Every once in awhile, I’ll get an email from someone asking for my opinion, or advice. They almost all deal with serious things, and most of the time, I read and reply without going into a mental breakdown. I find myself very humbled when this happens and I always wander what makes them think I’m the person to ask. I have decided that most of them aren’t really seeking advice, most of them are seeking understanding. They want to connect with someone who doesn’t just say she understands but actually does. Mostly, this is beneficial not only to the stranger sending the mail but o me as well. Last night, though, I got a different sort of email. This lady is like me in that our pasts are similar but she’s got one major difference: she is royally ticked off at her attacker. Royally. So much so that, twenty years after the fact and even though she’ll almost certainly lose because there is no physical evidence to support her, she is seriously contemplating pressing charges and going through a big legal mess. She read a post I wrote to the little girl I once was and, in her email, wrote: “You just write about the little girl’s pain. Don’t you care about taking up for her? Don’t it make you mad that someone could steal so much from you? What about JUSTICE???”
I would have been ok, I would have just chalked it up to a difference in our healing/defense mechanisms, it wouldn’t have been a big deal….except she had to include the line “Don’t you care about taking up for her?” Now, let me just preface the rest of this by assuring everyone that I am –not– crazy. I am also –not– afflicted with Dissociative Identity Disorder. I do, however, see and care about a little girl that used to be me. She is my constant companion. She sits in a corner of my mind with her back to me because she is scared. She is very, very precious to me. In fact, until this year, she wasn’t ever mentioned because I didn’t want to risk someone saying something to hurt her. I promised her a long time ago that I would not allow her to be hurt “like that” again. I care very much about her, and she is real to me.
So, the emailed question made my stomach churn. I have never gotten angry. I am not angry now. But maybe I should be. I know anger is one of the steps to “recovery.” I know I have issues with anger, would prefer to avoid it altogether. Maybe I shouldn’t. Maybe I am sabotaging my own healing by refusing to get angry. Calm, cool and collected–but maybe that only helps me, the grown-up feel better. Maybe the little girl needs someone to fight, needs to get angry. Maybe justice is the right thing to want. The email bothered me all night, and most of today. The little girl is one of my biggest motivators. If it would be better for her to care about justice, then I want to care. If it means fighting, by all means, bring it on. But then…
Mid-day, I received two random Facebook posts about my books, both of which were positive. One was from someone I don’t know, the other was from a friend at church. Both made me smile and both reminded me of my books, and my writing. They made me feel strong and confident. Healthy. Normal. Happy. All of a sudden, my eyes blurred with tears. More than the tearing of my body, more than twisted words, what hurt the little girl most of all was that her self-confidence, her sense of worth, was destroyed. Broken. She would go to school and feel like an alien. She walked with her head down. When everyone called her good, she rolled her eyes: anyone, she told herself, could do the exact same things she did, if they so desired. When people called her pretty, she shook her head and worried that she was fat. When she looked in the mirror, she felt clumsy, awkward and different. Her confidence, her self-esteem, had been cut into shreds by the millions of bugs she was sure crawled inside. She believed that if only she listened more, obeyed faster, thought further ahead….if only she told… Then it would stop. It was her fault. The secrets. The violent shaking. The violation. If it was her fault, the only one to blame was herself. She couldn’t blame him because she DID stay quiet. She DID hold it in. And when she was offered a choice of things to do to him, both of which were always painful and shameful, she always made a choice. She never refused. So this was the most damaging part.
Getting angry doesn’t make me feel powerful. For some, like the woman who emailed me, anger makes her feel in control again. For once, she’s on the offensive instead of defensive, and that helps her regain her sense of strength. I get it. But for me, it’s just fearsome and exhausting. Anger makes the shame more real. It makes the memories clearer. And it fills me with anxiety. I am not that strong. People say, “You’ve come out so loving and strong and happy. You’ve won.” But what have I won? It was never a fight–I was never in a competition, I never had a chance. I was nearly grown before I even realized it wasn’t normal. You can’t win if you never knew you were in a war. And furthermore… What is a judge going to give me? Even if I won, and he was put in prison, he’d be released. And even if he wasn’t….would his imprisonment make everything that happened ok, since “justice was served?” Would I be able to fall asleep at night, safe from nightmares? Would my “victory” suddenly make physical intimacy easier for me to enjoy as an adult? Would it make the little girl disappear from my mind? And, when I looked into the mirror, would the image I see reflected be stronger? Would I walk with my head up, suddenly believing after so many years that I don’t have anything to be guilty or ashamed of? Would it give the little girl her confidence back, because, as terrifying as it is to have no control at all, the lack of confidence hurt her the most?
For some, maybe the answer to those questions is yes. But, for me, the answer is no. I love control too but I want to be free, and happy more than I want control. I want to be able to love someone, and trust someone, without being afraid I’m not good enough. I want to feel competent and special but not in special in a bad way. I want to feel respected, not avenged. For me, taking care of the little girl who was lost means finding ways to restore her sense of worth, her sense of dignity. Writing helps me do that. It makes her feel needed, respected and important. It helps her believe that her opinions and her feelings matter, and are heard. Too often, justice is just about making the criminal pay, about making him suffer. But his innocence wasn’t lost. His body wasn’t violated. That terror, he won’t know. And even if he did, it doesn’t bring back what was lost. I could spend time and money and energy to “have my day in court,” to tell him what he did… But why? What’s done is done, I can’t go back and the justice system can’t restore the damage.
I can keep running my head into a wall trying or, with God’s help, I can try to turn it into something good and worthwhile. I can teach that little girl that, because she survived and is willing to voice it, she’s a beacon of hope to others still trapped in shamed silence. With God’s help, I can show her that everything he said was a lie: she IS equal. She IS capable. She IS smart. And she is pretty. The past is gone but that means he is too. She doesn’t have to be afraid of seeing him walk into a room, not even a courtroom. And if she runs into him in public, she can turn and walk away. Physical intimacy is possible because she is a woman, not an object. I can’t undo the past, I have to live with my part of the blame… But I can choose to spend my time focusing on me and on the things that make me happiest instead of trying to change what can’t be changed.
The woman who emailed me doesn’t think I’m defending the little girl that was hurt. I like to believe that I am. After all, I am writing and speaking about it now. She is silent no longer. I like to believe that’s her defense. But maybe not. Maybe she’s right. Maybe I’m not defending that little girl; maybe I’m trying to help set her free instead.