Saturday, July 23, 2016

Survivor Stories: Kathleen

I was teaching 6th grade when I began my 4 year journey toward justice. There was a day in my third  year of the journey that rattled me, a phone call from the prosecutor's office that shook my foundation, and my students knew something was terribly wrong.

One gentle soul of a student told his mom to pray for me. He didn't know why, he just knew that something happened that day to upset me, and I needed prayer. His mom stopped by for something unrelated that afternoon, and as she started to leave my classroom told me "By the way, my son said you seemed to have a rough day, and wanted me to pray for you. Whatever is going on, I just want you to know we are praying for you."

For whatever reason, I decided to tell Kathleen about pressing charges, about getting an upsetting phone call, and how frustrating it was. She hugged me. It was an act of compulsion. I don't think she knew she was going to do it any more than I saw it coming, but she threw her arms around my neck and bear-hugged me saying "thank you, thank you" over and over.

And I knew. I knew she also had a story to tell.

And I knew I wanted, no needed, to hear it.

We made arrangements to have dinner at a local Mexican restaurant. It was awkward at first, neither of us really knew what to expect. I started, kind of rehashed our brief exchange in my classroom while I complimented her son on being extraordinarily empathetic. And then I opened my mouth and let my story fall out.

Kathleen listened intently. She also physically responded to parts of the story. I didn't fully understand the power of triggers yet, but I knew some of what I was saying struck a chord with her. And then she started telling me her story.

Trauma is trauma. There is no one sexual assault that is worse than another. I would like to say that what Kathleen went through was far worse than anything I encountered, but to say that would minimize a traumatized victim.  Kathleen's story is horrific in ways I cannot fathom. She was raped repeatedly as a small child by her grandfather, and her family turned a blind eye. Kathleen suffered violence in different ways than I did. But like me, she found herself in abusive relationships as an adult. At the time we met, she was going through a divorce.

Kathleen and I have more in common than not. As we talked about our journeys, we realized that many of the ways we dealt with life, while considered dysfunctional to society, worked to protect us from further trauma. It is what I now call the nuances of life, the little things that others take for granted that cause us anxiety. And she taught me another term, trauma-friends. There is nothing like having trauma friends. I have several now, but Kathleen was one of my first.

That dinner changed me. It changed how I viewed my journey. It changed me to know someone who understood how sexual assault affects you to the very core. It changed me to know that I am not alone.

Like all of us, Kathleen still deals with the after-effects of the abuse. She has PTSD. She dissociates. I sat and listened to her with fascination as she described how her alters dealt with the abuse she endured at the hands of her ex-husband. I realized that we shared common emotions, that the ways in which we coped were very similar. The only real difference is that I am integrated. I have also found that listening to what her alters have to say actually helps me clarify what I'm feeling.

Kathleen is stronger than many, and fights to help others. She was there with me in court, even though we knew it would be a powerful trigger for her. I asked her how she was afterwards, and she told me her "alters were agitated." I got it. I couldn't put my finger on how I felt either. It was like all my emotions were vying for attention, and none of them were strong enough to reign.

Kathleen's blog is hard to read. No, it's hell to read. When you read it you will find strength, hope, fear, anger, is violent. It is traumatic. And for many of you, it is all too real. I invite you to read, to comment, to voice support, and if you need to, seek comfort from her.

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