I’d be lying if I said that I was overwhelmed at the 1500 people who read my blog about what it was like to experience Trump’s election as a sexual abuse survivor. (Ok, it’d only be a half lie because 1500 views is way more than my normal 3!!!). But viral is what I was hoping that blog post would get, and I didn’t quite get there.
I want a viral response on a intimate post like that not because I enjoy the attention highlighting the most vulnerable areas of my life; I hate it. But if nobody notices me, nobody will hear me. And I need to be heard because my type of suffering is so insanely common. Like, I can count on one hand the number of friends I have who haven’t experienced sexual violence.
I need you. We need you. I wanted viral.
Sexual abuse is not an easy cause to champion. It’s not cool. There aren’t clear heroes or easy fixes. And it’s almost too common to notice; which is why I believe that we must notice it together.
It feels too personal, too messy, too shameful, too complicated. But it isn’t our shame. The shame belongs to the perpetrator, not the survivors. It is deeply personal and messy and complicated, but there are healthy and safe ways we can each find to speak. And if you aren’t at a place where you can stand for yourself, share for me, dear friend. Speak publicaly in support of your friend Caitie (hi, my name is Caitie. My abuse began when I was 5 and was continued by various men until I was in college and my body spent, destroyed.).
Statistics say that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys in America are abused. But what do the statistics know of those of us who can hardly whisper–let alone speak loud enough to be counted–of these hidden atrocities? I don’t know how these statistics were gathered. Maybe they did take me into account. Maybe they didn’t. Either way, in light of those numbers, how many abusers must be hiding among us? If that’s the number of survivors on our streets, at our girls night out, how many violators walk the streets around us, silent and manipulative, willing the violence to remain hidden, deceiving themselves of the devastation from their wandering hands.
We must speak about this unspeakable violence happening quietly among us because not speaking means there is silence. (And we all know the quotes about the silence of good men and women.) Unspeakable violence is simply that: violence so severe that the ability to choose and order words (verbal or written) is lost. So speak with gentleness and care, not out of your own helplessness or fear or defensiveness. It takes guts and struggle for the mouth to remember the way to move, and it’s often easier if someone else loans the words.
Two words that are really helpful to me are “trigger warning.” I know these get a bad wrap around intellectual freedom and what not on campus. Regardless of those situations and discussions, I find trigger warnings (a phrase that comes before anyone brings up sexual abuse) help me to be aware that I need to zip up my emotional body armor, or sometimes even leave the room if last night’s nightmares still weigh me down. Trigger warnings empower me to protect myself and counteract the powerlessness I felt in my abuse. They give me the choice to say “no. I don’t want this right now.” A choice I didn’t have for many years.
A single word I find uplifting is survivor. Not victim, not thriver; to me, both of those words feel stuck in time. A victim is stuck in the abuse but a thriver is over and past it. Survivor, however, tells me that my past abuse does cling but it isn’t (always) in control. Calling myself a survivor allows for the abuse to be present in the now without taking it over. (And, despite the triggers and flashbacks and nightmares that come, I am actually thriving today.)
I also find it helpful if people ask questions and let me share how much or how little I want to. Please remember that most times I’ll need a moment after the conversation to comfort my inner 5 year old. Questions give me the chance to decide how much I share or how little, they give me the control I’m desperate for in my abuse story. But you must remember: There are no words you can use to fix me, heal me; some of your well intended words will hurt. And I won’t be able to choose hope in Jesus like you want me to, so hold it for me awhile. “I’m so sorry. Do you want to share more?” is a powerful phrase and my favorite thing to hear when I share.
But…that’s just me. Each survivor hurts in so many unique, intimate ways. The recovery process and what makes a space safe to share these horrific things is so particular to each person.
It’s a messy life but one worth living. My body has tried for 23 years to communicate the fact of my abuse, so if your story doesn’t hold these nightmares, speak upfor the silent around you and the silent around the world who live and survivor worse than I ever have or will. “I see you! You matter. What happened to you was wrong!” (Feel free to copy and paste that).
So, yes. I did want my blog post shared and I did want it to go viral. (Huffington Post, Atlantic, I’m looking at you.) But it hasn’t (yet) so I will keep writing. because my story matters. And so do you.
What makes you feel safe to share?
Think of someone you know is struggling in this life season. Send them a gentle note encouraging them.