The #MeToo campaign has taken hold once again in the wake of yet another lauded celebrity’s criminal activity being dismissed for the sake of the good they do. People — overwhelmingly cis women, but including people of all genders — have been using the hashtag to relay their stories of harassment and assault. They want to make sure people know that their abusers are friends, fathers, babysitters, employers, employees, partners. Their … our … abusers are people that you … and we … admire.
But let’s talk about something beyond that abuse. Let’s talk about what happens when we gather together as victims and survivors to support one another as we work towards healing.
I was recently surrounded by a group of people, talking about the largely-shared trauma we’d gone through and how we move through those experiences to heal and live a life less-incapacitated by PTSD. As we talked, there was an assertion that we will come to a point where we no longer need to tell our story because we’ve achieved peace … through a Higher Power.
My breath caught in my chest. I looked around the room, hoping someone would comment. But all I saw were nodding heads and peaceful, knowing smiles. I paused a moment, then asked, “Would it be contrarian for me to touch on the Higher Power point?”
Immediately — almost before I could get the words out — someone responded with a strong, decisive, “Yes.” I stared in disbelief. I was told that it was something very personal, and I shouldn’t say anything about it. Someone else thanked me for asking, and thanked the other person for being honest, and the rest of the group moved on.
Except for me.
I was shocked. (I don’t know why I was shocked.) I pulled my arms tightly around myself, began biting the inside of my cheek as hard as I could, and (unsuccessfully) willed the tears to stay at bay. I managed to make it through the rest of our get-together before leaving on shaky legs and falling into a panic attack the moment I reached my car.
I did ask if I could say something. And I didn’t push it when told “no,” because that wouldn’t have been an okay thing to do. By asking, I accepted the possibility of not being permitted to speak. I don’t know whether trauma drove this person to so hastily and strongly respond in such a way. I don’t know why no one else in the room commented on (what seemed to me to be) the glaring problem of tying healing to the supernatural. I recognize that my trauma response doesn’t mean others had such a response. But, even after sleeping on it and accepting they had a right to say “no,” I still feel like this is an important thing for me to share.
Words mean things.
I know you know that. You’ve got to know that, right? I mean, your saviour is literally called The Word.
But, if healing is only possible through the help of a Higher Power … what does that say to the people who don’t share your faith?
I’ve said over and over again in this series: I know you mean well. But you have got to think about your words. Think about what you’re saying when you say, “It’s only through the grace of God that I’m healing.” Think about the implications of your words to people who aren’t like you. Think about how what brings you comfort has been used as a baseball bat against others.
Want some personal examples? Here, allow me to open my veins and show you my wounds, anew.
- The people who molested me as a child were almost certainly Christians.
- Growing up in church and Christian school, I was shown through teaching and example that I was responsible for how male-coded people treated me.
- One person who harassed and assaulted me as a teen was the son of an evangelist, and people only spoke up because I fought back every time and told anyone who would listen that it wasn’t okay.
- A mentor of mine told me that I was sinning because I was suffering from PTSD. After all, “God hasn’t given us a spirit of fear.” So being traumatized was proof that I wasn’t trusting the Lord enough.
- A friend, upon hearing that I’d been assaulted, responded with, “Praise the Lord!” and expressed his desire to be able to suffer for the Lord as He’d clearly chosen me to.
- A fellow rape survivor told me that I need to ask God forgiveness for my part in — well, I’m not sure what. Either my part in people sexually abusing me, or for how I responded to the abuse.
- I’ve been terrified every time I talk about being raped last year, because I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that some will assert rape is something I deserved because I’m not a Christian and also something God might use to bring me back to Him.
Apart from all of that, think about what it says to people like me when you imply that the same God who allowed and watched us be abused is the God we’re supposed to turn to for healing.
But, you know what, let’s say you do believe I can’t heal without coming to Jesus. You do believe I must somehow accept childhood molestation, life-long sexual harassment and assault, domestic violence at home, and being raped as an adult as all somehow Part Of His Plan.
Beyond the utter lack of compassion and empathy in those statements, such an approach is utterly unpractical. Is this really the best way to bring me to Him? Making sure that I know I can’t heal without Him?
When my presence is an affront.
What broke me the most, though, was being asked to not even comment. As if anything I had to say would be inappropriate. As if my existence was inappropriate.
Honestly, a big part of me feels like I should be used to this. I’m quite often the only atheist in the room, and that always brings with it a tension — even with people who know me, who ought to know better. Because I never speak against Christianity itself. I always focus on the problematic cultural application. And even then! I have never tried to take someone’s faith away. I expressly affirm their faith, especially when it’s clearly helpful to them in times of struggle. I go out of my way to not offend wherever I am as a general practice, because I hate confrontation. So I’m especially conscious when I’m around Christians.
And yet, that tension is always there. I always feel it, though I try to pretend it’s not there. But then something happens where it’s expressly acknowledged.
I’m the one who’s different. And that, somehow, is dangerous.
Oh, the humanity.
I shouldn’t have to say this, but I’m human too, damn it. I have feelings just as real and valid as you do. I experience the same kind of life that you do, the same kind of experiences. I deserve respect, same as you do. The very same respect I constantly work to make sure I pay you. Especially when you claim to have the Spirit of God inside of you for guidance, when you’re supposed to follow the example of Jesus when He was on earth.
This shouldn’t be normal. And while I accept that this person had a right to say “no” to my request to share, I think it’s indicative of a deeper problem in Christianity, where the existence of another voice is seen as an inherent threat to their faith. Particularly in a group setting like this, specifically brought together to discuss trauma. The possible discussion of religious trauma was something about which I was expected to remain silent. As if only some kinds of trauma are allowed airspace.
As if there is no space for me.