This one quote from Oprah at the Golden Globe awards (slightly edited) hit me like a ton of bricks, straight to my soul…
“So, I want all the girls watching here, now, to know, that a new day is on the horizon. And, when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women…and some pretty phenomenal men…are fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody has to say “me, too” again.”
I am in awe of the women who have had the courage to share their #metoo story. So many stories are left untold, hidden in the dark recesses of minds, because of feelings, emotions, and memories that they never want to experience again. It isn’t about glossing over the pain of experiencing those things, it is about the liberation of a story that has changed you and shows the person that you are. Your #metoo story is not one that needs to remain hidden. It is not shameful to share your #metoo story.
So, how do I know it is not shameful and why did this hit me so hard? Because, I am part of the #metoo. I have hidden my story for years and years. I have kept that secret locked tight in the back of mind, never wanting to think about those days again. I never thought I would have to be part of “me, too”. I was kind, sweet, and way, way too naive. There are, probably, only a handful of people who know my story. My “me, too” story happened well over 25 years ago. I told my husband and a few close friends. I never told my parents, my family, or anyone else. Why? Because I was ashamed…because I thought it was my fault…because I considered myself “damaged goods”…because I was afraid that no one would believe me. I am not telling my story to shame anyone, not even the person responsible. I am sharing my story, after all this time, to empower others who have a “me, too” story to share their journey. I share my story so that my daughter, my daughter-in-law, and any future granddaughters I will possibly have, will never have to have a “me, too” story.
As I mentioned, my “me, too” story began over 25 years ago. I was (and still am) independent, carefree, and loved life. Other than being involved in high school activities and friends, I had not a care in the world. Then, that world came crashing down. I will not name the person for reasons I will explain later. This person (I will identify him by the letter “Q”) emotionally abused me, mentally abused me, raped me, and physically abused me. I didn’t see the emotional or mental abuse. It was disguised under the idea of “love”. “Q” was not in a great place in life and I was under the impression that I could “fix” him, if I loved him enough. Sound familiar? It is, honestly, how most abusive relationships begin. We were both young and bad decisions were made on all sides. Does that excuse my “me, too” story? ABSOLUTELY NOT! There was a night, a few months in to our relationship, which everything was taken to a level that I was not prepared for or equipped to deal with. No matter the number of times I said “no”, things never stopped.
The day began as a very emotional day for me dealing with family issues. I was in a relationship with “Q”, so we were watching a movie like any other ordinary evening. I had been talking with him about the situations going on. We had kissed a few times, not really doing any serious making out. I was laying on the couch with my head on “Q’s” knee. I was honestly to the point I was falling asleep…drained from the day. I felt him rub my arms, as I started to drift off. The next moment, I felt his hand going down the front of my shirt. I immediately grabbed his arm and told him to stop. I wasn’t in the mood to make out or fool around. I was exhausted. I just wanted a nice quiet evening with “Q” watching a movie. I laid there figuring that the situation had been dealt with and started to drift off again. I came back to reality a few moments later when “Q” decided to put his hand under my skirt. Again, I grabbed his arm and told him “no”, more forcefully than the first time. The next thing I knew, “Q” had picked me up and moved me to the floor. I told him I was tired and I really didn’t want to do anything at all. He didn’t listen. He began to take off my pantyhose, my underwear, push up my skirt and raped me. I closed my eyes and tried to put myself in another place. I couldn’t believe this was happening. I started to cry because he was holding me down and hurting me. I can remember tilting my head back and looking at the movie (which I cannot watch to this day without shaking) and praying for this nightmare to be over. Once he finished, he finally noticed I was crying. I told him to take me home right away. “Q” drove me home and I was totally silent on the ride in disbelief. “Q” was tried to talk to me outside of my house. I could only look out the passenger window and cry. He kept asking me to look at him. I refused. This kept going, back and forth, for about 5 minutes. In a moment of extreme anger, “Q” grabbed me by the head and jerked my head around to look at him. He did this with such force that I could feel everything in my neck and jaw pop. He just kept telling me that the night wasn’t what I thought it was. By the time I walked in the house, I was a victim of rape and physical abuse. I became terrified of “Q” from that moment forward. The fear gripped my soul and remained with me for years.
