I knew I was going to go to Take Back the Night. I knew I was going to speak there.
I dreaded it all the same.
I’m not a survivor of sexual assault. But what I’ve known – and tried to forget – for years is that my mother is a survivor. I guess you could say it’s becoming something like an addiction for me, and that makes this editorial one of my own personal 12 steps.
When I left the stage at the end of Take Back the Night last week, I was in the same place I was last year when I shared my mother’s story for the first time.
At last year’s event, I told the audience what I knew had happened to my mother and then I buried that pain so deep I forgot it still boiled, acid in my heart.
That worked – for a while at least. But then The Vagina Monologues reminded me. A Memory, a Monologue, a Rant and a Prayer reminded me. Deep down I knew the pain was still there, though I didn’t feel it. That’s why I went there – I knew it would force me to let the pain out, to admit the truth – not to the audience, but to myself.
This time, I had resolved, I’m not going to bury it again and try to forget. If I do that, I’ll be in the same place a year from now as I was a year ago. And while that place is a lot more comfortable, it’s not the right place for me to be. Last Thursday I spoke out about my pain, now, this Thursday, I want to speak out about my recovery.
Those who were at Take Back the Night can probably tell who I am based off what I’ve written, but I’d appreciate it if you extend the confidentiality shared at the event to this piece.
The first step that pushed me forward wasn’t mine. It was those around me – friends, people I knew of but hadn’t met, people I still can’t name – who supported me afterwards; several were survivors themselves. To all of you, thank you so much – without you pushing me to stay strong that night, I’d have fallen into the same place I was last year.
Sorry if I’ve been distant since then – it’s hard to share something like that and then act like it didn’t happen; even harder to act like it did.
It hasn’t been an easy week.
Friday morning was tough. I didn’t sleep much that night; for a while I just let the tears go as I remembered the night before. I grieved for my mother’s story, and for all the other stories I’d heard.
There was so much pain poured out in that room last Thursday night, but there was so much healing shared afterward, both just from being able to tell your story – or, in my case, my mother’s story – and from all the embraces of the many survivors present.
But throughout that weekend, as I tried to focus on something that night that wasn’t about my story, I remembered those embraces, and I felt guilty for getting them. At the speak-out, after I sat down and regained my composure, I’d begun to question whether I should’ve spoken out in the first place.
This is an event for survivors, I told myself. I’m not one of them.
It wasn’t until another student came up and shared a story similar to mine, saying I’d inspired him to speak, that I realized the event was meant for secondhand stories like mine, too.
But when survivors came to thank me for speaking and hugged me in support, inwardly I struggled again. Why was I the one being supported? I wondered. They’re the survivors, not me.
It felt wrong, like the roles were mixed up; they were the ones who suffered, not me; they were the ones helping me through it.
At the time, all the support made me feel guilty for getting it, for being treated (as I saw it then) like I was some kind of hero for telling a story that wasn’t mine, or like I was a survivor myself.
Eventually, even as this was all still spinning around my head, I went to HamWill and walked into the Counseling Services office to make an appointment.
I’m now on a waitlist, and should meet with one of the counselors within two weeks. They told me not to focus on this too much, but I feared that not thinking about it at all would lead me back to forgetting.
So I talked to my father, and realized that it wasn’t the first time I’d done so; I had a hazy memory of considering how I’d like to discuss it with him but I never actually did it, or so I thought.
What actually happened, several years ago, was that I did talk to him, and then after he’d confirmed that my mother had survived a sexual assault I wiped that memory from my mind, so I could still cling to the miniscule false hope that I was wrong, that it had not happened.
But it did.
Reflecting on my experience that night now, I’ve realized some things about myself and why I felt so guilty afterward from all the support. I told myself that my experience and pain sharing my mother’s story was nothing compared to the others, the stories of real survivors, because I wanted to believe that, to avoid accepting the last bit of truth there was.
The story I shared, of learning that my mother was sexually assaulted, is not just her story.
It is my story too.
It was a lie I told myself: that I was not a survivor; that the story belonged to my mother, not to me as well.
Even though I was not alive when it happened, I am surviving it now, and the pain I feel is similar to that to that I’d feel if I had been the one assaulted. It’s not equal, but it is comparable, and I didn’t want to acknowledge that.
It makes me want to sob, to scream, to find a brick wall and punch it to pieces with my fists, to tear the pieces to bits with my fingernails until there’s nothing left, until the pain’s gone – not that it ever will be, not completely.
It makes me want to stand atop the wall of patriarchy and shout for any man who’s ever thought of raping to listen to my story, to think of what it means to know that the woman who brought you into this world, who you love, to have survived such an assault.
Most of all, it makes me want to forget.
The moment last week that hit me the most wasn’t at Take Back the Night, or during The Vagina Monologues. No, that moment came during the Tuesday performance of A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant and A Prayer, during the reading of Mark Matousek’s piece “Rescue” when I heard the line “I was shocked myself, not because the information was new, but because I’d never said it out loud, which meant it only half-existed.”
It was that line that struck me the most, especially given that it was delivered after the narrator has suddenly come to the realization that his mother and three sisters all survived rapes.
Last week was the second time, not the first, that I’d spoken out what happened to my mother, but I spent most of the year between the two declarations trying to forget that it existed.
I have no sisters, but I have friends here I love and care for who are survivors, too. Like the narrator of “Rescue,” I am a man with a broken heart, and like him I’ve spent much of my life hiding the truth from myself.
I don’t know where I’ll go from here, but I know two things: that the road I’m on will be painful, and that I am not alone on that road.
That’s the most important thing Take Back the Night gave me: the support of so many of my peers on campus.
We have each other’s backs and will support each other on this road to recovery.
We will survive.