Beyond Survival, Week 4: Assessing the Damages

After my husband smashed the windows out of my jeep, the owner of the glass shop said to me, “You must be Some Kind of Woman to make a man do that.” At the time, I laughed. Shook my head. Said, “Man, I don’t know about all that.”

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The last time my step-father’s shadow came into my dark bedroom, he pulled off the baby blanket I clutched to my body, stared a moment at me pretending to sleep in my t-shirt and underwear, tried to pull off my clothes while I pretended to toss in my sleep. Finally, he said, “Girl, you’re just not worth the trouble anymore.”

When I watched, during this election cycle, Trump deflect so many allegations of sexual violence, one of his most used retorts was that the accusing women weren’t attractive enough to incite such behavior from him.

The message is insidious. I try not to absorb it. But still it’s there, the message that my ability to make myself desireable to men is deeply entwined with how much I deserve their violence. Over and over again, victimization gets wrapped up in worthiness.

I have worked so hard to become the sort of woman whose sense of her own worth is detached from other people’s desires. I don’t want to be worth the energy it would take to control me. I never wanted to be worth the energy it took to control me. And I don’t want to be able to control another.

I savor my own loneliness because it’s been the thing that’s kept me free.

And I know I don’t want to stay so clamped and closed. I shut down so easily. I am so guarded, so wary, so prone to shutting myself off from what other people want from me. Self-absorption can so easily grow from self-preservation. I wish I could imagine a way to stay self-preserving and still bring a partner into my fold.

If I look for the place I’m most damaged, it’s in trust.

I trust nothing, and I expect nothing. In the span of this election, I wanted to believe we were better—that we as a nation and as a culture had begun to make enough progress that, at the very least, we wouldn’t put in power a man who so clearly thinks women are nothing more than pretty fucktoys. I wanted to believe this, but I didn’t believe it.

And then I saw my family circulate more memes villifying people who’ve needed public assistance, and I remembered those years in the recession when I couldn’t find a job that would offset the cost of childcare for my daughter. I remembered crying in my car the first time I was able to buy food with foodstamps after my husband and I had split. I remembered sobbing in gratitude that I lived in a world where people thought my kids deserved to eat fruit even though the only labor I was doing couldn’t draw a paycheck. I was facing eviction and I was looking for a job like it was my full-time job, and I had these two small children to think about, and it had been months since they had been able to eat an apple. I look to my culture, and I see that I can work myself into the ground, I can be dutiful and dilligent, and because I haven’t been willing to take abuse from so many men, I am a problem and my children don’t deserve to eat.

Right now, I look to my culture and the primary message I can see is that I should’ve shut up and stayed pretty and catered to abuse if I wanted people to think my kids deserved to eat.

It’s thankfully been several years since I needed any form of public assistance. We live in a tiny apartment where I sleep in a “den” without a door, and my kids have the actual bedroom (separated with four curtain panels). Currently I don’t have a working vehicle, but we make it, and I can buy our apples without help from anyone else. Still I’ll never forget being branded lazy and useless during one of the most heartbroken times of my life.

I read recently that sexual trauma victims actually have more mental health problems if their trauma is publicly disclosed. There is the initial violence. Then there is the violence of interacting with a culture that hates victimhood more than it hates the initial violence or its perpetrators.

It’s been over ten years since I was willing to trust a partner in any true and deep way. Ten years ago is when I married the man whom I loved deeply, whom I thought could be present and tender with me even in my pain. Instead, when he saw the real, daily depth of my woundedness, he responded with rage. He took it personally. He was outraged at the thought that I might need to be sexually unavailable sometimes. He was outraged when I shut down. He told me I was a bitch and a prude. He called me a trainwreck when my PTSD resurged.

I’m really good at playing blasé, and my game face is usually solid. I sometimes make jokes about my many husbands to people I’ve just met. I act like I don’t give a care. I play ascerbic.

But the place where I’m most damaged? I still can’t bring myself to trust real intimacy. I still don’t trust the world to value or to love me. And I’m still not sure I feel like being “worth the trouble.”

Vision: I want to go on living my life in a way that makes me feel deserving of my own respect, and fuck the rest.

Action: I'm going to continue raising these babies. I'm going to savor my alone-ness. I'm going to keep myself hard at my own work.