Over the last couple of days, if you’re a social media user, you might have seen a trickle then a surge of posts on your feed saying “Me too… If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem. Please copy/paste.” [here’s how it got started]. I didn’t add my post to the fray immediately…and I know there are many, many people who are not able to or just don’t want to add their voice to this. It wasn’t that I didn’t think I’d be believed. I guess it was more wondering what it meant to say ‘me too’. Was it an expression of solidarity with others who have been through trauma? A recognition that this situation is so commonplace and yet largely hidden? An exercise in “raising awareness” (empty though that phrase is these days)? Seeking attention by putting the spotlight on myself?
No to that last one. It’s not a badge of honour to say you survived trauma. It’s just a fact. And the questioning of why you would mention it is the Accuser’s voice saying, “Was it really that bad? Did it really happen the way you remember?” (I mused to mum the other week (about something unrelated), if you can detect a hint of that original question to Adam and Eve “did God really say…?” it’s probably a pretty good bet that Satan is trying to mess with you.)
I put up my post late last night. I briefly wondered what people would think. Almost immediately, a lovely friend sent me a private message to say he was saddened by my post but proud of me. That meant a lot. I turned off the light and then lay awake thinking for an hour.
As I lay in the dark I thought about the times at school when a fellow classmate had physically harassed me in the middle of a science class – in a way which now, I am horrified that I laughed off. I thought about the cleaner who bailed me up in the photocopy room and the teachers who actually teased me about it when I told them about it because he was such a harmless, cheerful fellow, how could he be dangerous? I thought about the taxi driver who drove me between our school’s campuses on a few occasions who propositioned me; when I reported it and asked that he never be booked again, guess who turned up the next time we booked a cab (I got out of the cab and marched straight back into school and told them I wasn’t going).
Sadly enough those are what I’d assume are ‘garden variety’ levels of harassment. Easy to laugh off or shrug off, but not right. And each one “sinks its bootprint into her clay and she’s not the same”, to misquote Ani diFranco.
In my late teens, my family was rapidly shredding apart at the seams and I was seeking solace and distraction in everything self destructive. I was playing at being an adult, handily looking the part from a very early age, sneaking out to jazz clubs and thinking myself oh-so-sophisticated. I was preyed on by a person much older than me, who chose to believe that I was encouraging him to do so. There was a rather unhealthy culture in the group that I was a part of, a blurring of lines between mentors and mentees, adults and teens that now, on the other side of Working with Children training and, well, basic human decency, I can’t quite believe occurred in plain sight. But I don’t really blame others for not noticing what was going on. With the current stuff around Harvey Weinstein, much of the finger pointing is at others saying ‘who knew what, when’, and I’m not commenting on that particular situation, but when people are in a position of power or authority or respect, to a great extent they are just left to their own devices, unquestioned. It’s only later on that bystanders will think “oh my goodness” when they recall something they saw or heard, when they have enough information to put the pieces together. I often think about my friends from that time of my life and wonder what our stories from that time would be like if we actually all compared notes beyond the whispered confessions and gossip that circulated amongst us.
Anyway. I was flattered by the attention and defiantly said I knew what I was doing, that I was of legal age, blah, blah, blah. But I look at 17 year olds I know now and my heart breaks for that version of me, who knew a lot but was still so young, so naive, so easily damaged. Almost an adult but still such a child. The relationship with that man provided a great escape from my home life woes, but created a whole set of others that I think have impacted every relationship I’ve had since. The assault occurred after we had broken up, and he laughed it off, later trying to make out that I was overreacting. I cut off all contact. Thankfully in the age before social media, that wasn’t too hard to do – it just meant I stopped answering the phone. But for years – and I mean years – I lived in fear of running into him again. What would I say? What would I do? How would I react? Would I have the courage to stand my ground, or would I run away? It was always in the back of my mind and would resurface for no apparent reason.
Eventually, amidst all this, I turned back to Christ from my years of running in the wilderness. In him I found solace, love, a peace that passed all understanding. In him there was a promise of healing and renewal. He brought me into his marvelous light, where the shame, guilt and damage of my past could no longer fester and metastasise in the darkness.
I used to be quite taken with the idea that every cell in the body regenerates, so in theory, you could say that today your body is completely different to the one you had seven years ago. I remember thinking seven years after the assault, “well, there is no part of me now that he has ever touched”. It’s not as simple as that of course, and our memories don’t regenerate. But I think that’s partly why the famous Revelation 21:3-5 resonates so much with us:
Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.
And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”
Even if you haven’t experienced deep trauma, that is at the heart of our human longing, isn’t it? For everything to be made right. For the darkness and corruption of this world to be done with, for every single person with a ‘me too’ story to be restored. All things new. No more suffering. Oh what a glorious future hope!
When I finally did run into the man again, after years of building him up as being this monster, it was so banal. It was in the Supacenta at Moore Park, as I was wandering around looking at furniture. He had gotten married and had a child, who was there with him, and he still made a weird, suggestive comment to me. Thankfully, facing up to that imagined demon in the light of day brought him back down to size, and I could see how pitiful he really was. He no longer had any power over me. I rarely think of him at all anymore.
Living in the light can be a challenge. It exposes things about yourself that you might not want to examine. Depending on your experience, complete healing and peace may not be possible this side of Jesus returning. And look, you don’t have to write a blog post about it or even put ‘me too’ up on social media; everyone is different and this is just the way I’ve chosen to process this. But I just want to say, living in the light is good and I am grateful every day that Jesus gives me the courage to stand in it.