On Surviving

This week was crazy long and hard. Watching even parts of the Kavanaugh hearing made me feel panicky and sick, and I couldn’t help but see it. The images were everywhere. Men shouting. Men demanding. Men slamming fists into tables. Men whose righteous indignation bled out into the world like acid, corrosive and dangerous and, for me, terrifying. Let me be clear, my trauma is not sexual in nature. Certainly, misogyny and patronizing behavior is writ deep into the story of the last few years, but sexual harm has not been my experience.

Then I read this by Marianne Willaimson:

“It is not just that they have triggered the memories of every woman who has ever been sexually harassed or abused; now they have triggered the memories of every woman who has ever had her opinions ignored or her feelings scorned. Ted Cruz said in his statement that Dr. Ford had been treated with respect. I suppose he means that’s because they didn’t throw eggs at her. What those men don’t understand is that being silent after hearing her speak, as though actually she had not spoken, does not show respect. Basically ignoring what she said does not show respect. Making it all about “Brett, poor baby, he is one of us and he is hurting” does not show respect. In fact, their entire strategy now rests on ignoring what she said… not even grappling with her credibility, much less allowing a further investigation or more witnesses to testify. And every woman who has ever felt that her words meant nothing, that they somehow disappeared into the air after she spoke them and simply bounced off the ears of a man or men in the room, whether she was ever touched inappropriately or not, she is triggered now…”

And my soul opened up and cried. I have sat in that seat. I have faced men who demanded my silence and my obedience, who expressed outrage at the money they spent on enforced counseling at an organization and counselor of their choosing when I did not return submissive, grateful and above all FIXED.

“…every woman who has ever felt that her words meant nothing, that they somehow disappeared into the air after she spoke them and simply bounced off the ears of a man or men in the room…”

I have been manhandled, mansplained, and managed and the experience scored deep wounds in my psyche and soul. This week brought every bit of that to the surface.
I believe now my church experience is like my cancer experience. I survived it, but not without real and lasting damage, much of which cannot be seen. Not only that but for decades I have tried to walk away from the emotional weight of what it was like to live with and walk through the experience. But there’s too many like me, women who need help, women who need hope, women who need to know they aren’t alone.

When I sat in a room of angry men, I had to humbly beg for a woman friend to sit with me, a request which was nearly denied. I will never forget her gentle presence, her quiet support, the power of knowing someone who sat in that room heard me and believed, whose intent was understanding rather than correction. I experienced this too, and it in many ways it saved me.

I don’t always want to be the person who stands with, who has gone before. But I also can’t walk away from her. Each time, whether cancer of the body or cancer of the soul, it rips those old wounds open again and I bleed, and I hurt, and I live those terrible moments over again. And they are terrible, the stuff of nightmares.  But just as I pulled my children into the curve of my body in deep nights when they came to me afraid, so I can reach out and pull another into the warmth and safety of my nearness. I can whisper, “It’s ok. You aren’t alone in the dark anymore.” We all need this, no matter how old we’ve grown.

Yes, this week was hard. My trauma is still fresh, sitting just below the surface and aching like a deep bruise when pressed upon.  But the courage I saw this week was inspiring and beautiful, even though I don’t actually believe much will change. But maybe, maybe if we can be brave enough to draw our lines in the sand and say, “This far, but no farther.” If we can stand together and say, “Me too.” If we, together, can shine a light into the darkness, maybe we won’t feel so scared and alone.

Hope is hard work. Exhausting sometimes, but here at the end of a hard week, I’m still holding on to it with both hands, and bleeding a little as well.

Author: Dana Portwood

I'm a writer, reader, library lover, grower of feminists, leaver of church but friend of Jesus. Inclusive minded, married to my best friend. Sometimes afraid of my own voice, but using it anyway.

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