Jul. 3, 1993 I was conscripted into a war that one in three women will be forced to fight. Every 2.5 minutes somewhere in America someone is sexually assaulted. Basic training is brutal on a 14-year-old old girl. I spotted him just before sundown; bent under the hood of a two-toned 76 Mustang. His faded blue jeans clung to his frame. The mustard yellow T-shirt slung over his right shoulder barely covered his massive chest. Shielding his eyes from the sun he turned and looked upward as if drawn by my gaze. He was 26 years-old and his name was Matt.
When home is a battlefield, little girls often end up on the frontlines. I followed Matt to his apartment that night. He handed me a cold beer. I remember taking note of the fact that it was already open. I told myself I was safe and drank it. The last thing I remembered was the fun house mirror of his smile, and the room spinning as he placed the chain lock over the front door.
“To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.”- Sun Tzu
I never saw my enemy coming. I never got to fight. I was just taken against my will and woke up with the scars. You can’t explain what you don’t remember. When you have more questions than answers you don’t tell the Mother that wishes you dead. You don’t tell your friends. You certainly don’t tell the police. You learn the rules quickly.
First you will count all the reasons why it’s your fault. You will remember what a court room does to the victim. Dissected like a lab rat, each piece is held under microscopic scrutiny. I watched enough Lifetime movies to know I would be the one on trial. How would I tell a jury that I went willingly to his apartment? I couldn’t even tell them what he did to me. I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs. Instead I choked down that secret like a razor blade, felt it sever every artery along the way. When the pain threatened to swallow me whole, I let the nothing take me. I became the walking dead. Seventeen weeks later I found myself in a cold sterile room, with more questions than clothes.
“You’re perfectly healthy and 17 weeks pregnant.”
The doctor’s words swam around my head. The next 48 hours was a tsunami. There are still parts of me adrift on that sea, but I found my way to shore. Black women are taught not to cry not to feel, not show weakness. I gave myself permission to heal. With the help of my friend and the founder of The Body Is Not An Apology I began a 21 day RUHCUS challenge that culminated in a ceremony giving me safe space to mourn. On July 17, 2011, eight close friends gathered in my home for a Willing to Weep ceremony. I spent years trying to be a good soldier. I bought the lie that I had to keep the secret, be strong, cry for no one, and mourn nothing. It was all lies. The night before the ceremony, I wrote down every lie I ever believed about myself, every lie that had ever been spoken about me, and everything I needed to mourn.
I placed all the strips of paper in a big bowl in the center of the room. We sat cross-legged in a circle. Each woman picked up a lie, read it out loud, countered it with the truth and then tore it to pieces. In this circle surrounded by my closest friends I wept with my whole heart and healed in community. Eight mothers embraced the broken 14-year-old old in a 31-year-old body and told her it was not her fault.
There was nothing left of the lies but torn bits of paper. Each woman gathered a handful, tossed them into the fireplace and spoke a blessing over me. The Willing to Weep ceremony transformed me forever. I lost 75 pounds in the following year and gained a capacity to live and love myself unapologetically. Radical self-love was my path to overcoming the pain and violation I experienced, and it is my wish for one and all.
I went from healed to healer. There are layers to this transformation.We are still teaching ourselves and our children to love themselves unapologetically amidst all of the madness and mayhem. Every day I wake up and stretch out in purpose and navigate PTSD. I thank the woman who I was for surviving and I give myself permission to mourn what was taken from me and live fully at the same damn time. I help as many people as possible take back all that they can while sifting through my own wreckage. Whenever possible I laugh like funny is new. The flood of #metoo and survivor stories creates a tsunami of emotions for many of us. Unplug if you must. Self care over social media surfing every day. Know that there are resources for those of you still navigating your trauma. It is my life’s work and the mission of many of my colleagues and friends. May comfort cover you when you need it most.
I want to add that therapy played a large part in my growth, healing and development. Many people and things are catalysts but you must continue the deep work when the room clears, the #metoo disappears, and dialogue is derailed. Make your healing a priority. I am always a resource and what I can’t do I know enough people to get you to the help you need. I wish you wholeness, healing and strength.
All love. All light. Always.