Doing it Afraid

I don’t know how the moment is created. I only know that in that moment the inner call to stand in your truth and tell that story seems more life-preserving than it did before. Similarly, the inner call to stay in the shadowed silence seems more life-threatening than it did before. The iron grip of trauma terror releases just long enough for the two options of truth-telling or silence to change places. And even though you are still afraid, you know that doing it afraid is the only way forward.

 It’s been hard not to think about that moment over the last weeks. High profile news stories are featuring both the sentencing outcome of one woman’s determination to do it afraid and tell the truth about her sexual assault, and the beginning of another woman’s decision to do the same thing. Of course, as with so many high-profile allegations of sexual assault, one allegation is just the start of the dominos going down, as more and more women find courage to come forward.

 In the continuing foul stew of white male supremacy, its agents have to choose whether to attack, discredit or just ignore women who have the audacity to tell the trauma truths of their own lives—including who assaulted them and/or harassed them along the way. Seeing it all unfold means I, like many of you, am being reacquainted with my own Post Traumatic Stress symptoms. It doesn’t really matter who the guy is or who his accusers are anymore, because it’s really about misogyny’s entitlement to behave abominably toward women and never have those actions negatively impact them in their careers or seats of power. That’s what’s at stake here and that’s why white male rage was unleashed with indignant arrogance in the aftermath. We saw the shameless expectation for women who are abused, assaulted or harassed to become life-long pack mules for the ugly truth of who these guys really are. If that sounds familiar, it should. It’s what wives and partners of men called sex addicts are supposed to become, too.

 I battled  Post-Traumatic Stress symptoms after D-day and every year after. It wasn’t just a few weeks of terror. It was years. It would ambush me on a perfectly normal day. Suddenly I would be afraid of what would happen to me next and who would do it. Would it be him? his treatment thugs? his fresh enablers and advocates culled from colleagues, friends, and family? or one of his conquests? Would it be anyone I knew or a complete stranger? And then what would these people do? Were they doing it now and I hadn’t figured it out yet? I would meet colleagues and not know what lies he had told them. He had so much to lose of his highly developed false life if the truth spoke, that he just had to keep lying (whether by omission, delusional declaration, misrepresentation of information or facts, or knowing fabrications.) It was a hallmark of my experience to bear witness to the various versions of reality he would create when necessary for his purposes. For example, events would be isolated from the context needed to fully understand or interpret them. Sometimes he would sanitize or erase his own behaviours. There was no point in arguing or presenting facts or corrections, because it didn’t stop it from continuing to happen. Being delusional for these guys is easy. It’s believing the narrative they want to be true and defending it all costs.

In my case, I was so afraid of my own fear that it would immobilize me at times. Overwhelmed by the emerging awareness of how much my ex-husband must have loathed me to treat me with so much secret disrespect and outright cruelty, I would break down completely. Think about it. How would anyone manage a realization of being so thoroughly loathed for three decades? I had loved him so completely. Every good thing I was, he had. But he loathed me, and that realization hollowed me out for years. Still, in those moments I couldn’t afford the luxury of grieving. His thirty-year habit was not going to vanish. This was a deeply imprinted part of his soul. He would need to find new ways. I wasn’t safe. “Stop crying, Diane, and pay attention to everything around you,” I would remind myself sternly.

 Women who finally step out and tell the ugly story of abuse that they endured at the hands of a man haven’t been “breezing through life” and then wake up one morning thinking it might be fun to face the collective misogyny that actively works against their truth being told. No, that’s not what happens. They have been pack mules for the ugliness of other people—men who want to be able to use and abuse women with impunity. Pack mules. Others may want to think of the term scapegoat in all its theological fullness. If a woman decides to put down that load and ask society to examine the cost to her life and assess whether that is just (according to the law), it’s not because she’s bored or looking for attention. It’s because he should be held accountable for what he did, no matter how he likes to think he is now, and she has finally got herself to a place where she cannot allow him to “breeze through life” still capable of great harm.

 I didn’t arrive at writing this public blog as a bright, shiny, happy idea one day, as a fun thing to do, or as a calculated act of a sudden need for vengeance. I have spent 9 hard years digging myself out of terror, interrogating my fears, figuring out what he did to me and how he did it, then putting my traumatized self back together piece by piece, still living in the fears that I could not put away and learning to speak and write again in spite of those fears. I couldn’t even fathom writing a blog and up until the day I posted the first one I had no idea if there would or could be a second. And even still, I face “doing it afraid” every single week. I know that when a woman tells the truth about her experience of misogyny from an individual or a treatment industry, there’s pushback. And it’s as ugly as misogyny always is. I’m “out there” now. And lots of people do not like it.

