“I drank beer with my friends. Almost everyone did... Sometimes I had too many beers." -Brett Kavanaugh
Before I go on, allow me to state that I believe Dr. Ford's testimony.
It is not my responsibility to determine whether or not Brett Kavanaugh is an alcoholic, but I do know what alcoholism looks like. I know that people can do incredibly harmful, damaging things while under the influence of alcohol and other drugs. I know that nice people can behave terribly and not remember anything after a night of heavy drinking. I also know that people who start drinking alcoholically at a young age become developmentally stunted, and the person I watched making a statement wasn't behaving like a mature, reasonable adult. What I saw was an adolescent... an angry teenager backed into a corner.
Watching him go off the rails was hard. His rage was too palpable, too familiar. I felt an old trauma waking up inside of my body, wrapping itself around my shoulders, squeezing my chest until it became hard to take a breath. I also felt a flush of red hot anger that, to this day, has never been fully expressed.
As victims, we learn how to create stability in unpredictable, unsafe environments by placating or dissociating. Finding compassion for our abusers gives us a sense of being in control, and leaving our bodies is one way we escape our pain. These instincts keep us alive, they help us survive in a world that normalizes violence against women.
The first time I tried to leave an abusive relationship there was swift punishment. Threats, emotional distancing, shame for having been disloyal. The next time I tried, I didn’t get very far either. I was tethered to the sick needs of my abuser. Let me be very clear- I loved my abuser. They were not always abusive, and I clung to those moments of lucidity.
But the cycle of good to atrocious behavior inevitably repeated itself. I kept trying to leave, making a little more progress every time until finally I set myself free. The physical freedom was much easier than the emotional and psychological freedom. There are even days when I miss my abuser, as crazy as that sounds. There was a connection there that I became addicted to. My abuser understood me in ways that no one else did, as I understood them. In fact, I'd been groomed to understand them. To place their needs above my own until we became one person.
As my self esteem shrank into a tiny embryo, I believed that no one else would love me as fiercely. As passionately. Even now, they try to re-establish contact with me in hopes of regaining entrance into my life. And there wasn't just one. It was an addictive cycle that repeated itself in many of my relationships until I was able to confront the core of my original abuse and begin a process of recovery.
It is said that on average, the victim of an abusive relationship will make several attempts to leave before they’re able to leave for good. Maybe it’s the social pressure to stay in a relationship. Maybe it’s the way our society normalizes unhealthy behavior and loves to perpetuate a ride or die mindset. Maybe we minimize the behavior when things feel normal. Because of guilt, shame or displaced loyalty... whatever the case, a victim will often stay in an abusive cycle long enough to cause long-lasting impacts on her physical and emotional well being.
If any of us were to take the stand, swear an oath, agree to a polygraph test, and describe in detail what we experienced during an assault, be it rape or other means of physical and emotional violence, a lot of people would behave no differently than the GOP senate did. The behavior you describe is wasted on those who have normalized abusive behavior because we live in a misogynist society.
Dr. Ford was not in an abusive relationship with Brett Kavanaugh when he sexually assaulted her in front of his peers. But many of us were. Like her, we knew our assaulter(s) and they may have been our fathers, our brothers, our neighbors, our teachers, our bosses, our boyfriends, our husbands or our friends. More often than not alcohol or drugs played a part, but regardless of the circumstances it was never our fault.
If we could talk about these things without being shamed or silenced maybe things would change. Maybe our abusers would get the help they desperately need because nine times out of ten, they were abused as well. Most abusers aren't capable of stopping their behavior by willpower alone. They need outside help.
We live in a culture that normalizes dysfunctional behavior and abuse, even mistaking it with love, passion, or family values.
I watched 10 senators vehemently defending Brett Kavanaugh for having suffered through a humiliating experience. It was textbook denial and enabling.
They did not recognize Dr Ford's testimony, and it was as though she hadn’t spoken at all. By calling it a conspiracy they drove the wedge between left and right even deeper. Blame shifting, by the way, is dysfunctional, narcissistic behavior. I knew their minds were made up before the hearing even started, and I’m guessing Dr Ford knew that as well. But she wasn’t appealing to them. She was appealing to the few who might actually see her. To the few who were actually listening. To the few who understood.
She was appealing to us: Help me stop this.
When her quiet, humble testimony was followed by a belligerent, defensive reproach I found solace in those senators who saw the writing on the wall and had the courage to call it out, particularly the men. In between a heinous spectacle by the GOP senate, others tried to stabilize the dysfunction and create some semblance of sanity in the courtroom.
I've gone through the gamut of emotions. From dissociative behavior to a full-body traumatic relapse. Trigger seems like too benign a word to describe what many of us are experiencing right now. We are re-living the violence that has been unleashed on our bodies and defined our roles for centuries. What we call patriarchy today is, in simple terms, a male-dominated power structure that governs both organized society and individual relationships beginning with family. It is at the root of all dysfunctional systems.
And it governs women's bodies. From early childhood into old age, the way we see ourselves and how we move through the world is all shaped by patriarchal conditioning- passed down through the lineage of our mothers and fathers.
The first step in uprooting a dysfunctional system is breaking the silence. Telling someone safe, someone who will believe you. The next step is much harder... getting out and getting help. We can’t reform our abusers. Those bonds run too deep, and we would be exposing ourselves to more abuse. But we can get stronger, healthier and rebuild our beliefs around self-worth. We can educate ourselves and use our experiences to support and educate other survivors. We can also educate those who would be our allies. Because the hardest part about being a survivor is feeling that you are completely alone.
“As my sufferings mounted I soon realized that there were two ways in which I could respond to my situation - either to react with bitterness or seek to transform the suffering into a creative force. I decided to follow the latter course.” -Martin Luther King Jr.
This morning my therapist said, "You won't be very popular when you find your anger, but don't abandon yourself. Your anger isn't the problem."
My body is tired from all the cortisol and adrenaline coursing through my veins over these last three days. But I witnessed some spectacular moments of humanity in that courtroom last week, and I'm feeling it in my community now. Healthy, sane adults saying, "We're listening. We believe."
My social media feeds are full of stories... stories of women "telling" on their abusers. Having watched someone speak truth to power- someone who has dealt with the pain inflicted on her and is now using it as medicine for the good of others- is a gift for so many of us.
“Please don’t look away from me,” a girl screamed above a barricade of hungry media.
“I need to go to the hearing. I just issued a statement... I'll be saying more later.”
“Look at me and tell me that it doesn’t matter... what happened to me... that you will let people like that go into the highest court of the land and tell everyone what they can do to their bodies.”
The elevator door closed.
I wanted to believe that he heard her, that his heart softened enough to be moved into an act of righteousness and bravery. But the truth is that I’ll never know the real reason behind Jeff Flake's stalled vote. All I know is that we have a week to put the pressure on even harder, like those two activists did in the Senate lobby.
A week is hardly enough time to unpack a lifelong practice in restraint. Restraint against being too loud, aggressive, and hysterical. But I just witnessed a belligerent, hysterical man being defended and a coherent, cooperative woman being condemned. So this tells me it's time to change tack.
These are not reasonable times. These are times demanding persistence and bravery.
And by “we” I don’t just mean women. I'm addressing you men who say you love us... who say you care about our rights... this is your battle too.
May we all step up as heroes.
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