P.S. No, Really, I Won’t Be Silent

Talking about sexual misconduct makes people uncomfortable. Within the first twelve hours of publishing my last blog, I got the sense that my story wasn’t going to be any different.

“Why put your life on blast on social media?” Here’s the thing (and I know I repeat this like a broken record): I’m a recovering addict. Social media is one of the many things I can abuse. I’ve made the choice to use it – both personally and professionally – as a tool for positivity. We have a collective decision to make about technology; it can be used for good or it can be used for destruction. When I post something, it generally falls into one of two categories – I’m either preserving precious memories or aiming to help another human being. I’ve even started assessing the way I document memories. I had an interesting discussion with one of my best friends on the subject of pride.

There is always room for improvement but, in general, I feel like I have good boundaries. The content I share only scratches the surface of the breadth of my life. There are definitely things that are none of anyone’s business. There are also things I will only share in a memoir somewhere down the line. The measuring stick I use for disclosure is the question: “Can my experience with this situation benefit someone else?” I shared my experience as a woman who moved from victimhood to empowerment in the hope that it would cultivate strength and solidarity.

One of the greatest gifts of my recovery is that I have grown increasingly comfortable in my own skin. While people’s judgement mystifies me, it doesn’t dissuade me from standing unabashed in my raw truth. I feel sincere sadness for those who think I should be quiet. It says more about their life than it does about mine. It must be hard to be so unhappy that you have to put down someone who is spreading their wings in freedom. This distinct class of judgement denotes fear, envy, and self-loathing. And let’s face it: the perpetuation of silence is a gigantic part of the problem. For centuries, women and men alike have been forced to endure sexual abuse with no way to safely vocalize their pain and suffering. Furthermore, women grow up with the expectation that we will quietly accept our lot in life… even if it is intolerable.

I firmly believe that storytelling is the way to healing. I used to think that making a forceful argument or engaging in a debate could lead to change. I haven’t found that to be accurate. In fact, I have found that it repulses people, burns bridges to understanding, and invites rigidity in opposing stances. I used to go on tirades and rants on Facebook about various things I found to be unjust, especially when people advocated for violence against police officers. My diatribe didn’t change anything and, because I was operating from a place of fear for my law enforcement spouse and friends, it made it look like I didn’t care about my brothers and sisters of color. When I operate from a place of fear, it turns me into a person I don’t particularly like. At the core of my being – in a divine place  untouched by fear and anger – I have unconditional compassion for other beings. My responsibility as a human is to try and live from that place as much as possible.

I do my best not to argue anymore. I share my personal experience instead. If you don’t like it, that’s fine. You have your truth. This is mine. I do not need to feel guilty or ashamed. I am a writer. It’s just who I am. But I’m not meant for fiction or poetry; I’m meant for exploring and reflecting on life from my singular perspective. After my experience this summer, I certainly have a strong perspective on how things could be improved. In conveying my interpretation of events, I tried my best not to wish anyone harm or ill will.

Today I also try to distance myself from those who are domineering and abusive with their opinions. I have been that person- even in the context of this blog – and I don’t want to be anymore. I recognize that I become like the people with whom I surround myself the most. I can have compassion without accepting negative energy in my space.

We are all walking, talking anthologies of our beliefs. I’d posit that it’s impossible to craft a genuine narrative without betraying a worldview. I want my beliefs to look less like an arsenal of weapons and more like an invitation to collaboratively create peace. I am flawed in my practice, but this is the ideal toward which I strive. It benefits me to constantly evaluate what I bring to the table. How can I connect with someone if they bring an invitation and I bring a sword? These days, I find myself asking the opposite question. Most of the time, all I can do is hold space at the table, invitation in hand.

Reading – or listening to – other people’s stories with an open heart has saved my life and shaped the woman I’ve become. I am grateful to each person who has shared their recovery experience and provided a roadmap for me to follow in their footsteps. I am equally grateful to the people who have shared intimate pieces of themselves in order that I might challenge myself and grow. Each human narrative is an archway through which we can enter our unexamined minds and extract previously undiscovered insight. Socrates said that “the unexamined life is not worth living”. Several millennia later, the profound value of his wisdom remains unchanged.

 

This Is Not Okay

This morning – before I had my coffee or the stomach for breakfast – I looked a compulsive sexual predator in the eye and took back the control he stole from me. This is only one part of my “#metoo” story, but it’s the part that needs to be told the most.

