This is a confession and an explanation and a passive aggressive indictment of my friends. Read it or not, like it or not, this is my truth and however you choose to take it, I will manage.
I’m angry. And I’m angry about being angry. Being angry about what I’ve experienced means that it matters to me, and I’ve spent my life determined for it not to matter. If it matters, then it means they got to me; that they have power over me; that I’m weak; that I’m pathetic.
I am surprised at the depth and breadth of my anger, and I am still desperate to stuff it down; to ignore it; to deny it; to detach myself from it. When I’m detached, I can rationalize why it shouldn’t matter; why they are the pathetic ones; why they are the ones to be vilified and despised. When I’m angry, I'm trapped between rage and shame.
I was devastated when Trump was elected. And I’m not one to be “devastated.” I’m not sure I even understood what it meant until Trump. It deconstructed me in a way I never saw coming; in a way I never imagined. And true to type, I ignored the devastation; the hollowness; the fury; the despair – because it didn’t make sense but mostly – if I’m going to be honest – because it didn’t feel okay to be angry; to be devastated; to be broken.
I live in a red state – Louisiana – and I’m used to being in the minority in my political and social views. I never considered Trump a rational choice for president, even though I wasn’t particularly excited about any of the candidates. I liked Bernie, but his socialist bent made me nervous; I admire and respect what Hilary has achieved and her toughness and brilliance, but I didn’t particularly trust her; I thought of the republicans, only Jeb Bush had any potential; I tried to fall for some of the others, but it didn’t take long for each of them to say, including Bush, something misogynistic; racist; or patronizing that put me off. And honestly, I believed, and continue to believe, that Americans place too much emphasis, and usually the wrong kind, on the presidential election while ignoring local elections that have a much more direct and immediate impact on their lives.
But when the Access Hollywood tape came out, the election, for me was no longer about pretending there was any question about which candidate was the better choice to be the leader of the “free” world; it became entirely about women and our value to the nation, and about common decency. I spoke up; I shared my experiences - in more detail - and explained why Trump was just like the men who had abused and assaulted me.
When people all around me, people who knew my history of sexual abuse and sexual harassment and assault in the military, who professed to love me; who professed to respect me and especially those who professed to be lifelong friends, when they not only continued to support Trump, but to attack me and to defend Trump; to make excuses for his behavior; to laugh it off or attack the women who accused him, it was a full-on punch in the stomach. It took my breath away. It wounded me in a way I had not anticipated.
The depth of my despair is not even clear to me. When I begin to slip into it – like now – I have this kind of governor on the pain and despair that shuts it off, and I feel nothing. If I don’t pay attention, I’m not even aware of it; I’m just suddenly okay, where a moment before I wasn’t, and I go with it. The more sadness and hurt I feel, the more anxious I become; the more ashamed I am; the more worthless I feel. Feeling nothing is much safer.
But it’s no way to live. I don’t feel anything very intensely for very long. A brief moment here or there, but it doesn’t last because that intensity, even if it’s intense joy, is a quick pathway to intense sadness = worthlessness. It’s not safe, so I do it less and less.
I used to believe that the whole point of life was to experience joy. I probably still believe that at some level, but I'm largely out of touch with it. I was struggling before Trump, but it was the Trump election that staggered me.
The Harvey Weinstein thing has done nothing but cause me recognize how deeply I was affected by the Trump election, and to confront my own surrender to powerlessness, and the depth of my rage – a rage that feels “wrong” and more evidence of what’s wrong with me. It has also caused me to realize that I have been gradually easing away from my “friends,” in particular those who defended Trump or were unable to see how important it was to me that they hear me; that they take a stand beside me rather than retreat to some abstract political justification for NOT voting for Hilary Clinton, the only possible choice in that election if you care at all about protecting women from sexual violence and exploitation.
This distancing myself from people, some of whom I’ve known practically my whole life, hasn’t been a conscious choice. I haven’t had to resist the urge to reach out. Rather, I have not been able to summon the strength to reach out to them, even though I know I should. I know it annoys them – they let me know – that I don’t call or rarely return calls. I wrestle with the guilt of letting them down, but I just can’t do it. My love for them is buried by rage – rage I don’t believe I deserve or is justified, and yet a persistent deeply entrenched anger that squelches any guilt I have for not calling my friends. Instead, I feel like, by not calling or reaching out, I am protecting them from it. And I have lots of reasons and real-life examples of why I should resist giving into my own rage. I have no interest in becoming that person. So I distance myself, and keep my rage in check.
But, it’s also life-altering. Cutting myself off from people I’ve known my whole life is just a progression of my detachment from people in general, which started before Trump, but accelerated after the election. I spent my whole life essentially finding purpose and fulfillment in service to others. The opportunity to help someone else was what gave me a sense of value; redeemed me; made me worthy. Victim of childhood sexual abuse, an unpredictable, frequently violent mother, a loving but often absent father, I think it’s a wonder that I have any kind of sense of worth at all, but that worth has been rooted in “pleasing”. Please my abuser to protect my shame; please my mother to avoid her rage; please my dad so he would not abandon me, as I absolutely believed I deserved; please my friends so they would continue to be my friends.
I no longer have the strength to please them, so I stay away. I have no power to help them, so what’s the point? What else do I have to offer them? Nothing they haven't rejected in the past. And they have rejected me, at least, from my perspective. I have spent my life trying to see it from their perspective, but that requires empathy and I think mine is exhausted.
