had been attacked when she came home from the encounter. And it is also more hearable than the story of a college professor misusing his power because this same young woman was not interested in his sexual advances. Or the story of the high school Math teacher who sadistically took this young woman aside and told her girls could not be smart at Math. When a stranger is the perpetrator, it is one thing. When it is one's father or high school teacher or college professor...or classmate, it is another.
Just recently I wrote a song called "The Mistake," which is a piece of my true story, but is written in the spirit of compassion and healing. "The sins of the fathers pass on to their daughters...the pain of the mothers pass on to their sons," is the lyric at the bridge of the song, reflecting the transgenerational patterns and shadows we are all dancing with.
I pray we can all embrace our deepest courage, and open our hearts to speak and listen. If we can truly speak and listen from our hearts, lots of truth can be spoken, lots of healing can take place, and perhaps the hidden pain that has weighed so many of us down individually and collectively, can be transformed for our children and our children's children's children.