I’ve been on my knees a lot lately, and not only because I’m planting in the garden. Actually, I kneel often throughout the day, folding into child’s pose, surrendering whatever is happening in the moment…whatever I’m feeling or thinking or trying to push away. This spring it’s been challenging to move forward all the while being reminded of past events I thought I had dealt with long ago. Still, I’ve come to appreciate the fact that the more slowly I move through something, the more quickly I’ll heal, for I won’t move so fast that I miss a step, an awareness, a necessary lesson.
This week there’s been a lot of news coverage about the Stanford rape case and its outcome. I read the complete statement the victim made to the assailant in court and was brought to tears by her courage, clarity, and uncompromising ability to tell the truth of what had happened, regardless of how much the defense tried to twist her testimony during the trial. Regardless of the light sentence the assailant received. Regardless of his father’s horrendous reframing of his son’s choices. If I had been only a year or so into the healing process, I would have been terrified.
She was triumphant.
When asked why she prefers to remain anonymous, she has been quoted as saying, “For now, I am every woman.”
For now, she speaks for me.
It’s been more than twenty years since I first remembered being sexually assaulted. More than fifteen since I’ve finally felt at home in my body after a lifetime of eating disorders, addictions, and other retroflective behaviors because I unconsciously blamed myself for what had happened. It's been almost six years since I finally made peace with my tumultuous past. Yet I find that the long road of recovery brings me around again to one lesson I hadn’t fully learned.
In its entirely, this healing journey has led me out of pain and into a more peaceful acceptance of events I cannot change. Now more than ever, I’m taking incredible care of my heath, my body, mind, and spirit. I have friends who love me. Work that is deeply fulfilling. Creative outlets galore. Even so, no matter how much I heal in other areas, no matter how much I have my life together personally and professionally, I’ve had nothing but painful experiences when it comes to my relationships with men.
In junior high and high school, I was sloppy seconds for someone when my older sister wasn’t interested in him. This lasted until she went to college, but by then I figured I was worth nothing more than a diversion for some guy on his way to someone else. Four years at Miami University yielded a few benign first dates, but after the person I took to my first formal dance hooked up with someone else in the middle of the night, I knew I was done.
For ten years I put a moratorium on dating…until I met Marshall in my late twenties who gave me mixed messages, telling me were just friends, then putting his hands all over me whenever he wanted. At the time, even though a part of me was attracted to him, it still felt dirty, yet I couldn’t find the courage to stop him. But when Marshall invited me on a cross-country trip, one that would end with us meeting another one of his women at the other end of the country, I finally stood up for myself.
Not that it did any good.
“There’s no chance of commitment with you,” Marshall sneered. “That’s why I touch you the way that I do.”
Simultaneously, I was being stalked and when I called the police to report the man after he tried to accost me at home, the officers pointedly questioned me. “This is just an old boyfriend you want to get rid of, right?” one of the men asked.
“No!” I retorted.
“Well, if he hasn’t harmed you or threatened you, we can’t really do anything,” the other officer said.
“Give me your badge numbers then,” I snapped. “Because when he does beat the crap out of me or rape me, I’ll call you first.”
Fortunately, a restraining order kept the stalker at bay even though for years, not a day went by that I wasn’t hyper vigilant, always on the lookout for him.
The first guy I slept with got what he wanted, then moments later humiliated me by talking about another woman saying, “I don’t know if I can be monogamous…you’re beautiful, but I don’t want a relationship with you.”
When I lived at Esalen, I was solicited for casual sex by men who didn't know much about me beyond my name. During the Basin Ridge Fire when most of the residents had been evacuated and women were more scarce, one man in particular made physically aggressive advances toward me.
Pushing him away, I said, “I don’t want to get involved with you."
“This is just about sex,” he snarked. “You’ve got an edge I don’t want to deal with.”
“I have that edge because you and a lot of men think I’m something to play with when you’re bored,” I said coolly. “I’ve learned the hard way who loses in that game.”
In 2010, along came Elliot, a man I had met at Esalen, who traveled to Ohio to stay with me for a while. For the first few days it was wonderful, but then he changed dramatically. After degrading me in my own home and embarrassing me in front of a group of friends with sexually graphic language, I was infinitely thankful I had kept my feelings in check and was never intimate with him. Several times a day, Elliot tried to bait me into a fight or asked highly inappropriate questions. When I wouldn’t fall for it, he simply disappeared while I was at work. No phone call. No email. No apology. Not that the experience was anything new. No man from my past ever bothered to tell me they were sorry for how badly they treated me.
For five years, I kept myself protected. There was no one, and after a lot of soul searching, I thought, Maybe I’m not meant to be with anyone in this lifetime.
Then I met someone this past winter.
It was difficult to gather enough courage to venture into that world again, to risk possible intimacy, but after our first date, I knew it was completely worth it. Believe it or not, Trey was the first man to ever be honest about his attraction to me. The first man to hold my hands at dinner, to hug me good-bye without making a pass. The first man to call just to say how much he enjoyed spending time with me. From that night on, I looked forward to taking things slowly, to getting to know Trey one moment at a time, and if we were compatible, spending more time together. I thought to myself, Finally, I’ve healed enough to allow something good in my life.
So it was a shock when Trey stood me up for our second date. He later admitted he had been reconnecting with a girlfriend from whom he had recently separated, but wanted to be friends with me to “see where things might lead”. The following morning via email Trey wrote that he was also interested in a strictly physical relationship, insisting that he wasn’t like all of the men from my past, that he was just being honest.
I wanted to hammer him by writing back: You might be honest, but what you want hurts like hell. You can't be respectful enough to show up for a date, but I’m sure you’d make the time to bang. Instead, I took a deep breath and replied with a polite email asking for more clarity.
Which he ignored.
The next day I wrote again, clearly explaining why I couldn’t be casual, why the whole scenario made me feel uncomfortable.
Which he also ignored.
Over time, I forgave him and let it go, not that it was easy. Perhaps that's what I was meant to learn by the whole experience. Still, through forgiving Trey, I created more space inside of myself -- space to heal, to rediscover my ability to be compassionate under pressure, and to soften and open my heart that much more.
Recently, I thought Trey had changed for the better when he asked if we could spend some time alone together. But before we had even set a date, the cycle repeated itself again and he went back to another ex-girlfriend without telling me, even though he had many opportunities to do so. When I found out after-the-fact, I wasn't really all that surprised.
The first time around, even though I consciously knew better, there was still a lingering conviction that I must have done something wrong, that I wasn’t attractive enough or smart enough or whatever enough to hold Trey’s attention. Then I thought, Maybe my past is still dictating my present.
This time, I see things very differently. Now I fully and viscerally comprehend that Trey’s behavior…and the behavior of all the hurtful men from my past has absolutely nothing to do with me or my worth as a woman or anything else I may have projected onto the situation. It has everything to do with them and their inability to see me as more than a pretty face or a piece of ass.
There aren’t many authentic heroes in our culture anymore. Too often the glamorous, the rich, the famous are touted for being more than what they represent. For me, real heroes are the individuals who dare to stand up and speak when the powers that be would rather they sit down and shut up. They are the people who dare to confront the uncomfortable truths in our society and shine a light for all to see. They are people like the brave woman who stood in court this past week and refused to be a victim any longer, who showed me that forgiveness is an act of power.
She courageously speaks for every woman who never had the opportunity to confront their attacker. For everyone who is enduring the hell of the aftermath of what may take a lifetime to overcome. For everyone who cannot find their voice, either because they are too ashamed or too scared to do so. I pass no judgement as I have been, and in many ways, still am one of those women.
But now more than ever…I know I am not alone.