I followed a little of the Ford Kavanaugh hearing yesterday. Mostly though I’ve been reading comments left by other women telling of their experiences of sexual assault, harassment, rape, and abuse. It’s been really hard and I found myself crying. A lot. I woke up crying this morning too. It feels very isolating. I don’t think these things ever go away. No amount of therapy, talking about it, having a good life now, takes away the brokenness inside. I am forever changed. And it is always relived. I still see it playing out in my life.
I feel sad and disempowered and fearful for 14 year old me who was raped. Who started drinking the next day because I couldn’t make sense of the world. Who blacked out the first time I drank. Whose next sexual encounter was 2 days later in a drunken state with 2 boys. Who on 3 occasions woke up from black outs with men fucking me. Who twice received unwelcome sexual attention in the workplace and nothing was done when I reported it. Who, at age 20, would wake up distraught and fighting my boyfriend if he tried to cuddle me while I was asleep (I once kicked him, jumped out of bed, and ran through the house to escape). Who still chooses men who seem less physically threatening. Who still feels incredibly endangered when faced with an even vaguely threatening environment.
It’s easy and convenient to minimise small events; the unwarranted flirtatious texts, the unsolicited dick pics, the requests to ‘send nudes’, the ‘just for fun’, the ‘little secret’. I may even laugh at these things in the moment, but later on they’re not so funny. My first reaction is still defense (laughing) and only with some space and time can I access my feelings. The cumulative effect is large and draining.
Almost as bad as all of that is the sense that there is no one to turn to. There is the societal urging to ‘get over it’ and ‘rise above’. I can’t do that all the time. It’s painful to be the Phoenix rising. Yes, I may no longer be debilitated by my fear and brokenness but it is never gone, the scab is never truly healed because it gets picked at regularly in small ways. And in sad ways, I pick my own scab too.
I’m tired today, and I don’t know the way out. But if I get vulnerable with you, you may see me, you may hear me, you may remind me that I’m not alone, that my sisters got my back. If I get vulnerable, I’ll be shown the way out.
It’s often only with hindsight that I recognize the moments my life changed. And so it was with the moment Graeme entered my life. It was a Friday afternoon in July 2000 and I was utterly beaten by addiction. That afternoon I truly believed my only option was suicide. My mind was shattered, my body ravaged, my spirit splintered. I did not know who I was. As a last act of desperation I called Lifeline.
In those days NA in Durban was not organized. There was no phoneline to call, no website to visit. But Lifeline gave me Graeme’s phone number. It took hours but with my Dad’s encouragement I finally spoke to Graeme.
Graeme did what we in 12 step fellowships are called to do; he carried a message of hope to me, the desperate addict. When he spoke he was speaking my story. He was the first person to give me hope; the first person I believed when he said there was a way out. He was the first person I called when I got out of rehab, and the first person I met at a meeting.
During my first couple of years, Graeme listened to my bullshit, told me it was bullshit, and gave me suggestions for a different perspective. He never told me to go away when I relapsed and he never shamed me. He reminded me that “this too shall pass”.
The impact of Graeme’s answering my phone call has been huge, not only in my life. He demonstrated for me the power of sharing our experience, strength and hope, and nothing more than that. The only things that mattered were “do you want to change?” and the program is the solution. His one small act led me to 7 years of phoneline service where I had the privilege of doing for others what had been so freely done for me.
Graeme, you will be missed. You will forever be part of my story, with gratitude and humility.
We could go back to the start,
to tentative touches and expectant kisses;
tummy butterflies and shy glances.
We could go back to a time
when there was nothing in existence but our burning fire
incinerating the world around us;
the time when there was only you
and only me.
We could go back to the start.
But I’d still be me.
And you’d still be you.
Our lonelinesses colliding
– a cacophonous distraction.
I’d like to go swimming with you –
diving under crashing waves
the salty ocean tingling our skin
floating and drifting quietly on the swell.
I’d like to drink tea with you –
quiet earnest conversation about who we are
gentle chamomile smoothing the pathways between us
raucous laughter and trips down memory lane, bold mint and tart hibiscus
fuelling our non-stop chatter.
I’d like to tend a garden with you –
our hands nurturing life, the sun on our backs
dirt under our nails
insects buzzing their gossipy secrets between us
flowers and herbs serenading us with their scents.
Even though I hate gardening, I’d like to tend a garden with you.
I think a lot about dying.
And I think a lot about how we’re not supposed to think about dying. Why is it that death and dying are taboo in our society? Why are we so scared to even give voice to that sometimes fleeting thought of desiring a permanent way out? I stay silent because I don’t want to be judged. I don’t want to be moralized or cajoled into an ‘attitude of gratitude’. I want to be allowed to feel what I feel. I want to be allowed to examine my thinking. But mostly I don’t say anything because I don’t want people to worry. I’m not suicidal. But I do think a lot about dying.
This is not how I imagined our ending
This is not the culmination of our honest conversation
This is not the gentle and patient way we have grown
This is not respect
This is not integrity
This is not the friendship we have pieced together over the years
This is absence
love your body as a lover loves your body
the delicious curve of your waist;
dipping before embracing the succulence of your hips,
hips that sway sensually with the rhythm of you
trace your finger along the history
of your stretchmarks.
they tell a story of motherhood and creation –
heartbreak and joy; of you becoming more.
Monday 7th March 2016, 9-something pm
“Mom, I’ve taken a bunch of pills.”
Shame seeps out from the soles of my feet
Leaving messy footprints in my wake
I wipe my bare feet on the mat of confession
I scrape them raw, desperate for wholeness
They look clean
But there’s always a layer of residue
Small specks ingrained in the whorls of my footprints
I carry them where I go
I wash my hands in the waters of forgiveness
Still they are grey with grimy sludge
When I touch you my handprints remain
The oils of my fingerprints have stained my spirit
There is no escape
I dry my body under the summer sun
Scorch this shame from my skin
Unburrow it from my heart
Make me clean
Make me clean
Make me clean
I take tentative steps from the house of grace
Gentle rain soothes my hot and heavy limbs
My lifted face is cooled and
I am being washed
Leave your shame at the doorstep
You don’t need it anymore
April 2000. I suspect that I might have a drug problem.
I’ve lost my tenuous grip on reality. I don’t know when this happened but I’m suddenly aware that I feel desperate and anxious more often than not. I can’t see anything beyond my obsession to use. I think about drugs and using. All. The. Time.