Change the Conversation

Today for #NOMOREWeek I want to share about something that is super sensitive. I want to start by saying that this post is not to make anyone who said any of these things feel bad. Because I know that these things weren’t said with an intention to make me feel bad. So, I want to show how what is said can make a huge difference and why it is important to be careful and sensitive with words. 

Making the choice to tell people what had happened afterwords was not easy. In fact, I had called a friend in complete shock. She encouraged me to call the police and make a report. And she had a short shift at work and then came and took me to the hospital. When the officers came to take the report, they actually would not leave until I called either someone in my family, a friend, or the local crisis line. I wasn’t quite ready to tell anyone else so I called the crisis line. Then the crisis line was encouraging me towards telling someone else too. So after conversation there, I finally did tell my parents. Then I just wanted to sleep. It was exhausting telling people and I really just wanted to withdrawal. Not only that, I was simply exhausted from not sleeping, and from everything that had happened. 

Right after, there was a wave of disbelief, of complete shock, of total numbness. It was like I was watching everything that was happening and that it wasn’t me. At the same time I felt completely powerless like everything had been taken from me and like my world was going to end. At the time I wished he had just killed me, because it seemed like it would have been easier then trying to figure out to do with everything that was going through my mind. Immediately thoughts of being dirty, feelings of guilt and shame, thoughts that I am unlovable, that I was weak, that I didn’t get a say because I did’t deserve to these thoughts all took up a camp in my head. These thoughts aren’t thoughts you just share. Because there was also a lot of isolation. Like how could anyone understand what I was thinking? There was guilt for having these thoughts, that if people knew they would think I was crazy. 

As people found out different questions were asked, I believe out of trying to understand and understand themselves. But the thing is some of these questions and comments that were not meant to cause any hurt did. Perhaps one of the questions I dreaded the most was, You went out for a walk in the middle of the night? You went out alone? You out for a walk in the middle of the night alone?! Now in that place of utter shock, confusion and feeling completely powerless it left me thinking, I know. I have been told since I was a kid do not go out alone, do not go out in the middle of the night, and do not go out in the middle of the night alone. See, those questions reaffirmed my thoughts that it was my fault. That this could have been avoided if I had only… see, my brain raced with those thoughts. If I didn’t go on the walk, if I had gone at a different time, if I had gone a different way. I could play the what if came forever. The other questions that caused some of those thoughts were why didn’t you take your phone? No, no one was going to call me at 2:30 am and sometimes I liked feeling free of having it with me. Did you fight? No, I was terrified. I simply did what I was told because I didn’t know what else to do. To me it was that everything I did was being judged. That clearly If I had only done …. then this could have been avoided. It gave the voice of guilt and shame a stronger voice in my head. 

Sometimes people wanted to offer advice. And encouragement by saying, you are stronger than this, don’t let it control you. In those moments I truly didn’t believe I was strong enough. And by suggesting that it meant I was still not doing things right that I was letting it control me. That was the last thing I wanted. Small things like that would play into the lies that I was weak because someone could see it was impacting me. Or it would be said don’t be irrational with your fears, shake it off and realize it happened but that doesn’t mean it is going to happen again. That would undermine my fear, it would lead me to think I was dumb for letting there be fear. But the reality was can you guarantee it won’t happen again? If so then why did it happen in the first place? See my sense of safety in the world had been torn apart and these comments or questions just left me feeling vulnerable, that I was a failure or that I wasn’t strong enough to handle any of this. 

Again, I know that it was not anyone’s intention for that. But this is why it is important for me to share so that there can be a change in how we approach the subject. So let me tell you the things that did help. Simply listening and just saying I don’t know what to say, but I believe you and I love you. I appreciated that response because it was honest, simple, and just let me be. Being angry for me, showing anger about what the guy had done, saying that it was wrong, being protective of me. I didn’t feel like I could do that for myself and while it may have gotten a half hearted smile, or a nervous laugh, or just a blank stare of silence, it was because it didn’t make sense that you would be upset. But in time each time that happened it showed me in a really raw way that you didn’t think it was my fault. Acts of kindness and care, brining me a meal, taking the day off to hangout with me, letting me sleep at your house in the middle of the day. Each of those things showed me that regardless of what I was feeling, where I was that you cared enough and you may not have had words but your actions showed that you still loved me and you thought I was worth caring for. Even though I may have not responded or fought it, the fact that you were willing to fight for me when I couldn’t find the strength to take care of myself. Asking me how I was and not accepting an okay or fine. But asking me specifically, How are you doing with sleep? How are you coping? How are you dealing with the fear and anxiety? Asking me specific questions showed you heard my heart and you wanted to go there with me, you wanted to know what I was experiencing and you thought it was valid. When I did share feelings and thoughts that were lies and you spoke the truth after validating how I felt. See that part was super important because I felt like I could do nothing right, that I couldn’t even feel right, so when my irrational thoughts and feelings were validated but then challenged. That was I knew I was worth fighting for. That yes, I could be afraid, that I had every reason to be afraid, but that I could overcome that fear. That I could feel guilty and shameful, and those feelings were real, valid and powerful but that did not mean that it was my fault. See, each time my feelings were validated, it meant I wasn’t crazy but that I was human. 

The difference was the focus was on what I was feeling and that being validated. The focus wasn’t on what I did or what I didn’t do. Because in the grand scheme of things, what I did or didn’t do should not matter. The only thing that should matter is that I did not give consent, someone exerted power over me, and used me. The details of how and when should not matter. If I had been robbed would anyone have asked me why would you go out alone? If I had been in a car accident would anyone ask why where you out at night? That is why the conversation has to change. Those details should not matter and those details would be shared eventually and shared with who I wanted to go more into detail with, but those shouldn’t be the first questions that are asked. Or even necessarily asked at all. 

So today I say #NOMORE No more questions that can further the blame and guilt. No more if only I had … No more focus on the actions of what the victim had done. No more don’t go for a walk alone. No more don’t go out at night. No more guilt. No more shame. No more blame. No more because enough is enough and it is time to change to the conversation so that is one that does not further guilt, shame or isolation. But that sharing and having the tough conversations leaves only empowerment, validation, and love. That way more people can share without a fear of judgment or worrying about if someone will believe what happened. This is how we change that. We have these conversations and make the small changes. Those questions and comments may seem harmless, but realize afterwords when all power has been taken away those words can do a lot. So chose your words carefully and when uncertain just share that. Be careful to always be validating of what is being shared. You never know, you may be the one who validates someone’s story and gives them enough hope to keep on to the next day. Are you willing to say No More?

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