At the end of the day, this story isn’t about the man who exposed himself to me in August of this year. It’s about the failure of a system that allowed it to happen. The individual in question allegedly suffers from debilitating mental illness. Today, his attorney filed a competency motion to determine whether or not he is fit to face charges. Truth be told, I’m not interested in unduly punishing a sick person. It can’t be easy to endure life at the mercy of grotesquely altered brain chemistry. But mental illness is an explanation…not an excuse. Ideally, I would like him to be compelled to seek a higher level of care. I would also like him to carry a criminal record for the protection of other women. However, I don’t hold out hope that I will be satisfied with the outcome of this case. All I can do, in the interest of womankind, is pursue it to the fullest extent possible.

What does make me angry – and angry isn’t even an adequate word…profoundly sickened, perhaps? – is that this incident occurred when this person was under the “supervision” of no less than two staff members from the dual diagnosis facility where he resides. Moreover, his genitals weren’t exposed for seconds, they were exposed for minutes.

If you’re enough of an insensitive, uneducated asshole to ask me why it went on for minutes, it’s because I was in a state of complete and utter shock. I was also in a recovery meeting. “Should I call the police?” I wondered. “What about everyone’s anonymity?”

Here’s what happened (consider yourself forewarned that I’m about to be graphic):

I was running late. Everyone was already seated and the reading was almost finished. The tables were arranged in the shape of a haphazard square. As I sat down, I noticed him staring at me. It wasn’t the typical dull stare of someone bored with the material; it was almost a trance. His eyes were dark pools of black. The intensity of his gaze was disconcerting, but I was really looking forward to the meeting, so I dismissed it. Unfortunately, he was sitting across the room, directly in my line of vision, and I couldn’t ignore his invasive stare. When he locked eyes with me again, he put both of his hands in his shorts and manipulated his genitals so they were exposed. At that moment, I felt as though I was looking at the room from a distance. “This isn’t happening,” I thought. “I need this meeting. This isn’t happening”. I looked at everyone but him. I looked at my friend in the corner. I looked at the guy who was speaking. I despaired that I seemed to be the only one who knew he was using me for his own gratification. Finally, I dared to look at him. His genitals were still exposed. With one hand, he continued to adjust them for maximum visibility. A voice of reason sounded clear and true through my horrified daze: “This is not okay”.

I left the meeting and my sponsor kindly offered to deal with the situation. When she approached the staff members responsible for the residents of the facility, they knew who he was before she even had to identify him. They knew he engaged in these types of behaviors. Their responsibility was to protect him and to protect me. They failed miserably.

It’s an understatement to say that the support staff dropped the ball. But so did their superiors. Why was someone known for compulsive, indecent sexual behavior allowed to attend a co-ed recovery meeting? Why not a men’s meeting? If he is, indeed, mentally incompetent, how could he benefit from a recovery program which utilizes cognitive behavioral strategies? If he was stable enough to benefit, how can one now make the argument that he is incompetent to stand trial?

To add insult to injury, this particular agency tried to excuse their oversight by pushing the mental health card. Yes, there may very well be legitimate mental health concerns; however, that doesn’t condone the staggering and inexcusable negligence. I’m grateful it was me sitting in that seat… and they should be, too. If it had been a young woman with days of sobriety and untreated trauma, that event could have triggered a relapse or an overdose death.

I thought about filing a civil suit but, in the long run, no legal battle is going to solve the issue at hand.  We need thorough systemic change. We need to stop hiring under-educated, under-trained, uncaring mental health workers and paying them dismally low wages. We need to allocate more funding for mental health treatment. There are little to no resources for the treatment of morbid mental illness. We also need to completely overhaul our legal system. I didn’t understand until I experienced it – and I don’t blame the patrol officers or the police prosecutors. I blame the dysfunctional establishment they’re doing their best to navigate. If I hadn’t advocated for myself – and if my LEO wife hadn’t advocated for me – I would have been in the dark. I’ve never been to court before. I had no idea what to do. I can’t imagine facing a rapist or attacker with no one there to guide me. My heart absolutely aches for other women who have been victimized. We are revictimized by the current system, which is too overburdened to provide adequate support, and favors the perpetrator.

On August 9th, someone used me for sexual fulfillment without my permission. He didn’t even have to touch me. I’m not sure how the people whose negligence enabled him are able to sleep at night. I’m also not sure how men who become defensive about rape culture live with themselves – nor am I sure why some women uphold their misogyny.

There are many things I do not understand, but I do know that the era of female power has arrived. I may lose in court – only time will tell – but I will never stop telling my story. You can’t silence me. This morning, when I looked a sexual predator in the eye, I took back a power that has been gradually siphoned from me since childhood. It wasn’t just about the incident this summer; it was also about every single time someone took something from me that wasn’t theirs to take. Today, I took it back. Now my task is to add my voice to the chorus of silence breakers. We have had enough.