Why I Didn’t Report: Become Your Story’s Steward Rather Than Its Hostage.
This sexual reckoning has been showing up in my body for weeks now. Regressive. Reminiscent of another time. Digestion stagnant. Energy depressed. Sleep elusive with vivid and exhausting dreamscapes. Everyday activities feel superficial and daunting.
Like many, I feel the weight of my own story and alongside it, the density of just how many of us there are strung together on an endless cord of unspoken agony.
To say that I was inspired by Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony feels far too cursory of a review. Her words rose in my throat. Her tears salted my cheeks. She is me.
Trauma doesn’t conform to spoken narratives. Survivors witness and feel beneath the story; they understand that memories are visceral and cellular. Fragmented, often locked away in an unconscious vault; we banish pain in order to survive it.
I struggled with anxiety for most of my life. In adolescence, I began to experience crippling panic attacks, terrorizing dreams and inexplicable stroke-like symptoms.
Memories of my childhood trauma were stored before I had words in which to house them. I first learned of my sexual wounds through dissociative sexual interactions. If I dared have sex while sober, I felt a possession of sorts. Some powerful and latent psychodynamic complex would rise up and protectively mute my senses.
Whether through alcohol or dissociation, I held myself at arm’s length from my pain (and my pleasure) for decades. This kept me safe from intimacy with family, friends and lovers, well into my adult life.
Trauma penetrates the skin, lives forever in the memory of five senses. The soul lies impotent to a body held hostage, frozen in time. Sharing the details of sexual trauma is excruciating; lifting the veil on the numbness cuts to the bone. It’s like speaking from the depths of a deep ocean. The water is murky, thick with a dark and suffocating shame.
Turning attention towards your re-membered perpetrator sinks you deeper into an abyss — an unfathomable prison of anguish and self-doubt.
And yet, eventually we find another. Someone brave enough to say it first. Ask the right question. Offer us permission and resources. Others who do as Dr. Ford did: model the courage to speak, and dare us to relive the darkness so that we might become our story’s steward rather than its hostage.
We finally get selfish enough to speak of the unspeakable and expose ourselves and our loved ones to the guilt and regret of not having been there to protect us. We do the seemingly impossible inner work to wrap words around what feels in every way inexpressible…
… and we are met with suspicion and condemnation. We are questioned, called names: teases, liars and sluts. Our inability to immediately report the story we could hardly bear to live inside is judged, and we are told our failure to do so makes us more obviously full-of-shit and all the more broken.
Worst of all, we are made to feel shame for daring challenge the good reputation of a man who may be (by all other estimations) a stand-up guy.
Bullshit misogyny is a truly fucked-up paradigm to deconstruct, made worse by those who can’t seem to fathom that a good man can live a largely-noble life with a shadow daemon in tow.
Paradox defines the soul of the survivor. We understand that we are all the hero and the villain of our story. We know what it’s like to feel both love and hate in the same breath. And at our best, we learn how to both forgive ourselves and hold another human accountable for his actions.
Emotional maturity and the ability to live comfortably inside ambivalence and nuance is a superpower. Each of us are made up of both dark and light. Denial of this fact is at the crux of our collective demise, and it’s the source of so much of the pain we cause one another.
Yet let us not forget, projection casts shadows in both directions. We as women must take responsibility for our part in this polarizing political tango.
While nowhere near as common, I have witnessed women abusing the power of this movement — resorting to reflexive and ill-advised attempts to reclaim the power that patriarchy has stolen from us by attacking and/or emasculating well-meaning men who are in fact our allies.
For those who lend their male privilege to our cause, let us be firm-yet-kind (vs. righteously indignant). Let’s not shame but rather educate those who have truly demonstrated that they are willing to hear and stand alongside us.
Thank you to those of you who have led the way — this week, in years past, and for generations. However long it’s taken me, I am joining the chorus of so many of us who are now proclaiming that it’s long-past time the cultural narrative around sexual abuse be re-authored by the women who have survived it.
I commend the courage of the countless women who are sharing their stories publicly, attempting to explain to the world the culture that has lead to the #MeToo, #TimesUp, and #WhyIDidntReport movements.
And, I am angry as hell that at present, our primary path of solidarity means baring our most-intimate souls to a world full of righteous and ignorant criticism. But so be it. I’m all in.
That said, not a single one of us owes it to the public to speak of any story that lives and haunts our bodies. It is, however, our collective calling to speak truth to power, call bullshit on the boys’-club mentality once and for all (god willing), and do our best to re-author this narrative for the next generation.
Candice Schutter is a life coach and writer. She’s the author of two comprehensive online coaching programs, and has been a somatic educator since 2001. In September 2015, she was inducted into the Atheneum Writing Fellowship through The Attic Institute. She is currently working on her first full-length book.