I tweeted #metoo, and spent a good bit of time reading other #metoo tweets. I was mostly unmoved. Indifference, even contempt, not empathy, was what I felt. And I noticed. Empathy used to be second nature to me. I have no idea where it has gone, and I still care that its missing, but I suspect that too will pass. If I could summon some other emotion besides rage, it might be terror of what I'm becoming - the walking dead in a way.
The Harvey Weinstein thing has brought a childish rage upon me. (I call it childish because I’m embarrassed by it, but it resists all of my logic and persists.) What, because it happened to someone in Hollywood, suddenly everyone cares? And if it’s so “rampant” in Hollywood, how come no one else is being outed? Is that it? Do we have them all now? Really? And always in the background, “What about me?”
I am nonplussed by all of the outrage (now) and the “sincere” apologies for enabling him. First, we’re all enablers – even those of us who are disgusted by it but recognize that it is exactly like playing Russian roulette to speak out, or to advise someone else to speak out. Maybe someone will listen this time, but most likely not. Then what? When the only power I have is my voice, and no one is listening, what power do I – does anyone – have? It’s nothing but patronizing to talk about “the power of our voices.” Until someone important enough speaks, most of those same people spewing that drivel wouldn’t listen either. And the most powerful voice in this country – Trump – feels validated by Weinstein. That’s what he’s speaking.
More importantly, Weinstein has just become the latest sacrifice for the club of entitled, powerful men who share the same attitude toward power and women as Weinstein; who hide in plain sight, just as Weinstein has, and who will now continue to hide in plain sight, using their indignant outrage over Weinstein as more cover for their own abuses of power. And it will work because no one listens to women who speak out, not even A-list actresses, until it happens to enough of them that it’s a story worth covering.
Why does this kind of thing only matter to us when it happens to famous people? Why suddenly are people being supportive because a newspaper reported on Weinstein and all the famous people who he sexually assaulted and abused? How many of those same people ignored those same women who reported it directly to them?
Because despite the outrage, there is little evidence that anything is different. The fact that Weinstein’s conduct includes rape speaks volumes about just how far a powerful man can go before it’s too far; before it gets someone’s attention enough to warrant a news story. So all those men who haven’t actually ever raped a woman, they can believe that their pussy-grabbing; their ass-patting; their intrusive ogling; their lewd propositions are perfectly okay because they never raped a woman. They may have bullied some into it; used coercion even, but so long as that woman ultimately laid down and spread her legs, or opened her mouth then, that's consensual. That's not rape. And it took multiple women accusing Weinstein of actual rape – to mostly deaf ears - for a newspaper to find Weinstein's abuses newsworthy.
I had a dear friend once say to me, with the best of intentions, that because I was a victim of childhood sexual abuse, I was better able to help other victims. That's horseshit. Without empathy, it is impossible to help any victim, regardless of your own experience, and if you have empathy, you don't need to have suffered abuse to help a victim. Saying otherwise is just an excuse not to be bothered and foisting the responsibility onto people who have often seen the least empathy and need it the most. For her, I think, she was patronizing me to try and boost my ego. She meant to be kind, but she was engaging in the fundamentals of victim blaming. She wasn’t actually engaged in it at that moment, but she was well along the path, b/c people who expect victims to behave a certain way or to have a “shared” experience are the first to disbelieve any accuser who doesn’t do the accusing the “right” way.
At best, I at least know that victims of sexual abuse - the ones who survive - make sense of it any way they can, and live with it the best they can, and there is no cookie cutter understanding of how we cope with it or how it impacts us. I’m sure the same is true of adult victims of sexual violence.
How it impacted me, and continues to impact me, is … complicated. And I’ve fought it my whole life, to overcome it; to be me in spite of it; but as it turns out, it is me. It is inexorably a part of me whether I like it or not. It is the part of me that, as a young adult, failed to see warning signs that I was putting myself in a dangerous situation; it was the part of me that “knew” that I was responsible for any man’s erotic urges toward me, and that I had a duty to please them. It was the part of me that didn’t believe that what I felt mattered – that in order to be valued and respected, I had to comply. So when I fought, I not only had to fight the man, the organization, and the culture that all stood with him, I had to fight myself. I didn’t always do it; I wasn’t always successful, and I bear the shame of it, even now. And I am exhausted by it. The adults in my life couldn’t protect me as a child, and it’s taken my entire life to learn every day, how to protect myself. I’m still learning.
That’s what Trump and Weinstein have brought me to. Exhaustion. I’m exhausted from trying to mirror the indifference to my trauma that the most important people in my life, throughout my life, have shown it. I’m exhausted by trying to speak to those who aren’t interested in listening. I’m exhausted by the guilt and the shame and the persistent feeling that I’m at fault for all of it, despite my extremely rational, logical brain that knows that’s a lie. A lie that was told to me so young, and repeated to me so often throughout my life, that it defies rational thought, and despite my shame over it, continues to run me.
So, I’m exhausted and I’m resigned to being pathetic because it does get to me; it has gotten to me; it does and has affected me and every relationship in my life, including my relationship with myself. I’m done being strong; I’m surrendering to weakness and worthlessness, and when I’m not angry about it, I’m numb, so, I’m all good.
Having said all that, I am compelled to say that NONE of that I just wrote applies to my husband and best friend, who has always listened to me, when, or if, I spoke, and who continues to be the one and only answer to my persistent question: What’s the point?