I had a new, major revelation yesterday and I can tell it's going to make a big change in my life, so I had to give it to the internet too.
So first, for some context, you can read about my journey in healing from sexual abuse here, because it has to do with that.
Part 1: The root of my problem is that I felt powerless when I experienced abuse, and now I need to regain my sense of power.
Part 2: Whether I have "a good week" or "a bad week" is SO connected to how I responded to triggers I experienced that week... whether I melted under them or believed I could stand up against them (aka if I decided to accept powerlessness or fight for powerfulness).
Here's the story of what made me realize that:
The last two months have been particularly hard, for some reason... lots of "bad weeks." I felt triggered by everything and unable to determine what I was feeling, why I was feeling it... questioning all over again what really happened a few years ago and if I am to blame more than I take credit for. There was also stuff that didn't even seem related (now I think it was related), like worrying about my job/future, feeling unattractive, feeling tired, feeling bad at adulting, blah blah.
But, this past week was amazing... I felt totally in control of my emotions, able to both feel them and not be ruled by them. I was able to be patient when I felt hurt, endure when I felt tired, get creative when I didn't have the resources I wanted; There was so much peace and a lot of joy.
But then, at church, the pastor wanted to do this cool bonding thing where we all held hands and experienced unity as one body of people, where all racism and hatred and division would leave and we would find strength in the community we had there. I love the idea, but I had to hold hands for a solid 5 minutes with some random guy who was sitting next to me. I immediately went from perfect peace to consuming anxiety.
The anxiety followed me the rest of the night. I had been so excited to see an out-of-town friend who was visiting but I could barely think to catch up with her. Probably 30 people hugged me or touched my arm or stood really close to me to talk... everything was loud, there was no where "to introvert" and catch up with my thoughts. I wanted to be social but my body was begging me to get home so I could collapse. I felt a mix of gross, self-judging ("don't be dramatic, you're fine"), flustered and sad.
I finally made it to the quiet car, with just Nathan (i love you, husband) and had the full hour-long drive home to think. I found myself sinking into exactly the pattern I had previously felt for months at a time, and I was dreading another couple of months of feeling that way. I knew that if I let myself go there, I wouldn't easily be able to bring myself back out. But I also sort of felt like there wasn't anything I could do. I didn't understand why I was feeling so much from a simple hand-hold that was 100% innocent and consensual and not specifically related to any of the moments in my past that I count as "traumatic."
I started trying to figure out what had made the past week so good up until that point. How did I get into that happy, confident mode? And I realized it started at the party I went to last week.
Flashback to the party last week:
If you follow me on Instagram, you might have seen that I went to a "grown up Prom" last week. We all got dressed up, gathered at a house, danced a little, took photos at the photobooth, ate snacks... it was simple and fun. But near the end of the night, the photographer at that party was physically aggressive with me because I refused to pose where he wanted me to pose (The pose would have required me to touch him, and I didn't want to.) I won't share all of the details here (happy to share in person, but the internet feels like the wrong place for a full description of that event), but basically he was physically aggressive and I escaped the situation and forced him to stop. I was a little more shaken up than I expected to be, so we left the party shortly after that. (The rest of the party was super fun, by the way!)
On the way home, in the quiet car (haha, apparently that's where all my important thinking moments happen), I knew what had happened could affect me for a long time if I let it make me afraid. My instinct was to think of how much worse it could have been and therefore how much worse it could be next time I go to a party, or how "the majority of men think they own women unless they prove otherwise," etc etc. I made a decision to talk through it out loud (I learned this in counseling!) and focus on the fact that I was ok. In fact, I was a total powerhouse because this time I never gave into his pleas and aggressions. I won. I was amazed by my body's instincts -- I don't have self defense training (need to get that!) but my body instinctively knew how to roll out of his grasp. My words were strong -- I told him "no" maybe 10 times, and when I eventually posed for the photo, it was on my terms. Later, when he came to hug me and tell me how pretty I am, I didn't feel as powerful because I didn't push him off. But even then, the fact that I had made it through the night in one piece is evidence I can use against my fears in the future. I was 100% ok.
End Flashback...back in my car after church:
I realized that that was the start of the week of feeling amazing. I felt so powerful. I felt so good about myself. I felt so ready to take on the next challenge and so out of reach of any guy who might try to manipulate or use or hurt me next. I started thinking through other great weeks I had had and other times I was triggered into a long period of bad weeks:
- I had a bad 3 months after I read a book that made me realize I should call it "sexual abuse" and I didn't know how to think about that.
- I had a great week after I told the internet some of my story for the first time, and so many people told me I was brave and strong.
- I had a great week after I confronted the man who abused me and called it what it was.
And I could feel a bad week starting and I realized it's because I felt powerless to the trigger I had experienced. I didn't understand exactly where it came from, I didn't know how I would avoid a similar one again, I felt like I wasn't improving and I didn't know why.
But once I realized that, I knew I had to start a new narrative, like I did with the guy at the party. If I wanted to have a good week, I needed to think through what happened but reframe it in a way that allowed me to see the power I had.
For example, in this case, I chose to hold his hand. Next time, if I don't want to, I don't have to. I had the ability to choose this time. After that, I was able to have pretty normal-looking social conversations with maybe 30 different people -- even if my thoughts were racing, that means I have learned good endurance. I did a really good job of giving myself as much space to process as I could given the circumstances. I was self-aware and able to articulate what I was feeling even if I didn't know why. Those are all ways that I responded with power.
I talked myself through the ways that I had been powerful that night and it changed everything in my heart. My anxious thoughts slowed down and my determined, conqueror, victor self came out. I felt so proud of myself.
And it's only been one day so far, but it's been a really really good day. That same thing would have ruined me a week ago, but now I feel great. So I'm going to do that again, and again.
For those who have been there: We can find relief from the daily battle when we recognize we are powerful, even if we felt powerless in the past or feel powerless now. The fact that we're still here is evidence enough, and I bet you can find more evidence too. If you survived, you are powerful. Your voice has an impact, and you're allowed to use it. Give yourself space to think through how you were and are powerful next time you feel afraid.
For those who love someone who has been there: Please "get it" when a little church activity threatens to ruin the next few months, please accommodate when you can to help us avoid (and overcome) triggers, and please help us remember how powerful we are.
Thanks for reading <3
ps. This photo is from the photobooth at the party!