Author’s Note: Trigger warning for survivors. You may choose to read this, or choose not to read this, but it’s your choice.
I really try to be silent, because I have found that when I engage in too many conversations about things that make me feel powerless, I feel even more hopeless.
I really try to be silent, because I have found that it’s more important at times to remain quietly neutral on the outside, so as to better understand those with differing opinions. Sometimes trying to understand opposing arguments is more important to me, rather than screaming my own beliefs into the air, or posting responses on social media.
I really try to be silent, because I am a constant caregiver. A wife, a mother of three boys, two cats and two dogs. And I’m physically and mentally exhausted.
I really try to be silent, because I am a therapist and I work with people through traumatic events. My clients need me to be silent, so they can finally express whatever needs to pour out of their souls. Whether this trauma happened the day before, or more than 30 years ago. My silence allows them a platform to put their truths into the open, so they can begin to heal.
I really try to be silent, because I am a therapist and I work with perpetrators of abuse and violence. They need me to be silent, so I can absorb their words, and they can finally express desires for their own healing, or atonement.
I really try to be silent, because I began my career as a therapist in September of 2001.
September of 2001.
September of 2001.
A traumatic event which began a career of working with trauma.
A culture of trauma.
I spent three years on an anonymous sexual assault and rape hotline in college. I have worked with toddlers and with great-grandparents, and with every age in between. I have worked in agencies, in a psychiatric hospital, with students in inner-city schools, with students in private boarding schools, and with all kinds of fascinating people in my own private practice. Trauma is universal. Going through a traumatic event will affect your brain, your life, your family, your outlook, your soul. Trauma is trauma is trauma.
You want to know why Christine Blasey Ford cannot remember every detail? Because her brain is traumatized. You know how I know she’s telling the truth? She remembers snapshots. She remembers the feeling of being pushed from the back. She remembers that it was hard for her to breathe when he put his hand over her mouth. She remembers their drunken laughter, “two friends having a really good time with one another,” at her expense. She had difficulty talking about this attack even with her therapist, because it caused her to relive her trauma. She expressed anxiety, phobia, PTSD-like symptoms, claustrophobia, panic…She had difficulty forming friendships in college, especially with boys. And my favorite part of her testimony, when she told Senator Feinstein that “neurotransmitter encodes memories into the hippocampus. And so, the trauma-related experience, then, is kind of locked there, whereas other details kind of drift.” YES YES YES.
You know why survivors and trauma therapists all over the country were crying, and texting, and tweeting, and calling each other that day? Because they identified with her words, with her shaking, with her unbelievable bravery to be sitting in front of a semi-circle of men while she was speaking her truth. The truth. Snippets of the event which traumatized her brain, her core, her whole being.
I have worked with a client who cannot remember her perpetrator’s face, but she remembers his cologne, and the outline of the exit door of the room.
I have worked with a client who cannot remember what she was wearing, or any events occurring on the days leading up to the trauma. But she can remember the flashing smoke detector light as she was on her back.
I have worked with a woman who had bruises in places where she cannot even remember being touched.
I have worked with a client who cannot remember what her address was, or when exactly she moved from that particular city, but she can remember that his hands smelled like garlic.
Trauma can easily bring more trauma. I have first hand accounts from women who were brave enough to go to the police and hospital right away…and who walked out severely re-traumatized through that process, as their pubic hairs were plucked out one at a time and their labias were held open for photographs. As they were asked to relive the experience in detail for the record, surrounded by more men, with strangers walking by, through a crowded police station, or an emergency room with curtains and not doors, where there was no privacy and bright lights and so much noise.
This is why brave, brilliant women and men and children keep silent. To protect themselves from additional trauma. Or because their perpetrator was from a prominent family. Or because they blamed themselves for having a drink or walking through campus alone, or going back to the guy’s apartment because he was so kind and interested at dinner, or because the man was a policeman, or their teacher, or their clergy, or their uncle, or cousin, or father, or step-father, or brother, or because they were just fearful. Fearful of not being believed, of police wanting to make them talk about the incident, of doctors wanting to look at and touch their body, of their family disowning them, of friends leaving them, of having people look at them differently. Trauma and shame, and fear.
Fear is an incredible motivator.
Fear can make a person’s brain freeze.
Fear can make a person disassociate.
Fear can make you forget lots of details.
Fear makes a person focus on getting the fuck out of that situation, or not dying.
And not much else.
Fear keeps a person silent.
I have worked with women and men who have come forward with sexual abuse and rape traumas months, years, and decades after their experiences occurred. All are valid. All are brave. All are believed. I never ask about rape or sexual assault history during a psychiatric intake. Because if the person is coming to seek that treatment, they will disclose it to me right away. And if they’d like to hold that private, for as long as they’d like, then that’s their prerogative to do so. Because when they were raped or abused THEY HAD NO CHOICE. So I give them that choice.
My practice has been defined by trauma. September 11, Sandy Hook, Parkland, Bill Cosby, Donald Trump, Brett Kavanaugh. Trauma is trauma is trauma. Fear is fear is fear.
The past six months of my private practice is unlike anything I could have imagined as a young therapist just beginning my career. Suddenly, children are afraid to go to school. It is warranted. People are afraid to go to work. It is warranted. Women are afraid to go anywhere. It is warranted. Some of my LGBTQIA clients contemplate the dark closet because they are afraid. It is warranted. We are breeding a culture of agoraphobes. And it is warranted.
Something needs to change.
I sent a text to one of my beautiful clients yesterday, after she (like many others) texted me for advice while Ms. Ford was speaking. I told her:
It has been such a tough week with survivors being constantly re-traumatized.
Can you reframe it in your mind?
That’s what I’ve been working on with several clients…
What this amazing woman did by coming forward for all of us…
Embrace the positive that there is a dialogue
Feel the discomfort and trauma for a second and acknowledge it,
It is a part of you
But you are stronger and have the power now
And you’re beautiful and successful and in a healthy loving relationship.
Change your narrative.
If the discussion is too uncomfortable, leave the space until the discussion is over.
You have the power to decide.
I heart you.
So no more silence from me…at least for today.
Anonymous is an LCSW with a private practice in the United States.