Thursday, March 24, 2016

Today sucked

So, today sucked.

For the last few weeks, I've been having trouble sleeping. Sleep and I haven't always had the most stable of relationships. Whenever my anxiety goes up, the amount of sleep I'm able to get goes down. In fact, I spent several years getting four to five hours of sleep each night, waking up every hour or so either from nightmares, in a cold sweat, or just feeling too afraid to stay asleep. 

But for the past few months, sleep and I have been getting along. My therapist and I had established a nightly bedtime routine, and I've been able to get 7-8 hours of (nearly) uninterrupted sleep most nights. My mood significantly improved with each night of decent sleep that I got. So you can imagine my frustration when I once again found myself on the outs with restfulness.

When I met with my wonderful therapist this week, we tried to figure out why I was having difficulty sleeping again. We went through everything I've done over the last few weeks, trying to figure out what happened. Everything seemed relatively normal. Then we started to think about whether or not there was anything coming up that could be the source of problem. It may not seem like a big deal to some, but losing sleep for me is the first sign of more problems to come, and I didn't feel like spiralling back down into the dark place that I had worked so hard to come out of.

I've got my best friend's wedding coming up. A bridal shower. A bachelorette party. The usual stresses of work. Oh, but wait. There WAS one thing different this week. The Jian Ghomeshi verdict was scheduled to be announced.


As soon as we landed on that possibility, I felt my palms get sweaty, my heart rate increase, and that old familiar lump began forming in my throat. I didn't even realize how nervous I was for the verdict until I said it out loud.

The timing with this case was everything. For a long time, I remained silent about my own sexual assault. Out of fear, embarrassment, shame, and mostly because I just didn't want to be "the victim" for the rest of my life. I wanted to move on. But repressing a traumatic event isn't the way to move on. It ate away at me. Slowly, but surely until I didn't even recognize the person that I had become. I buried myself in my work, the one place where I felt like I could escape it all. But eventually it catches up to you. For me, that boiling point came when the allegations surrounding Jian Ghomeshi became public.

It was a watershed moment for survivors of sexual assault. Women felt empowered for the first time in their lives to come forward, and tell their stories. And at the same time, those who couldn't possibly understand the damage they were doing felt the need to spew hateful, thoughtless jokes. I knew so many women COULDN'T come forward, so I made the decision to get it off my chest. I wrote a blog post about my own experiences with sexual assault and rape. I put my name and face to a story that 1 in 4 women share. It was the most terrifying and liberating thing I've ever done. I was finally free of the secret I had been carrying, but the freedom was replaced with the burden of being "a victim", and having people know that I'm "a victim". Some days are harder than others. Today was one of those days. 

I work in news media, and I knew that I would have to sit through an exhausting day of extensive coverage of the Jian Ghomeshi verdict. Analysis. Opinion. Rehashing of details. Victim blaming. 

I knew what to expect. I knew that he would probably get away with it. But hearing it out loud was like a sucker punch to the gut. I felt sick. Indescribably sad. Unbelievably anxious. Only hours after the verdict was announced did I notice a raw, bleeding patch of skin on my left hand where I had nervously scratched away the skin in an effort to keep it together at work.

To hear the way the women in this case were torn to shreds by the judge made me feel ill. It was like every knock against THEIR credibility was a slap right across my OWN face. Like it was a knock against my OWN credibility. My own memories were altered after the traumatic experience of being shoved up against a brick wall and raped. I can only imagine how they were feeling.

The first thing I want to stress is that TRAUMA ALTERS MEMORY. There are countless studies anyone with access to Google can read on this. There were details about my own ordeal that I only remembered years later in my therapist's office. Like flowers. There was a lilac bush nearby the night that I was raped. I've never been a huge fan of flowers, but ever since, the smell of lilacs has made me physically ill. I didn't know where that came from until much later. Trauma alters the memory in ways we can't even begin to imagine. Of course an alleged victim's testimony can change. There is nothing manipulative or vindictive about it. 

While the justice system clearly worked as intended today (it was not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Jian Ghomeshi assaulted these three women) the justice system also failed everyone today. But not guilty does NOT mean innocent. In a case of he said vs she said, ultimately courts will side with what he said. This is the system that we have created. This is how it is, and how it will continue to be. I ask those that have no problem with this whether or not they would leave their daughter alone in a room with Jian Ghomeshi? I ask you, will you still believe in the justice system when YOU or your daughter or your girlfriend or your sister are sexually assaulted, and the perpetrator gets away with it? Will you still feel that the justice system won out?

I know that Jian Ghomeshi isn't the one that attacked me. But I never filed a report when I was sexually assaulted. And while it may not make sense to some, this felt like my case. It isn't reasonable. It isn't sensical. I'm well aware of that. But it felt like I was told today that it never happened. That I made it all up. That is how so many survivors are feeling today. Confused. Hurt. Ignored. 

I find myself wishing it could be different. Wishing that it wasn't always the same outcome. Wishing people actually CARED. Society has become so disgustingly tone deaf to the needs of survivors of sexual assault. Unless we appear on stage at the Oscars with Lady Gaga, you don't hear us. You tell us to report, but then you tear us apart. You tell us to fight back, but then you push us down. Being sexually assaulted is horrifically traumatic, but it has been almost WORSE to go through it all again, over and over, as more perpetrators walk free. Survivors aren't valued. No one cares about us. No one wants to hear us. No one wants to be us.

I never reported my own rape, and I've never been more convinced that I made the right decision. I will find a way to heal in my own time. How I choose to do that is my own business. Truth be told, I'll probably never be the same person. Something inside of me was shattered the moment that guy took away my power over my own body, and it will probably never be fixed. That's something that I have to live with. And it's something you will have to live with as well unless something changes. 

My heart today goes out to Jian Ghomeshi's victims, and all survivors of sexual assault. There are too many of us in this shitty club, and membership is continuing to grow.

A lot of people have asked me today what they can do. How they can help. It's a complex problem that has existed for as long as men and women have existed. It's a disgusting, despicable crime that no one wants to hear about, talk about, or experience. What can you do? Where can you start? It's quite simple, really.

Believe us.