Tonight, a news story will be breaking out of Indianapolis that details multiple instances of abuse of power, sexual harassment, coercion, and verbal abuse by an individual from my past—a teacher and my father figure. Someone I looked to for guidance, wisdom, comfort, and support. Someone who took advantage of dozens of girls in a vulnerable situation that mirrored my own, girls I was friends with a decade ago but his actions severed those relationships I’d established. Then, there are the girls—now women—I’ve since befriended.
His abuses and actions span three school districts and nearly twenty years.
He’s been fairly sophisticated in his actions, and the story his actions have written will get the coverage—both by the press and his victims—that it deserves (note: not that he deserves). Today, though, in this moment, I don’t want to talk about him.
What I want to talk about is the isolating nature of speaking out about abuse. As Katherine Turner has said, it seems that survivors of trauma have a bit of a “shelf life”—we only have so long that we’re allowed to be upset about something, then society expects us to move on. This is evidenced in the statute of limitations, which dictates how long a victim is “allowed” to process their trauma and seek to press charges.
That same “shelf life” seems to apply in a lot of relationships. I could be vague here and say that some people have tendencies, but not everyone, and that the people whose patience appears to run out on their survivor friends mean well, they just don’t know what to do.
No. That’s bullshit and I’m not going to entertain those notions.
It’s bullshit because if your phone isn’t holding a charge, what do you do? You try to find out what you can do to fix it. You may not be the most technologically-savvy person, so you ask a professional, consult a website, or ask someone you know who has had a similar dilemma.
And people are worth more than a damn phone.
When something matters to you, you try to fix it.
I’m not saying people need fixing, or if they do, that their friends should be the ones fixing them. I’m saying their friends and family members, their loved ones, should be trying.
Sometimes, all I need is to talk about what’s going on. I don’t need a friend to fix it—I just need them to be aware of it. Because if I’m able to share what I’m facing, then I’m not facing it alone.
And isn’t that the whole point of friendship? That we never have to face battles alone?
Maybe our friends can’t win the war for us, and that’s okay. But don’t we have friends so we can celebrate the victories and have a companion in the trenches?
What kind of friendship puts conditions on the unimaginable? “I know this is hard for you, but I can’t help you. Have you considered getting back into therapy?”
Last time I was asked that, my response was simple: it doesn’t matter how much therapy I receive if my support system wants to give me yet another referral to someone else.
One of the coping skills I’ve learned is to share my struggles with people, to allow myself to be a little vulnerable with the people who say they love me. It’s a challenge for me because I was taught that my problems were mine to bear—no one should be bothered with a request for assistance. However, when I try to put the things I’ve learned in therapy into practice and am met with dismissal?
That’s some bullshit, too.
None of us were meant to bear the burdens of this world alone. That’s why we have communities—we have alumni associations we can call upon in our hometowns when we’re faced with a medical crisis and need to fundraise; we have book clubs to discuss our favorite books because as much as we like to read, we would enjoy it more if we could share it with someone else who is also passionate about it; we have discussion groups and panels for all kinds of topics, from politics to art to current events; we have non-profit organizations who work together for social justice issues and policy reform… The list is endless.
So why is it that, when a survivor turns to their loved ones—the people who say “I’ll always make time for you” and “I love you”—we’re so readily dismissed?
To be honest, I don’t know. I do know, though, it isn’t our fault.
It isn’t our fault we survived the unimaginable. It’s our success.
It isn’t our fault we are finding a way to thrive after surviving the unimaginable, even if the road to thriving is a little messy. It’s a reason to be proud of ourselves.
And it isn’t our fault some people refuse to hear about what we’ve survived and are trying to make sense of it now. It’s our story; we have the right to tell it.
We have the right to make mistakes and struggle to understand it. We were told we were wrong—that we were crazy, that we remember incorrectly, that we were the abusers, that we were undeserving of love and compassion—that it’s only logical we’re struggling to adjust to the version of “normal” and “healthy” that some people have always known.
They simply don’t understand that their “normal,” their way of life, is entirely new to us. They don’t understand that even if we’ve always shared their belief system, the permission to implement it is foreign to us.
If I’m completely transparent, I am furious at two people in my life right now and utterly disappointed in a third. I have no intention to explain why to them before I post this—and afterward, when they read it (read: if they read it), I won’t explain it then, either.
Because they have all the answers.
Regarding the news breaking tonight, they all know what’s going on. They all know I’m involved in the investigation, that I’m a victim. I’ve reached out to all of them for support, and most of my messages—even about simple things, like how cute my kids are or a goofy thing my cat did!—remain unanswered. When I ask how they’re doing, they don’t answer, or give me a surface-y “Just another day in paradise!”
One of my friends, thankfully, has helped me understand that sometimes people might not want to talk to me about their problems because they seem smaller in scale than mine.
I told her, “That’s crap. If it’s causing someone distress, it’s a problem, and I want to be there.”
I’ve said repeatedly to all of my friends that I’m here, I want to help, day or night, just call or text and I’ll be there. I’ve offered to drive hundreds of miles to be there for break-ups and stressful weeks; they decline. I’ve offered phone calls and video chat; they decline. I’ve sent gifts and cards and received no thanks, which is fine—I didn’t do it for their gratitude, I did it out of hope it’d put a smile on their stressed-out faces.
I know what it’s like to feel alone, and I don’t want a single person to ever feel that way.
And all of my efforts still result in “Oh, I don’t want to bother you—your issues are so much bigger than mine.”
That isn’t my fault, and if that’s the excuse your loved ones use with you, too? It’s not your fault, either.
I won’t be explaining why I’m furious because these people have the fucking answers, if they’d check their unopened or yet-to-be-replied-to messages. If they’d think critically for a moment, try to sympathize…if they’d ask themselves what years of friendship indicate I might need right now.
Consistency. Dependability. Stability. Understanding. Patience. Compassion.
The basic foundation of any friendship.
I won’t be explaining why because when any of us are facing a big, overwhelming situation—like this news story, or something more “normal,” like job change or a break up or family stress—it’s self-evident that the people who love us should put in the effort of checking in.
We shouldn’t have to beg the people who claim to love us to act like it.
“Hey, how’s it going?” may be a way to breach a topic. But if you’ve been by my side—by anyone’s side—you wouldn’t have to ask.