Reflection: Healing Through Writing Workshop
This past Saturday, I had the opportunity to attend a Healing through Writing workshop, hosted by Debra Kaufman and Melissa Hassard at May Memorial Library in Burlington, NC, in recognition of Violence Against Women and to share a collection of writing from a book entitled Red Sky. They had poems from the book printed out for each of us to read aloud, to hold space for and vocalize these survivors’ stories.
It was so empowering to be in this room with such strong, vulnerable, supportive people and to be able to share our stories without fear of doubt, reprimand, or criticism. We each shared something about ourselves, many of them admitted to inflicted trauma. We held space for each individual in the room.
We discussed trauma as a whole, not just sexual violence. Many of the women represented in this workshop were people working in organizations to support victims of abuse: be them children, adults, or elders; be it sexual, physical, physiological, or financial abuse. There are programs in place to inform, protect, and empower others. Some worked for an abuse hotline, where someone shared a story of a 70-year-old woman who, triggered by the public hearings of Dr. Ford, called in to report something that happened when she was 13; less to have anything done about it and more to be able to share what happened to her, just to have someone else listen and know. Sometimes we need our experiences to be validated, especially when we live in a system that willingly does not aim to.
Our political climate (and the reflection of society as a whole) is bleak right now, but I believe it is opening a door for reform.
On one hand, it takes times like these public hearings and news cycles to connect people’s stories and make grand-scale changes. The #MeToo movement started online and has experienced groundbreaking momentum propelled by individual’s abilities to share their stories. As people feel safe enough to reveal their trauma, society’s perspectives start shifting - making monsters in the news seem antiquated, outdated, putrid, and outnumbered, encouraging changes to be made in how society and our government operates.
The news stories are triggering on purpose. People get off on dragging out all the gory details. “Sensational journalism”, as it’s called. However, these aren’t new stories.
Unfortunately, this small room of women is only a handful of those affected by trauma. The ratio of women I encounter who have gone through some sort of violence against them, be it sexual, physical, psychological, or in a combination, more women have experienced something than those that haven’t. Mothers, friends, colleagues ... you probably know people, too. If you’re in a room with women, chances are they’ve been inflicted with trauma in some sense of the word. This is certainly in no way exclusive to women.
I am lucky to have a group of strong women I went to high school & college with who I keep in daily contact with, rightfully called: The Banshees. They are bold, feminist, educated survivors. Every one of these 6 individuals have gone through some sort of violence against them, typically as teenagers or young 20 year olds, but some even younger, like 8 or 9. Some were inflicted from romantic relationships, some were from family members. Some relationships we went into knowing they were toxic despite our best advice, some were completely taken advantage of at a time when they were still shaping what it meant to exist in the world.
And it’s not for lack of trying to prevent these things from happening. Against the best interests of parents, family members, teachers, preachers, and peers, these acts are still prevalent, particularly in society’s youth.
But why wouldn’t it be? When this country is built on a system that has for centuries considered women as property - something to own. Entering the contract of marriage implied the “husband’s right to sex”, and a woman’s account of their relationship was nearly always discounted over a man’s. It was legal, expected even, for a man to rape a woman he was married to through “marital rape exceptions”, which were more damning and less legally addressed than rapes that occurred to women by strangers. The 1970s women’s movement enforced many changes to the law, including elimination of these “exceptions”, but it wasn’t until 1993 that these exceptions were eliminated in all 50 states. There is still trouble properly recognizing when violence has happened against a married woman. Religious connotation further complicates these dynamics.
The terms “rape culture”, “gaslighting”, and “consent” have become commonplace in the last 20 years, and the recognition of women as individuals and not property in the last 50-100 years. Conversations are being had. Minds are being opened. Human rights have become the forefront of our thought processes.
Programs and organizations are instated to hold space for survivors and educate preventative practices we can hold as a society. “Consent is sexy”, reads a sticker on my 21-year-old friend’s phone case. In bathrooms of college towns and elsewhere, there are signs up defining consent and how to check oneself before engaging in sexual advancements.