 In one of my earliest blogs entitled What Do I Remember? (posted on Jan 15, 2018), I talk about the terror of believing that my (then) husband would kill me now that I knew of his massive life deception and was no longer useful in maintaining it. I know what it is like to huddle all night in a spare room with a door that won’t lock, exhausted and gripped with the complete terror that comes as part of Post-Traumatic Stress. Some people may gloss over that, preferring to imagine I am exaggerating how it felt to be me in that situation. They can’t believe I actually have Post Traumatic Stress. Maybe they don’t believe you, either. That is the most important river to be crossed, because once people cross it, they need to ask the “Why?” of the trauma. In therapeutic practice that triggers a vocabulary of abuse, which triggers a protocol of safety and advocacy, neither of which is a therapeutic priority for wives and partners in the prevailing treatment industry.

The point for me in telling the truth of my life, including the harm others did to me, and how it impacted my life, is not to gain sympathy and compassionate care. I’m long past that search. I know I can’t expect that from everyone I should be able to expect it from. It’s a hard lesson but one of the earliest ones we learn in this experience. So, I know that the real challenge is that I must give those things to myself. Our culture is not wired to serve the pack mules of misogyny. It would rather blame them and accuse them of choosing to be a pack mule while making it almost impossible to avoid being one. The point of me speaking and writing is so that other women will gain the strength to stand in the truth of their own lives, put down the misogynist baggage they’ve been carrying around for way too long, speak their truth, honour the sacred value of their lives in a brand-new life-giving way, and refuse to pick up that baggage again.

 In my years connecting with and supporting wives and partners of men called sex addicts, I have met some inspiring women who are courageous in ways I have not had to be. “Doing it afraid” is in our tribe already. Women stand among us who have been bullied, shamed, falsely accused, labelled, insulted, misdiagnosed, physically harmed and financially, spiritually and socially isolated and abandoned. Still they have told the truth and not backed down. I am so deeply honoured to hold this space for them and for you, not just me.

Today, even as I’m writing these words, a woman’s voice is playing over my computer in the background. Pained and doing it afraid, she is telling a gruesome, hideous story of how a candidate for the Supreme Court of The United States and his friend locked her in a room, and that candidate attempted to rape her. His hand on her mouth, she thought she might die accidentally from not being able to breathe. She may well face questions and commentary that hope to diminish her credibility and silence her truth. She may just be ignored. Why? Because the majority on this body have already decided that sexual assault and harassment do not preclude anyone from the highest elected office in their land—the Presidency itself. They may find this conduct distasteful, but they will never challenge the entitlement inherent in misogyny that using and abusing women is an unaccountable privilege that should never compromise a man’s career goal or opportunity. Statistically, women do not bring forth false allegations like this. She has nothing to gain that misogyny would value in her act of courage. But she does stop being the pack mule for its ugliness in her one personal story. Bravo, and thank you. Your story is not exactly ours, but it belongs in the same paddock.

 We will have to continue to do it afraid. I wasn’t sure after my first blog that there could or would be a second. I just want you to know that having stood in my truth and spoken its ugliness I have learned to trust myself and respect myself again. Expect more blogs.

 If you want to know more about doing it afraid, you can use a discounted trial session to see if talking to me feels useful to your healing. If you have questions first, contact me: Diane@yoursstoryissafehere.com  Because your story really IS safe here.

With you,

Diane

 P.S. Next week Tania Rochelle returns to take the blog as I travel across the country. Tania is a licensed counsellor, writer, and also spent several decades teaching creative writing. She is a veteran of “doing it afraid.” Her books of poetry are Karaoke Funeral (Snake Nation Press, 2003) and The World’s Last Bone (Snake Nation Press, 2010) She is exceptional at everything she does, and since meeting her I have trusted her with the hard moments of my own life. Her practice is in Atlanta, Georgia, and if you are lucky enough to live near there and would like to talk to her, let me know and I would be honoured to connect you!  diane@yourstoryissafehere.com

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Diane Strickland