Thursday, September 22, 2016

Taking My Power Back

It’s possible this is one of the most difficult pieces I have written.  Because when you hide something from even yourself for so long, it becomes swathed in shame.  Recent narrative in the media has finally given me the words I needed to be able to understand what happened.

Until very recently (and by recently I mean the last few weeks), if someone were to ask me what I majored in college, my answer would have been a jovial “parties”.  I would then laugh about the times I would leave my Wednesday night American History class early so that I could make sure I had enough time to get properly ready for karaoke night with my sorority sisters at one of the local pubs that would serve alcohol to minors.  I would laugh about the times I would show up to work and class still buzzed from the night before.  A little more seriously, I would say that there are so many things about college I don’t remember because I was likely still drunk from the day before when I started drinking the next day.  It all seemed so funny.

In Good Company: Taking My Power Back
80's night with my sorority pledge class (I'm top row on the right)

A few years ago I requested an official transcript from college.  My first semester of college I passed one class.  One.  For five semesters as a full-time student I earned 30 credit-hours.  I dropped and failed and didn’t attend more than 40 credit-hours’ worth of classes.  And I had the audacity to wonder why my parents were so pissed off at me regarding the education for which they were footing the bill.

As I mentioned several months back, I have been seeing a therapist to help me wade through the grief following infertility.  As it is with therapy, layers and layers of issues are peeled back – the problem at hand is rarely the only actual problem.  We discussed my severe eating disorder that began in 5th grade and ran rampant until I graduated high school.  It continued to linger well into college but was significantly better than it had been.  People have asked me repeatedly through the years how I recovered from anorexia and bulimia; I have always said I just sort of stopped.  But I think the real answer is that I began drinking and smoking.  The addiction and self-destruction didn’t stop, it migrated to a more socially accepted place.

About a month ago, I had revelation.  As I was discussing sex with my therapist – the fairly common narrative about being an exhausted mom who is tired of meeting needs by the time the end of the day comes – I said something that even surprised myself.  I said, “You know, I haven’t ever said this out loud, but I think I might have been raped.”  She asked me to continue.  “I guess I never really thought about it until recently with all of the talk in the media about what rape is.  But, yeah, I think I was raped.  I never had the words to call it that before because all I knew is that I felt ashamed.  I mean, put myself in that situation and I trusted him, and I had slept with him before, but I said no and no wasn’t good enough.  I didn’t scream and kick and fight, but I had said no.  I said no.  And then I fell asleep, and when I woke up he was raping me.  I always felt like it was my fault and I felt dirty and disgusting and ashamed.  I felt like my power was taken away that night.  I feel like I’m standing on the edge of this cliff right now and I’m either going to stay where I am and explode or I’m going to jump forward and land on a meltdown.”

She confirmed that, yes, what happened was rape (and also that meltdowns are sometimes necessary to begin healing).  It doesn’t have to be a violent, dark-alley, gun to the head situation to be rape.  Rape is ignoring lack of consent and proceeding anyway.  As the truth and weight settled around me, I became angry.  Infuriated.  I had hated my body enough already, and this person who I trusted thought my body was his for consumption.  And I let him keep his claws in me even after the assault.  This asshole created in me shame that I kept bottled up for more than a dozen years.  I am pissed that the lack of control I felt over my body in that singular moment has transferred into my marriage bed.  When my appointment was over I felt like I needed to bathe in bleach and peroxide to wash the years-old filth off of my body.

When I arrived home I immediately left for a walk, my face and body language screaming to Mr. B that there was a huge problem.  When I got back, sweaty and slightly calmed, I was able to finally tell him about the rape.  He was flabbergasted and concerned and offered hugs and sympathy.  Slowly with each person I have felt brave enough to tell, the shame has lifted just a little.  I still have a hard time saying it out loud, maybe because I feel detached from that powerless underweight girl, or maybe because I’m still wrapping my head around the reality of it.

I recently read an article on The Huffington Post by an autistic woman who said that calling her sexual assault what it was felt melodramatic.  Yes, I wanted to scream as I was reading her words.  Exactly, I thought to myself as she said all the things I wanted to say.  She wished she had been like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and fought back, but she didn’t.  I felt her words with every fiber of my being.

I have also been reading Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton, which touches deep in my liberal feminist heart.  Her story of eating disorders and substance abuse was so personal that many times I read her story through my tears.  She says that pain demands to be felt, that you will deal with it somewhere if you try to ignore it.  You have to sit with the pain and feel it to be able to heal.

This is exactly why I write, why I tell things that many people would keep hidden (and I have heard many times that I should share less).  Because I want someone who is sitting in shame to read this and be able to say “Yes, that!  Exactly that!”  If my story can help bring strength to someone else, then my personal pain will have been worth it.

So then how did I recover from my eating disorders and get off that path toward alcoholism?  Honestly I still don’t know.  Mr. B came into my life and offered me a love more honest and true than I had ever experienced.  We married when I was 20 and then I became a functioning adult with anxiety and depression.

In Good Company: Taking My Power Back
Mr. B and I when we first began dating.

I do know my story makes so much more sense now.  It’s not laughable that I dropped out of and failed and skipped so many classes, and that I was instead partying my pain away.  I had never healed from my eating disorder so I was drinking instead.  Then I held that new shameful secret of rape so close that even I didn’t truly understand what it was I was running away from.  I felt embarrassed and guilty for something that was not my fault.  But owning what happened to me, calling it what it is, it takes away the authority it once held over me.  By understanding that my body is my own, that what happened to me was not my choice, by having the courage to say it out loud, I am taking my power back.