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Dig_Craig Sunter

Excavate. Photo by Flickr user Craig Sunter (Creative Commons license).

One question I face often is why I write about the bad things that have happened to me. Sometimes people actually ask me this, and sometimes I can just read it on their faces. Sometimes I think I can just feel it in the ether around me, between the more-than-usual hits on my blog but fewer-than-usual comments.

This question is born out of an ingrained belief that victims and survivors of abuse must feel so ashamed. This is a dangerous belief. We are not all alike. Some of us feel shame, and some of us, like me, do not. I know I didn’t ask for abuse. I know I didn’t encourage it (whatever that means), provoke it (ridiculous–there is no behavior that calls for being demeaned or assaulted), or do it to myself. The belief is dangerous because it causes cops, lawyers, judges, close friends and family–people who could actually help–to only believe the victims who cry, not the ones who seethe, not the ones who are calm but stumble over their words, not the ones who can tell when you suspect them of lying and so say very little. Sometimes even the criers are doubted, if they’re crying too hard or loud, if they’re “hysterical”…

I also think the question is born out of discomfort and disbelief on the part of the reader. We as a society are quick to focus on perceived holes in abuse stories, or at least to not want to hear them.

That’s why I believe that breaking silence is actually work, in the traditional sense. 

I believe it serves a higher purpose other than to simply unburden our own souls.

I am daily torn between the necessities of speaking my own truth and wanting to protect myself from victim-blaming. If you think being “out there” about an experience with abuse, rape, or other violence is an attention-seeking endeavor, then you are sadly and dangerously misinformed about what it means to live in fear of public judgment. We often don’t want attention! We can’t control who that attention comes from! We don’t know who is lurking in social media feeds, creeping onto our blogs at night, sharing our links to fuel gossipy speculation…

It is WORK to reconcile the two necessities of self-care and breaking taboo. It is like juggling all the smashed and scattered pieces of your very heart, hoping they don’t end up back on the ground again.

And it is work because talking about what has happened to us means someone who really needs to hear those stories, is hearing them. Might reach out. Might feel emboldened or empowered to defend themselves. Might feel emboldened or empowered to defend someone else. I feel I am doing good work in being willing to exist as an example of the anti-narrative surrounding domestic violence. I feel I am doing good work for my community in being willing to show my messy, imperfect, slow healing process. I feel I am doing good work in being willing to unravel the complexity of DV in a public way, rather than hiding or shutting up the way so many believe I should, or want me to.

I put my mind and body on the line when I write and post about my life’s worst experiences. I don’t always do it for me. I definitely don’t do it for attention, because I have no idea what kind of attention will come. The best kind is when someone writes to me and says, thank you so much. I’m a victim/survivor, too, and your writing made me feel less alone. Responses like that keep me going.

Not all responses are like that.

The crap shoot of sharing and wondering what kind of responses will follow, which ones will uplift you and which ones will level and bury you where you stand, or whether there will be any response at all, is some of the hardest work I do.

I do not want a medal for this work. I’m no martyr, saint, angel, devil, guide, head case, perpetual victim, attention freak, or one-trick pony. Abuse is not all I write about. It’s not all I think about. It does not define me.

But it has come to define a life’s purpose I didn’t ask for, though am willing to accept.

Surviving abuse has made a lot of work for me, and for the many other survivors who are working hard to the same ends (and there are MANY. Love to you all).

There is so much work to be done.