Surviving

cw: sexual assault and trauma

I thought I was doing better. Not that I thought I was “over it.” I just thought I was doing better – at least until I watched Dr. Blasey Ford’s testimony.

When she started retelling her trauma, I cried. I didn’t stop crying until right before class. I knew he was going to be confirmed. I’m sick of seeing this happen: different faces, different bodies, the same tired story. She speaks, they interrogate her, we mourn until we forget whose loss we are mourning. Nothing changes.

After I was assaulted, I kept asking myself why I was in so much pain. It wasn’t that bad, right? Why couldn’t I stop crying? My mom made me go to the police, but nothing happened. They told me it wasn’t worth pressing charges. I cried myself to sleep that night. A couple of days later I went into treatment.

Once, in treatment, they asked us to think of one object and free-associate, writing down our train of thought. I started with pavement and ended with trauma. (Pavement. Ground. Dirt. Dirty. I feel dirty. After it happened, I felt so dirty that I showered until my skin was pink and pruney, scrubbed until my flesh was raw. It didn’t help.) What do you want to take back? they asked us. What do you want to be able to think about without having to think of your trauma? Everything. Anything.

Dr. Blasey Ford’s testimony ripped my scabs off. I forgot how to speak in class with that bitter taste in my mouth. I forgot how to fall asleep with the lights out. I forgot what it feels like when I grind my teeth. I’m so tired. Something deserves to be burned. Someone deserves to be yelled at, to be beaten into a pulp. I’m so angry that it makes me sad. I’m so angry that I can’t stop crying. Everything brings me back to this, still. Even now.

In The Body Keeps the Score, Bessel van der Kolk writes “the essence of trauma is that it is overwhelming, unbelievable, and unbearable.” It is terrifying to feel like you can’t trust your own body. It is isolating to feel like nobody can tolerate or process your pain. It is not easy.

I forgot how I survived back when it was really bad: I let myself feel. I’m not so angry that it makes me sad, I’m angry and I’m also just fucking sad. And I’m allowed to be sad, to mourn, to be vulnerable. I need to be, because pretending it didn’t happen has never helped me.

Dr. Blasey Ford’s hearing hurt so much because it was about a lot more than just her. I watched what happened to me (and so many women I know) in private happen again to another woman in public. The mockery, the disbelief, the people defending him. It is as clear now as it ever has been: men protect men, power protects power.

There are certain men in my life who have stayed curiously silent about this hearing. There are others who have posted on social media about it while maintaining close friendships with people who they know are rapists. To them, I ask, at what cost? Why does brotherhood outweigh trauma? Who are you prioritizing and why?

Maybe that’s another reason why the hearing reopened my wounds, because it contextualized my assault within a national framework of violence against women. And maybe it scared me because right now, I can’t change that. It has been nearly impossible for me to go a single day since the hearing without thinking of my assault. I have no obligation to be “healed” or to pretend I’m fine. The only obligation I have is to take care of myself.

This break, I’m trying to remember to let myself feel unconditionally, to remember my power and light, and to honor my memories and the way they are stored in my body. I am not “over it,” and that’s okay. Some days I am stronger than others, and that’s okay, too. At least I am still alive.