Perhaps you are searching among the branches, for what only appears in the roots.
Sometimes, it is difficult to remember Before.
When you are confronted with the unexpected, it is hard to predict the end result. More importantly, you must consider that some things will never be tied together in a pretty bow; reassembled and fit to put back on the shelf.
I felt much less anxiety Before.
I knew my self worth Before.
I thought I was the perfect judge of character Before.
I never felt so lost After.
Some of you are familiar with my story. It is inaccurate to say that it is ‘my story’, for I am merely one piece of the narration.
But, it is accurate to say that it remains the single most impactful event in my life. And as I reflect back on that phone call with the detective, exactly one year ago today, I thought I’d have it all tied up in a little bow by now. I was a confident person who knew my worth. I could overcome this. No one was going to make me feel inferior.
365 days ago, I wouldn’t have predicted the silent suffering that would still be occurring 365 days later.
Cognitive dissonance takes the form of mental discomfort: when the beliefs you’ve held in your mind run parallel to contradictory information, tension occurs. We’ve all experienced moments of dissonance. For example, if you’ve grown to idolize someone in mainstream media and suddenly learn of a terrible act that they’ve committed, you are likely to feel uncomfortable. Better yet, you may begin to speak to yourself a series of comforting lies. I just can’t believe it. They would never do something like that!
We compartmentalize in hopes of avoiding the impending cognitive discomfort.
When I first received the news that a co-worker and friend had taken videos of me in my classroom, positioning his cellphone between my legs, beneath my dress, I experienced immediate dissonance. What I was being told that had occurred was in total misalignment with my memory bank. How could it be true? It couldn’t be.
Why didn’t I see it coming?
And that is when shame takes over.
I am a victim. I will carry no blame.
I repeated those words over and over again.
It won’t come as a surprise that my thoughts kept coming back to my outfit that day. Sitting alone, in a sterile interview room at the local PD, being shown cropped still images of my upper half, I couldn’t help but begin the self shaming. In my head, of course, because those aren’t thoughts you say aloud to a stranger.
Those who stepped up to comfort me during the aftermath all had the same message–you are not to blame for this, don’t even think for a moment that you are at fault.
Was wearing a dress to work ‘asking for it’? Of course not. Unfortunately though, I know there were people who read this story in the news and dismissed its severity. Some people reading this are likely to have their own thoughts–their own judgements about me as well.
People find it hard to sympathize with someone who has been called ‘skinny’ all their life. I hesitated to even write that sentence because I can see the eye rolls now. But, those who truly know me know that I’ve always hated that label. For someone to address me first by my outward appearance has forever made me uncomfortable. Despite my noticeable discomfort, it hasn’t yet deterred people. The simple fact that I’m a tall girl with a thin build would be enough to justify, in some people’s minds, that I was predisposed. And if we’d like to take this one step further, there are some people out there who would suggest I take it as a compliment.
Unfortunately, we live in a society that has conditioned the masses to believe that women are just ‘asking for it’ and that ‘boys will be boys.’ That sentiment is too often used to normalize men being aggressive, predatory, and sexist. Women are routinely told that they need to just accept this as fact—once again, pedaling the subversive agenda of our current society. We need look no further than to the President of the United States.
I wish I could write this post and tell you that shame has not been my burden to carry, but indeed it has lived as a tiny, pestering voice in my head for the last 365 days.
I was not prepared to cope with hyper-arousal.
Days and weeks following the revelation, I was experiencing night terrors. I would wake up in the middle of the night to soaked sheets. I’ve had recurring nightmares, as recent as last week.
Symptoms of anxiety kicked into high gear. In the midst of an already challenging year at my job, it was sometimes just too much. But again, I chose, in part, to suffer in silence: so as not to drag anyone down into my metaphorical trench. I’d lock myself in the staff bathroom for minutes at a time, trying to compose myself. I came to work everyday, because in our society, that is the expectation. Mental health stigma is a real.
You know that instant panic you’ve felt, for example, when you’ve left the house and thought you had left the stove on? Or maybe you’ve slammed your brakes suddenly for an unexpected pedestrian? Your heart starts palpating and your underarms start to sweat?
I get this exact feeling every time I see someone who looks like Him.
It happens all the time at the gym. Sometimes at the grocery store. Once in a while I do a double take when I visit with other schools. It is a symptom of my trauma that will likely never go away, but will hopefully become more manageable.
What once were some of my fondest moments in my teaching career are now muddied.
I examine more closely people’s intentions.
Trust does not come easily.
When I pictured writing this composition a year ago, I had a different vision, a different hope for myself. I had hoped to free myself from the feelings of betrayal and shame. I had wished for clarity.
I’ve taken measures to ensure some self care this year. I know that I need to be better and I know that I will get better. I don’t subscribe to the saying, ‘everything happens for a reason.’ I think that is a comforting lie that I could tell myself.
What I do know is that I have a lot of amazing things going for me in my life. I am forever grateful to my family and friends who have lent to me their shoulders and their ears.
I have the potential to empower those around me by not silencing my narrative.
I will continue to heal and I will continue to share my story, because it is not just for me. I am not unique. There is a collective message waiting to be told by so many other, brave, beautiful souls.
With all my love,