Welcome, Survivor. We Need You.

The last couple of weeks have been particularly rough for countless women who were aware of Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee. There has been at least one viral Facebook post written by a woman in which she stated that although she had never been sexually assaulted, the pain she felt, and saw in women around her, was something she hadn’t expected. Although she hadn’t felt this pain during other high-profile cases (the Bill Cosby investigation and trial, for example), she could not avoid it now. She felt this pain because she recognized that Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony-and Brett Kavanaugh’s testimony afterward-clearly highlighted that sexual abuse was not the only issue. She recognized that sexual abuse was instead the anchor of an entire culture of oppression.

This culture of oppression feeds and thrives on racism, homophobia, and the deliberate denial of human rights to anyone not part of the privileged minority. This observant woman could see clearly that a culture that oppresses women, children, queer people, people of color, and in short anyone who is not a white, rich cisgender (straight) male continues to be sanctioned at the highest levels of government, by people who deny that it exists. Other women survivors have powerfully described how reading about, or watching on video, a committee of mostly men insisting on pushing through a candidate’s confirmation (what they wanted) despite women’s pleas to stop (what they needed) made them relive the times they themselves were assaulted. It also made them relive why they didn’t report their assaults, or what happened when they did. Some men have reported crying while watching the testimony, because they were empathetic enough-or experienced enough-to have an idea what the experience felt like.

For men who have been raped, molested, or otherwise sexually abused, I can only assume the pain has been intense. Yet part of the culture of oppression remains that somehow, when cisgender men report that a priest, nun, or caregiver molested or raped or otherwise abused them as children, they may be taken more seriously than female survivors or queer male survivors. We don’t expect cisgender men or boys to be sexually abused; on the other hand, we expect women and girls and queer males to be. Many people still assume that if a female or queer male is sexually abused, it’s their fault. And that is another anchor of the culture of oppression.

If you are a survivor of gender or sexual abuse, including verbal harassment, groping, unwanted sexting, rape, grooming, molestation as a child, assault, battery, or any of the other kinds of sexual abuse, reminders such as Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony are bound to be highly triggering. If you have been sexually abused and recognized-in how several several senators and Judge Kavanaugh reacted-that you were considered not important or good enough to take seriously, you are likely feeling emotions, pain, and helplessness you can’t describe. If you have been consistently denied a seat at the table of power due to not being a rich white cisgender male, you may be feeling emotions, pain, and helplessness you can’t describe. There is nothing wrong with you, because you are alive and you, like most of us, are a survivor of profound injustice, inequity, and even hatred. You are aware, and you know this is profoundly wrong. This makes you, and your participation, essential in the efforts to make things right.

If you are feeling rage, if you are feeling terror, if you can’t stop thinking that things are just getting worse for anyone who is not a cisgender, rich, white man, there is nothing wrong with you. There is nothing wrong with you, because you recognize that you have been systematically marginalized by a culture of oppression, and you are a survivor of that. Being a survivor means you know the danger signs. This makes you essential to the people who don’t, whether they know it or not.

If you don’t want to feel these raw, agonizing emotions, if you don’t want to be thinking these thoughts because you can’t see a way out, I invite you to work with these emotions and thoughts instead. After all, how well has trying to push them away or down worked for you?

I invite you to cry. I invite you to rage. I invite you to write things down and rip up or burn the paper they’re written on. I invite you to huddle on the couch with a blanket and a box of tissues. I invite you to scream and stomp your feet. And if you’re too tired to do those things, if you feel too hopeless, I invite you to create. You have power within you that hasn’t been tapped yet, and it’s looking for a way out. Your rage, your fear, your sorrow, your hopelessness are trying to get you to pay attention to your power. And your power is your essence. Let it out.

So, first: take care of yourself. A lot of therapists and activists are writing and talking about just this-self-care. Maybe meditating daily or doing yoga or CrossFit is how you care for yourself; maybe it’s reading Harry Potter or watching horror movies. You might find, however, that the things you used to do for self-care aren’t giving you the same mileage. Do them even more. This is a time of crisis, and never was it truer that danger and opportunity (the Chinese definition of crisis) are building quickly to a peak. Pay attention to that. Take care of yourself and let those you love do the same, and provide support and care for you. Check in with each other. Talk about it, if you can, with someone you trust. It will give you a reality check. It will remind you that there’s nothing wrong with you. You are awake, alive, and a survivor.

Creating something as a form of self-care is also a welcome reality check, because it reminds you that you have power. You have agency in this life, in this world. Creating can be cleaning out your closet, your junk drawer, your garage, your yard, to create a more calming environment. You can be as methodical or as messy as you like. Creating can be taking care of your plants, or if you don’t have any, planting or buying some, even one. Creating can be deadheading your garden, raking leaves, washing your car, washing your clothes. Creating can be painting, drawing, collage, pounding the crap out of clay or bread dough, baking and giving away cookies, making paper bag puppets, making paper mache, making a protest sign, making a costume for Hallowe’en, singing, chanting, exercising to produce a stronger body, calmer mind, and endorphins. Creating can be writing down poetry, dreams, journal entries, the itinerary of a trip you want to take someday, a description of the life you want to have. Creating can be banging on a drum with no training to guide you, or playing an instrument. Creating can be breaking old china into pieces, then making them into a mosaic. Remember, creating involves destroying: blank paper will have to give up being blank to become a painting. Gardens need pruning to produce more flowers, more fruit, more plant life, more beauty.

Recognize that you are stronger than you think. Recognize that you are one of millions of survivors, and you have power not only because you have survived, but because you are one of many. If you find that loved ones or friends can’t understand why you’re so upset, rest assured, many, many more of us can and do understand. I personally believe that more of us do than don’t. Let’s find each other, and create something better. And while we’re doing that:

Rage. Cry. Breathe. Create. Rest. Eat the healthiest food you can and unless you’re allergic or don’t like it, include some chocolate in there. Take long hot baths. Reach out to people you can trust. Repeat. As long as it takes. We need you. And we need your healing. We need to heal with you.

Many therapists work with sexual abuse survivors. Whether you talk to one of us or a friend, partner, or family member, I encourage you to talk with someone. You are not alone.


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