a year measured in violence

[this was written on new years day, i dont feel like going through and editing the verbs and such to days later]

yesterday i was doing that whole, reflect on the last year of my life thing, and realized–with a wave of nausea–that my life in 2011, more than anything else, was defined by supporting women through the violences committed against them, witnessing women suffer those violences and, right at the end, committing a violence against another woman myself.  and the first place i went with that discovery, was to the women of occupy charlottesville.  but i wanted other people to see this.  to feel the weight of that reality.  and to understand that this is not actually very unusual.  and i needed a bigger format just to flesh this out for myself.  to hold my own hand as i journey back through that year.  to the women whose stories i share, thank you for being bold and resilient and vulnerable with me.  i havent put in names but that may not create total anonymity.  for that i’m sorry.

i dont even know where to begin, its so overwhelming.  chronologically was one idea, but that seems wrong.  i’ll start with my own history and then work in that of my sisters.  not all that long ago, i was sitting in a tent of maybe 8-10 women and shared the big ugly truth that my first experience of penetrative sex was rape.  that it had totally fucked with my sexuality for awhile afterwards and that i spiraled into the commonly held reality that sexuality is shameful for women, not to be enjoyed, just a tool of release for the man.  something that happened to women, not something they wanted.  i felt anxious dropping that into the space, afraid i’d taken us somewhere we weren’t ready to go.  then two of the other women in that small circle said that they also first experienced sex through rape.  i wanted to choke on the part of me that found comfort in that.

a year ago, almost, i flew out to be with a sister who was struggling with her past and her present.  and many of the things she was struggling with are common violences against women.  being raised by a mother who initiated her and her sisters into the suffocating world of normalized female sexuality, rape as a teenager, rape again as a woman, and the violent shaming committed against women who choose alternative paths in their motherhood and their adult sexuality.  we spent nearly six weeks together, sitting with all of that darkness, all of that internalized pain.  we came out the other side stronger, but weary.

not months later i was doing long distance support for a friend in an abusive relationship, both psychologically and physically.  then she got pregnant and dealt with community shaming as if she had planned the pregnancy.  as her relationship fell apart, we were on the phone more and more.  then it was supporting her through a terrible and lonely abortion.  we were on the phone the second before she went in for the procedure, i could hear the doctor telling her it was time and she needed to come.  i didnt tell her then it was my birthday.

then, not much after that day, i was awash again in the horror stories of dear friends lives.  in one day, in one meeting with two women i hold dear though we are far apart right now, i heard two different stories of childhood sexual assault by fathers.  one was the personal story of a friend, the other was the second hand story of a friends brother.  that was when i retreated into darkness and anger and pain and just felt overwhelmed by it all.  powerless.  it was too much.  so i let myself spiral for awhile.  and just feel all that pain and hurt and fury.  for a few days i just cried a lot and couldnt really touch anyone else in the world.  i was so lost inside myself, battling the stories that, though not mine, now lived in my heart.  whose characters and tragedies now crowded my head.

then i dove in there too, and that is still ongoing support work.  and i’ve read books specifically about the healing journey for childhood sexual assault survivors.  and i feel more confident in the support i’m able to give there.  and it’s all a journey and we’re only learning as we go.  it’s sloppy, sometimes, almost always a little scary, but in the end we’re just people listening to each other, validating each others feelings, reflecting each others pain.

and as if those months of support work werent enough, 2011 closed with a fierce flurry of opportunities to stretch my experience with violence committed against women.  throughout occupy charlottesville’s encampment, i watched women in abusive relationships and didnt know how to help them out.  over and over again i heard women defend the men that beat them, deny the abuse and pretend it all away.  and i didnt know how to scream out the truth with them in away that shattered that illusion forever. we lost one of those women.  its unclear if her abuse played a role in her death, but i certainly didnt show up for her in the way i wanted to while she was alive.  after having her body used by the modeling industry, she was left without the one thing the world had told her was valuable: her beauty.  she fell into alcoholism and abusive relationships.  and before i could support her in that, she was gone.

then before i left for christmas, multiple people came to me about a case of sexual assault that had happened within our community and i started brainstorming ways to address it and support the woman.  that is also still in progress.  then when i got home i committed adultery and hurt another woman myself.  knowing what it feels like to have my boundaries overrun, i did it to another woman.  and that truth is something i don’t quite know how to sit with.  i’ve been doing support work for the woman since then, and it feels good, but i can’t take back my actions and i dont know how to heal them.

and then it was new years eve.  in the morning, another woman from occupy asked me if i knew about the latest sexual assault in our community.  i didnt.  i’m still waiting for more on that.  and then this morning, this first new day of 2012, as i was reflecting
somewhat grumpily on my quiet new years eve night, i realized that, for this year, it was just what it needed to be.  because i’d had a chance run in with a woman i’m trying to reach out to and do support work for, support for her own experiences of sexual assault.  and without my somewhat anticlimactic new years eve, we never wouldve seen each other.

and i dont really know what this means for my 2012.  with the images of rape and abuse and shaming and violence and isolation and objectification dancing in my head i hope, i hope that this new year will be different.  that from this year long journey i will be able to offer more experience in supporting women and preventing this violence.  that i can help build a culture that doesn’t allow these violences to quietly exist.  that’s the plan, at least.  i feel confident in the community of women i’m working with now, less confident in the men.  curious if we’ll be able to learn from these horrors and be brilliant.  a little wary.  but as i’ve learned from the women i’ve supported, we are resilient, powerful and above all thirsty for new beginnings.  destroy and create. destroy and create.  we have to simultaneously break down the culture that tacitly conspires with these violences and create something different in its place.

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