For most of my life I couldn't read or watch things about sexual abuse. My heart would beat really fast and my head would spin and I couldn't breathe. I felt like how I imagine deer feel when all of a sudden they see headlights in the road. But it wouldn't stop after the car passed so to speak, when I was done reading or watching, it would replay in my head and my body over and over again, sometimes for weeks.
I began being able to read and watch and talk more about it after I admitted to myself, what happened to me and committed myself to stay on a path of healing, however confusing, difficult and illogical a person's path toward healing can be. I still feel the same way when I come across stories, experiences or videos about sexual abuse; sometimes it's worse than the time before, sometimes it's not as bad. Reading this article by the NYTimes about the sex "Slave Market" run by ISIS, it felt like my heart was beating so hard that I was going to explode into what I can only imagine as a geyser of tears, fears and pain.
But, I read it. Honoring what I felt, by facing it. It was hard and I am still shaking a bit but I can't close off from what's happening out there...or I can but I feel like I would be hiding. Sometimes, healing is "hiding." There was a period in my recent past where I needed to block out things that re-triggered me into feeling traumatized because that's what I needed to get more solidly on my own healing path.
But now, it's like I'm looking these, literally thousands of girls and women that ISIS is forcing into their "Slave Market," right in the eyes, seeing their pain, their tears and their fears and walking away by not reading, knowing....and I just can't do that. I will likely never actually look them in the eyes, but by standing witness to their experience, their abuse, I can stand with them. I can know. And by knowing, I can do. And through doing something, it will change. Maybe little by little, maybe a little by a lot.
I may not do anything directly related to stopping ISIS' Slave Market, I hope I do in some way, but by staying awake to what's going on in the world about these things, maybe I can see more opportunities more clearly to do something. And by standing witness, I am doing, in a way. Because by standing witness, by listening, I feel. And similar to that famous quote by Maya Angelou: "people will forget what you said, what you did but they will never forget how you made them feel"...by feeling something about this, I will remember. And through remembering...maybe I can be apart of making progress on eliminating the injustice of using people as sex slaves. If I don't see, I don't hear, I don't stand witness, I don't feel. I won't remember. I won't know.
Now, I know. And I am going to continue to know. Sometimes with more presence than others. But I won't walk away. Whether in person or in spirit. Because I do believe that we can eliminate this. I do believe that a world where we don't hurt each other, physically, sexually, and emotionally can exist. I don't think it's inherent that we hurt each other. I think it's taught and unjust social norms and systems are passed down in action and belief. Action and belief can change. I am not interested in looking at data indicating that this has been happening for hundreds of years, thousands of years, or whatever, because focusing on those things isn't focusing on a path toward a future where women and girls aren't sexually abused. What was and has been doesn't have to be what is and will be.
I believe, however naively, however optimistically, that we can coexist through respecting, loving and supporting each other, all the time. We are far from that, yes, but closer than we used to be. I am going to keep soldiering on and some may ridicule me, some may abandon me, some may not understand. But, of the very small amount of things I truly know, I do know that we can get there. And it starts, by standing witness. So we can feel. And by feeling remember. And by remembering do. And by doing, change.
I hope you stand witness too..in your own way at the right times for the right reasons. I hope your eyes stay open and you stay present. Feeling through it all. Holding on to hope.