“Buying a drink does not equate to sex.”
“Only a clear, coherent, willing, ongoing, enthusiastic ‘yes’ is consent. Sex without consent is sexual assault. Get consent.”
We live in a society that has normalized rape culture, often disguising it as “romance”. Luckily, movements, particularly starting on college campuses, are changing the dialogue around sex.
The commonplace of these stories shows that people are suffering
On the other hand, the commonplace of these stories shows that people are suffering - in a deeply ingrained, systemic way. And while women are typically the receivers of the abuse directly, men are clearly suffering from a society that enables them to abuse others, to normalize toxic and abusive behavior. (And I recognize that men have also been abused by women in various forms, often maternally. I also see the abuse men have experienced from other men. I also address abuse inflicted on non-binary folks by those who conform to the gender binary and others. As a system we are affected.) It can be hard to recognize trauma inflicted on men when for centuries women’s pain have been ignored. But why should anyone be forced to suffer alone?
This is a systemic issue that impacts everyone and the only way to get passed it is for people to work together toward reforming it.
I’m speaking in binaries, but hear me out:
Men, take accountability for your actions, recognize your own toxic masculinity that imposes violence on you and others, and listen to women when they share their experiences. I know you’ve been trained by society to be the loudest voice in the room, that your opinion matters most, that you have to be violent & unemotional, but please consider sitting down and letting someone else have the floor for a second. Put aside your ego and actually listen. Then, get mad with us! I know it’s not all men; I see that. There are brilliant & kind men who would never think of committing something so horrendous and who support & love the women in their lives. They often speak up against toxic men and defend women in trouble. The success of this movement is largely riding on y’all’s backs to use your position of privilege and power to make the necessary changes toward a more progressive, understanding, and consensual society, rather than turning a blind eye when it doesn’t immediately affect you.
Women, queers, non-binaries, speak up! Take up space! Be angry! Share your stories. Find solidarity in others who know what you’re going through. Show up for others. Quit tip-toeing and jump in. Don’t stand for silence or think that experiencing violence is somehow a pre-requisite for being alive.
Violence, particularly against women, gets sensationalized, fetishized, glamorized, then normalized, but not before downsized, doubting its existence in the first place.
Drag the details out to dry in the smoldering sun of unconvinced skeptics. Then reprimand Her for getting angry, for feeling anything but little when the details stir up conflict.
In spite of all this, I feel hopeful for the present and the future. It’s taken a lot of courage for people to speak up, and as a society I think we are moving in a direction that is ready to listen and act. It’s an empowering time to be alive and standing. I wish peace for everyone who has endured a traumatic event and had to live with it. On top of all the other social responsibility imposed on women (being polite, caring for others, smiling, being generally submissive, catering to the fragile male ego, being “sorry”, etc) we also have to suppress deeply damaging trauma and pretend like it didn’t happen even though our whole worlds are shaped by them. Many of the poems we discussed in this workshop talked about this “undeserved inheritance”, this new version of self that was not decided for themselves; instead being forced to evolve into this new identity, given what has happened to us.
I’ve shared the aftermath of my own trauma in other articles on Cushy and have been so grateful for this platform to be able to share my voice and amplify the stories of so many others. We aim to support, uplift, encourage, listen, and rage, together. You are not alone. Your experiences are valid and real. You deserve to experience peace. You deserve to feel love. You are worthy. You are divine. You are allowed.
Take time to breathe deeply, today. Take care of yourself.
You are alive and it is glorious.
With love and admiration,
Organizations in attendance on Saturday promoting safe-spaces for survivors:
CrossRoads - Sexual Assault Response & Resource Center, serving Alamance and Caswell Counties, NC
www.crossroadscares.org / 24-hour crisis line: (336) 228-0360 / email@example.com
Family Justice Center - Provides one-stop services for victims of family violence and elder abuse
Alamance-NC.com / (336) 570-6019 / 1950 Martin St., Burlington, NC 27217
National Domestic Abuse Hotline: (800) 799-7233