I still dated “Q” for another few months. I was terrified of what he would do to me next and even more terrified of what he would do if I broke things off with him. I finally had the courage to break it off with him once I was out of state for a trip. I knew that he couldn’t come find me and try to convince me otherwise. That didn’t stop him. He stalked me, called me, and left notes on my car. Years down the road, he called and asked if he could come to my wedding.
As I look back, with hindsight always being 20/20, I should have screamed, yelled, hit, kicked….done something other than been silent. There were other individuals in the house where this happened and yet, I was quiet…not wanting to make a scene. I should have told someone…anyone. But, I was silent. I lived with this silent pain for so many, many years. I had nightmares…I was afraid to see “Q” out and about…I was afraid that he would hurt me again.
When I was very pregnant with my first child, “Q” was in a restaurant at the same time I was there with my husband and friends (all of whom knew the events of that night). Having that pregnant lady bladder, I got up to go to the restroom. I will never forget what happened next. I didn’t even know he was in the restaurant, but everyone else did. I started to walk to the restroom. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my husband and two friends stand up. I turned back to look and “Q” was following me. My husband and friends stepped in front of him. They stood there glaring at him. My husband told “Q” to sit back down. I think there were some additional choice words, but my mind was spinning. I was shaking all the way to the restroom and all the way back.
After years of shoving this horrible event into the deepest and darkest places of my mind and soul, I lived life as if it never happened. I didn’t think about the rape, the abuse or that horrible night. In my mind, it was as if nothing ever happened. Hiding this pain hurt me in ways that I have a hard time grasping. I began to convince myself that things didn’t happen the way that I remembered them. I truly convinced myself that it didn’t happen at all and it was all a bad dream.
About 10 years ago, “Q” contacted me. All of that fear came back. All the years of shoving it aside brought a wave of hurt, front and center to my life. I froze at the computer…not knowing if I should scream, run and hide, or cry. I didn’t want to relive this. I didn’t want those memories to be brought to the surface and I didn’t want to have to face them. The first response that I typed told “Q” to never, ever contact me again. Surprisingly, I felt a wave of regret. How in the world could I feel regret telling him to never contact me again after all the pain he caused?!? Surprising myself, I sent a second message…actually apologizing for my first response (dumb, I know) and asked what he wanted. To my shock, “Q” wanted to meet to apologize for what had happened.
The next several minutes are a blur and they felt like a lifetime. I instantly relived every horrific moment of that night over 25 years ago. I screamed, I cried, and I pulled myself together. I had no idea how to respond. Why would I want to be near him, even if it was for an apology? I thought carefully…weighing the pros and cons of this “meeting” like a life or death situation. I just stared at the computer screen, my hands frozen above the keys and not knowing how to respond. I just didn’t know how I could be in the same room with a person who hurt me so deeply.
After several minutes and lots of tears, I heard that still, small voice telling me to agree to meet with “Q”. I knew deep down that I couldn’t heal from this experience and be able to put it to rest (or as much as one can put something like rape and abuse to rest) without hearing him out. It was almost as if my fingers were on autopilot when I replied and agreed to meet. I only knew I could do this with God by my side.
The day of the apology arrived a lot quicker than I expected. I can remember my husband kissing me on the head, having his arms wrapped around me, and preparing myself for the tidal wave of emotions that would inevitably arrive the minute I saw “Q”. I know that my husband did not want me to go meet “Q”. My husband really wanted to confront “Q” because hurt me and, probably make him hurt for all the pain that he caused me. My husband also understood what it would mean to me to hear an apology and that it would help in my healing from hiding my story all these years. My husband was my rock as I moved through this whole process.
I drove to the restaurant where we agreed to meet, arrived on time, and prepared myself to walk in. I was sick to my stomach. My head felt like it was spinning. I thought that if I was going to pass out, it would be soon. I immediately began to question my decision. In my mind, I imagined that this could possibly be how David felt facing Goliath. I was reminded, again, that God would protect me. I felt totally disconnected from my body as I walked in to the restaurant, almost as if I was watching myself from another place and time. I stopped and took a deep breath, praying that God would carry me through this situation.
