How other women’s stories of surviving sexual assault have taught me to let go of shame

I couldn’t escape the headlines of Trump’s alleged assault victims last week. They were everywhere. I read their stories. They made me sad. Then they made me panic.

I tend to stay silent on politics. I vote my face off. I have one on one conversations with friends, but not very often. I tell people it’s because I relate to Ron Swanson. I say I was raised in a time when talking about politics could make those around you uncomfortable. It would be rude to make anyone else uncomfortable. I genuinely never want to do that.

But I think the truth is closer to something like, I am afraid.

I’ve been afraid for a long time. It started in college with my own experience. For a brief but terrifying period of time, I was stalked. That’s all I want to say about it. Like the thousands of other women who have been sharing their stories on Twitter and Facebook, I have other stories beyond that. I could tell you about men who didn’t respect my boundaries or men who tried to pressure me into doing something I didn’t want to do or, or, or…

But I don’t want to tell those right now. What I want to do is encourage you, however painful, and if it feels safe to you, to revisit your own story. I hope you don’t have one. I hope you are so untouched by the issue that this article seems like irrelevant rambling.

I imagine this very public moment in time is both freeing and tough for a lot of us, male and female, who have been assaulted or threatened in some way. It reminds us of experiences we’d rather forget. Maybe things we’ve actively worked to minimize or doubt. Maybe that didn’t even happen? Maybe it was my fault and I should be grateful it wasn’t worse? What did I do to cause this and how can I ensure I never do it again? false

When stories like mine weren’t all over the headlines, I could carry my trauma around like a quiet shame. I could pretend the mental hoops I was jumping through were of my own making. My fault. Bad girl. Bad.

But now I have to think differently. Now I can reconsider the fact that maybe instead of being afraid, I can be angry.

Maybe I can look back to that awful time when I’d sleep on the couch with a weapon in my hand, and think, “How dare he make me feel that scared.” Maybe I can think back to how clearly unhinged I was, crying over a sink full of dishes with a house full of party guests, and wonder, “Why didn’t anyone help me or ask what was wrong?” I know they saw.

I encourage you, reconsider. If you’ve been carrying around feelings of doubt or shame, think again.

If you’ve been wondering if what happened to you was your fault, maybe for years, allow yourself the new luxury of knowing that human beings are sovereign little entities. If you’ve felt the need to make friends with your abuser so everything seemed normal, sever that tie. You don’t have to do that.

We walk around making individual choices. No matter what hurt or desire or emotions we are experiencing, we do not have the right to inflict them upon another sovereign little entity. That is the truth.

There is truth at the bottom of the rabbit hole now, instead of a cycle of guilt and shame. Get to the bottom of it. Find it.

You don’t have to share your story if you don’t want to. If, like me, your hands shake and your heart beats and all you want to do is shut the world out right now, that’s okay too.

You don’t have to give details or confess to anyone, though I thank the brave souls who have done so, helping me to this moment of realization and relief. Helping us to collective catharsis.

Look again, sweet girl. Turn your fear into anger, even if it’s just for a moment. Reconsider.

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