I actually did. Many times. It didn’t matter. I just ended up more traumatized than I already was, realizing time and again that I was alone in my fight, lacking the emotional and financial resources to get the level of care I needed. I am a multiple survivor of sexual assault. I have been diagnosed with complex PTSD, and every day is journey of self-care and self-love. It shouldn’t be this hard to feel like a regular, functional person.
I used to get out every morning at dawn to walk through the nature preserve near my home. I love that moment when the world just suddenly wakes up. You have the whole world to yourself, the owls hooing around you, and then suddenly, for no discernible reason, all the little chirping birds start to sing, the sun breaks through the trees, and the humans start to bustle. I love to hoard those precious moments of silence and solitude, just me, the owls, the coyotes, the little armadillos digging in the dirt, the jackrabbits hopping across my path. But last November, a man went barreling past me on his mountain bike – not allowed on this trail – and I found myself in a position where I was cornered in the woods with no escape. He saw me taking pictures of the woods with my phone and accused me of taking pictures of him. I was stunned and immediately started shaking, a trauma response. He engaged in name-calling and accusations. I was a woman alone in the woods with a man. I haven’t been outside by myself since. Every morning I wake up and tell myself, today. I’ll make it out of the house today. And I do occasionally with other people. But not by myself. It tears me up that I’m still this broken and traumatized after all my hard work. That it takes so little to knock me down. That my mindset can be so positive, but the neural pathways in my brain betray me sometimes.
The other day I went to the doctor – by myself. I did it. I had my annual female exam. It had been five years. I know what I’m supposed to do. I know I’m at high risk waiting so long, being a woman of 46. I know, I know, I know. But it’s hard. Walking into that county clinic was hard. I had to fill out paperwork, and when I came to the part where it asked me if I was a survivor of sexual assault, I almost broke down checking the ‘yes’ box. It was a raw, visceral, primal response from some deep, cavernous part of me that threatened to suck me in like a vacuum. Even after all this time, all the therapy, all the energy work, healing modalities, all the self-love, all the positive mindset, I still couldn’t check the ‘yes’ box on a piece of paper. I willed myself not to break down. After my exam, I was walking through the parking lot a short distance behind this big, construction-looking guy. He glanced back and saw me, then did double take. He slowed way down trying to get me to catch up with him. I was almost to my car, thank God. I want these experiences to not feel traumatizing. I’ll get there. I thought I was fine. I am fine. I’m sitting here in a pretty dress, wearing my favorite lipstick, drinking good tea, re-runs of Friends playing in the background. There is a perfect, beautiful breezy day outside. But I’m in here. Doing okay. But I’m not okay. Never really am. But I will be okay. Know what I mean?
I’ve reported. I’ve been courageous. Been called a bad ass, goddess, hero by other women over the years; watched other women find the courage to speak because I did. Yet, I still have been silent, fearful of the repercussions if I actually put my story down in writing. I still kept the code of silence with certain people in certain situations out of survival, feeling like I’m having to choose between betraying myself or betraying people I love who I desperately want to love and support me. I’ve had support systems ripped away, been black-balled by a church, gaslighted, had my mental health and emotional stability questioned, told I was just looking for attention because I’m such a pretty girl, been forgiveness-shamed more times than I can count, laughed at while eyes rolled, been accused of trying to ruin a man’s reputation while mine was dragged through the mud, been asked for my I.D. and had a background check run by a police officer who never bothered to take a report or search for my perpetrator, had the state of California tell me as a teenager that it was just my word against his… The burden of proof always fell at my feet, the one on trial for crimes I didn’t commit. When they find out my father is not in my life, people always say, “But, Melanie, he’s your father,” followed by the classic forgiveness-shame. Not once in all these years has anyone ever said, “But, Melanie, I don’t understand. You’re his daughter. How could he?” Never.
Here I am. In here, looking out the window onto the world. He’s out there, driving around in his car, having his career, going to church, playing the role of the sweet, docile, God-fearing man. I’ve been silent for too long. I owe my silence to no one. And my life, our lives, are too important, our stories are too important, to remained tucked away in the inner recesses of our souls. People say. “In your pain is your purpose.” Some days my pain is all I have. So I lay my pain on the altar, and like that final scene in Corpse Bride, I’m going to stand here for as long as it takes until this ball that lives inside my heart begins to dissipate, and I’m surrounded by nothing but butterflies, a swirling rainbow, ascending up, up into the sky. I always heard that you never know when you wake up in the morning if that will be the day that your life changes forever, one way or the other. I’ve decided today is the day. Today, my life changes forever. Right now, I’m taking back my power.