As I walked into the restaurant, I breathed a sigh of relief that “Q” was not the first person I saw. I am not sure what would have happened if that were the case, but it probably wouldn’t have been good. As I came to the table where “Q” was sitting, the urge to run out of the restaurant was so strong that I was physically forcing myself to walk forward. I was shaking from fear and the emotions that were flooding back. We exchanged greetings and I sat, very stiffly and visibly shaking, looking at him. I didn’t say much beyond that initial greeting. I didn’t know what to say and had too much to say all at the same time. What do you really say to the person who abused you and raped you? I can think of some choice words now, but in that moment of the full force of my emotions, I didn’t want to come off as a crazed lunatic screaming about a very serious situation.
The next several sentences that came out of “Q”’s mouth sounded like everything was playing in slow motion. I remember every.single.word. I can’t remember what car I drove to work some days, but I can remember each and every word that was said that day. This person, that I had considered as someone iniquitous and malicious, was telling me how sorry he was that he hurt me, how sorry he was that he didn’t listen when I said “no”, how sorry he was for causing me pain, how sorry he was for everything. That moment changed me so much. I went from hiding this horrible secret and thinking this horrible thing never happened, to being a survivor…to being able to come out on the other side of something that should have destroyed me.
I have no words for the emotions that I felt when the words “I am so sorry for…” were uttered. It was such a wide range that I felt like I was losing my mind. The one thing that came abundantly clear was that I didn’t imagine that this happened. I had honestly resigned myself to the fact that I imagined everything and it wasn’t what I thought it was. The next thing I knew, I was telling “Q”, “I forgive you.” It was almost as if a disembodied voice was present. I knew I said it, but it didn’t feel like I said it. If you want to know a truly freeing experience, try forgiving someone who has hurt you so much that you have a permanent scar, a large scar on your soul. I came across these quotes several years ago, when I was going through things totally unrelated to this. They come from the book by John W. Nieder and Dr. Thomas M. Thompson titled “Forgive and Love Again”:
“In that moment of forgiveness, you place a deposit of grace and freedom in the account of the forgiven offender.”
“Forgiveness releases the offender from ever having to pay his obligation to you. When an offense is committed, there is a moral imperative that payment must be made to compensate for the wrong. This sense of justice is written into every fiber of our being. Forgiveness cancels that moral debt.”
Not every person, who has a “me, too” story, is in a place to forgive. Some may never be able to forgive. It is a personal decision that each person affected by rape or abuse has to make. No one can make it for you. No one can force you to forgive. I consider this a battle scar. I came up against something that was meant to destroy me and survived. It is a reminder of the strength and courage it takes to move forward from something so life altering. This battle scar has its place right next to the ones I have from other situations in my life.
I sat in that restaurant and listened as “Q” began to try to explain why he abused me and raped me. It was not easy to sit there and think back on those moments. I understood…to a point. There comes a point that things are always going to be unacceptable. There is nothing that can explain it away. Rape is unacceptable. Physical abuse is unacceptable. Mental abuse is unacceptable. Emotional abuse is unacceptable. It may seem like I am contradicting myself here. I am not. While I have forgiven this person, these acts will always be unacceptable to me. I never “deserved” what happened. I didn’t dress in a fashion to “attract” this. I didn’t “say” anything that caused “Q” to put his hands on me. This was not my fault. It will NEVER be my fault.
Why don’t I call “Q” out and expose this secret that he is hiding? I don’t need to expose him. “Q” has to live with what he did to me until he takes his last breath. I have become stronger, more caring, and the person I am today because of the events that shaped me. I have been able to move forward and not be stuck in the past reliving this situation. “Q” will have to face the brutal reality of these events in every relationship that he has for the rest of his life. I honestly think that these events impact every relationship “Q” has and will ever have. Do I think that he has moved forward? Probably…but to ever have a deep relationship with someone, there cannot be any secrets. At some point, the truth will come tumbling out.
If I had anything to say to him now, over 25 years later, I would say that I still forgive him. I would also say that he tried to shatter my world, break me down, and make me worthless and he DID NOT succeed. Now that my story is out here, I would hope it could help someone else with a “me, too” story to tell someone, anyone, and not hide any longer. The more you hide this, the more it will destroy you. You can come out on the other side of abuse/rape and become the most amazing version of you this world has ever witnessed.