We see it in your eyes: pity, sorrow, pain, cluelessness. You mean well, but you have no idea.
We feel for you, really we do — far more than you realize — but we struggle with impatience at your naïvety and ignorance. We do not have the luxury of burying our heads in the sand. While you may succeed at silencing us because our truth is too inconvenient and too painful for your sensitive ears, you cannot silence the painful screams deep in our souls. You can plug those sensitive ears of yours; we cannot plug ours. You can drown us out or refuse to hear our stories; we cannot escape our pasts.
PTSD brings the past to the present. It makes you indignant. “I am not your rapist!” you protest self-righteously with the same mouth that we have heard make rape jokes and defend those who would hand women over to rapists, the same mouth that has spoken words proving how little our consent means to you, the same mouth that has defended your body’s right to test and push against our boundaries. You expect us to forget your careless words, words that you consider trivial and light-hearted, words you pretend are not damaging or betraying…and you cannot understand why we are so uptight, so unyielding, so humorless. I mean, why is rape such a big deal to us, just because we have been raped? Why are we so weak that we can’t get over it already?
You expect us to pat you on the back, perhaps even applaud you, because you announce, almost as if it were a grand gesture on your part, that you do not blame us for being raped. You act as if this is a great and selfless act on your part, to absolve us from the guilt of causing our rapes. You act as if you cannot understand why we do not fall all over ourselves with gratitude and why we are not overcome with relief that you do not hold us accountable for our rapist’s actions.
You tell us that we are weak and broken. You say this with great patience, as if you are doing us a favor by letting us know that, despite looking down at us from your position of superiority, you nonetheless still choose to grace our wounded lives with your presence. You are the strong, the un-raped, the unbroken, the undefiled. You remind us of this continually.
However, you have no idea that, the further we go on our healing journey, the more we view you as being the broken one, the more we pity you.
You have no idea.
We used to envy your innocence. We may have remembered when we were in your shoes, full of ignorance and clinging to myths. Or maybe we were robbed of innocence so early in our lives that we cannot even identify with you. At any rate, whether we remember it or not, we were once you. You have never been us.
You are weak and untested. We recognize that now, and we no longer envy you, no longer wish to return to your state of denial and cluelessness, no longer wish to be the type of person who prefers personal comfort and fantasy over truth and justice.
We no longer want your life of ease and privilege. It is a jail worse than the one we have broken out of and triumphed over. You find your chains comforting and familiar, even while pretending you are not bound; we have conquered ours, seen them smashed and broken, and have tasted the exhilaration of running into freedom, of dancing upon injustice.
We know victory; you know avoidance and hiding. We wouldn’t trade places with you for anything in the world, not anymore.
We protect you from the truth, knowing you are the weak one, the broken one, the incomplete one.
We pity you…far more than you pity us. You have no idea — and you prefer it that way. We are your shield and your safe haven in the storm. We treat you gently and cautiously. After all, unlike us, you are fragile and weak, and cannot quite handle the real world.
Over the past few years, I have talked with other survivors about our husbands, boyfriends, friends, and family members. Some of these handle our trauma history better than others. What I wrote here is compiled from what I have heard as well as experienced firsthand. This is not about abusive relationships. This is about mostly well-meaning but flawed and clueless people who just don’t know enough, aren’t sensitive enough, and aren’t strong enough. This is about trying to navigate relationships with partners who grew up in rape culture. This is about people who don’t want to face the truth. This is about people who may want to come alongside us, but only as long as it doesn’t force them to be less selfish or step outside their comfort zones. Often, in the beginning of our healing journey, we may have tried to lean on them. As time progresses, we begin to realize that we are much stronger than we had realized, and they don’t really have what it takes to be our allies. We don’t pity these partners and friends for not having experienced trauma. We pity them for not having healed from their own issues — everyone has them — and for not having seized their own opportunities to wake up, learn, grow and flourish.