Exactly, one year ago today, I admitted that I was beaten and raped more than once by the same man; an ex-boyfriend that I loved and thought would be in my life for a long time. I didn’t inform anyone that I was about to “come out”, except for my husband. I didn’t want anyone to know because admitting that you’re a liar, weak, and had a dirty past isn’t an easy thing to do. I meticulously scanned the calendar and made the decision that I would tell my story on Thanksgiving week 2012. This would allow me to “drop the bomb”, then quickly run away to my mother’s house to avoid the internet, my friends, and eat enough dumplings to soak up my bubbling tears.
At the same time, I couldn’t escape the news about “legitimate rape”. For the first time since I left my ex-boyfriend, the memories I stuffed deep into the inner recesses of my brain started tapping on my shoulder. I don’t know if it was the constant news reports or the climate of my life that made the tapping impossible to ignore. Since leaving my ex, I had been on survival mode. Traveling, working, getting married, having children, getting divorced, working out, building a roller derby league, busy busy busy, anything that kept me alive, I did. Then, I met my current husband, who offered me a love that was so honest that I was born again, washed of my sins, because he didn’t care that I was broken and he wasn’t interested in fixing me. He liked me and that was all he needed. This set me up, for the first time in my life, to be quiet. No more fighting to survive and a whole lot of time for reflecting.
For months, I struggled with how I wanted to finally free myself of this secret. When I told my husband that I was going to write about my experience and possibly publish it, he replied, “Absolutely, you should do that.” So, I did. Now, a year later, I’m looking at the calendar. This year the 18th of November falls on the week before Thanksgiving, which means no hiding or running away, which is what motivated me to write this anniversary piece.
Don’t worry, I won’t do this every year until I die, but this year I need to do it as part of myself inflicted healing process. I need to be able to talk about it with my head held up. Over the last year, I have talked it about it openly twice with an audience of one or two because I am still ashamed and embarrassed. I convince myself that I can see it in their eyes, their disappointment and the question searing in their minds, “Why? Why did you stay? YOU of all people could have walked away.”
Sometimes, I wish they’d ask so I can finally say, “I don’t know. I was scared. I thought he’d kill me. I don’t know why I didn’t tell my friends, my boss, my mom. I don’t know why I didn’t call the cops during the year he stalked me after leaving him. I don’t know. I just don’t know.” As I sit here typing, I realize I have so long to go until I can stop being mad at myself. My cheeks are flushed, my stomach quivers with pulses of rage, and my eyelids blink back the watery saltiness that are the only keepsake I have from those days.
Based on that, I feel like I made no progress over the last year, but forcing myself to read my original post makes me realize that I have. For instance, at the time I wrote it, I convinced myself that my friends would abandon me for lying and if my brother or daughters read it, they would somehow be disgraced. I don’t believe that any longer. I was overwhelmed by the supportive and kind words that people shared with me. The stories of their own experience of abuse made me feel so much pain for them and so much relief for me to know that I am not alone. People, as I should have known, only created a wider space in their hearts and minds for me, not less. For that, I have no words and only wish you could see the light that vibrates in my heart.
This past January, I was selected by World Chicago and the US Department of State as a US Legislative Fellow with 5 other people. We spent 2 weeks in Nepal and Bangladesh, where the daily news spews stories of domestic abuse against women and girls. One morning, while having breakfast at our lovely hotel, I read of a 24-year-old woman who was beheaded by her husband, a 14-year-old girl raped in a bathroom, and a 5-year-old girl beat to death by her father’s bare hands. Somewhere along the trip, my team was invited to a college to discuss a variety of topics, but the topic of sexual abuse was rampant. When asked by a young student what could be done about this, I remember saying, “Tell your story. If it has happened to you, if you know someone it’s happening to, tell your story and stop feeling the shame because it changes something in people when they know that someone they know is being affected. It becomes real.”
I’m not going to join a rape victims advocacy group or go to therapy. It’s not me. Writing, talking and sharing is how I’ve been able to handle many of my crisis. It’s my tool to find a way to breakthrough my struggles. It seems appropriate that one year after my coming out that I finally write my letter to my abuser.
Whether it was the abuse you suffered as a child or the drugs you took or your unhappiness about being a monster, you were terrible to me. You spent so much time trying to destroy me, but you didn’t because I am not just a survivor, I. AM. A. WARRIOR. No amount of punches or midnight raids into my body stopped that.
Respectfully, I feel the word “survivor” doesn’t fit me. I didn’t “survive” your abuse. I made choices to change your actions by taking away your power. I was frightened, intimidated and should have-could have done something earlier, but eventually I did. No longer your victim, I emerged as a warrior. I don’t know where it came from or how I found it, but I fought for myself and I claimed my body back.
Yes, it’s true that after finally leaving you, I was on a path of self-destruction that was sure to kill me, that I hoped would kill me. I may still cry when I think of you and my soul is still encased in shame and regret. Even though you’ve never lived here, anytime I see someone who resembles you, I jump. But, I also found that I had an incredible strength and drive to make decisions to change my life and to expel you from it.
God, I wish I was so angry that I could tell you that I hate you and can’t wait until your final demise, but I don’t want to. Actually, I want to tell you that I am so happy. I am so so happy. I have met this wonderful, brilliant man that loves me. I have these smart and amazing children. I have a lovely job that I never expected. I have been to many cities and countries. I’ve eaten and drank at some of the most luxurious places in the country. I have been on some of the wildest adventures. I have a great life.
OH! And I have these friends that are incredible. People that honestly like me and they don’t think I’m dumb or ugly or gross or pathetic. Instead they tell me I’m smart and beautiful and sometimes even funny! And guess what else? When all these people found out about you, they told me that they still love me and some said they loved me even more.
You see, I don’t want to focus on you. Though my scars remain, the ones I dare not talk about (but I know you know them), I don’t care. I don’t. I want to focus on this world that I built. I put my hands in the dirt, dug around, and planted the seeds. I water and turn the soil daily. My work has paid off. My bounty is fruitful, colorful, and growing bigger every day. I am happy.
My compassionate self wants to say that I hope you found happiness and I forgive you and blah blah blah. Instead, I’ll tell you what I’m really thinking – I don’t care. I no longer give a fuck about you. Wherever you are, the moment I publish this piece, I hope you feel a bolt through your bitter ugly heart because we’re done and I won.
This will be the first and last anniversary of my “coming out”. While I will struggle with my history, I will do my best to stop feeling the shame and let the pain fade. I believe that it takes a small drop to make a big wave. We can’t affect change without talking, sharing and acknowledging. My biggest regret was that I never told anyone then and even telling it years later, I still felt shame. No more. Please share my story. It’s not my story, it’s our story. The story of so many women and girls that live in our neighborhoods, are in our schools, are our coworkers. I know sharing this story won’t solve the problems of domestic or sexual abuse, but it’s my way of reaching my arms around someone and saying, “You can do this. You’re a warrior, too.”