"As women, we must root out internalized patterns of oppression within ourselves if we are to move beyond the most superficial aspects of social change."
Content Warning: Rape
Content Warning: Rape
This is not the first time I have bled in the toilet on the morning of June 30th. Not the first time I have awoken to pain.
This time, though, the blood is a reclamation; a shedding of the unnecessary.
Three years ago I woke in a fog. Grass covering my clothes. Darkness and haze where there should have been memory. Clips of warm light, laughter, drinks. Then clips of concrete ground, train whistles, officers yelling. Then home. Unsure of how I arrived. Unsure of how I was alive.
I told myself it was a hangover. The bleeding from and pain in my rectum told me otherwise.
I told myself it was a hangover. The gooey white stain on my inside-out, grass covered jacket told me otherwise.
I told myself it was a hangover. The vague, veiled memory of waking up on the ground of the train platform in the early morning told me otherwise.
I told myself it was a hangover. The scrapes on my knees told me otherwise.
I told myself it was a hangover.
My intuition told me something egregious. My gut screamed, cried out a narrative of violation and terror, but I long ago learned to distrust my intuition. I learned to call it by many names: misguided, irrational, woman. And so I told myself it was just a hangover.
My mother heard the wails of my intuition, and drove me to the hospital.
The sexual assault nurse heard the cry as she swabbed, photographed, collected, recorded, attempted to comfort.
The doctor heard the lament as he prescribed and advised and warned. There was more physical torment to come; month-long physical pain to decrease the chances of contracting lifelong physical pain, to decrease the chances of an early and miserable death.
My intuition leaked its lamentation through my eyes, and still I tried to rationalize, intellectualize something so visceral. I tried to make sense of trauma, and so I told myself it was a hangover. That if I had done something as simple as going home straight after work instead of stopping for a drink, that if I had avoided spending a beautiful Colorado evening enjoying a drink and conversation with strangers, that if I had just kept to myself I could somehow have undone or at least continued to skirt around the fringes, unnoticed, of manifest destiny, of toxic male dominance and entitlement.
I found myself at fault. And I never once told anyone that I did. I wrote and shared my story, condemned rapists and misogyny, vocalized and weaponized the crime that had been done to me, but at night I would hold my dog and cry. I would walk, mindlessly, the path from front door to hallway, descend the stairs into my dark basement room, turn the lock on the door, and perseverate. And ruminate. And hate not the pathetic piece of shit that stuck me like a pig with his dick, but hate myself, my tenderness, my existence.
I cradled my dog, liquor bottles, joints, and pipes. I cradled agony and suicidal tendencies, and held longingly the bars of my cage as I hurled away the key. I sheared the last blonde locks from my head as it was more acceptable, less crude and vulgar than becoming an auto-cannibalistic headhunter, pulling out fistfuls from my scalp until I bled.
There was fury in my gut, in my core. In public I hid behind the words “survivor”, “empowered”, and “raw”, but in the dim light of my room I created and crawled into a bloody and vicious womb that was anything but motherly or nurturing. I fed myself on lies, neglect, self-hatred and -abuse.
The Denver Assistant District Attorneys heard the beleaguered moans of my intuition through evidence, through the truth, yet even when they spoke on my behalf, even when I testified on my behalf, even when the verdict came back guilty, even as the maximum sentence was doled out, I still wondered: what if I had just gone home after work?
Which of course is mental gymnastics, is code for: how could I have let myself be raped?, how could I have done this to myself?, this is somehow still my fault.
I no longer feel or think these things. Now, though, I see that even the language we use in regards to survivors is laden with patriarchal ideology. There has been a trend, a general movement away from victim-blaming, I would say, and a turning toward empowerment and reclamation. But we pressure victims and survivors into skipping straight from violation to empowerment. We pressure each other and ourselves into rising from the ashes before we ever allow ourselves to burn.
To deny ourselves the right to lean into eviscerating pain, to deny ourselves the right to feel loudly in public places, to feel loudly together, to grieve in whatever way we deem necessary is to fall back into the choke-hold of the patriarchy. Because the white, straight, Christian male model of human has been taught not to feel, to not be demanding and loud and honest in grief, and this deadly suppression has been force-fed to those of us who have long been held under the broad thumb of oppression.
We must allow ourselves to move through visceral and uncomfortable feelings, and if those feelings disrupt and render others uncomfortable then so be it. Through our honesty with ourselves we educate others in the ways of honesty as well. I was not ready to be an empowered survivor in the aftermath of being raped, but those around me couldn’t handle my pain, and rather than allowing myself to rage and swell and mourn I instead censored my hell. To enable the comfort of others when I was aflame I claimed that the burning wasn’t so bad because I was stronger than trauma, stronger than having my agency manhandled, stronger than being raped. I am now, but I wasn’t then.
Now I must be honest, or I will be complacent in not only the death of myself, but the death of truth and beauty and authenticity and all the necessary things that we have been told over and over and over are weak and laughable and shameful. Fuck that. Fuck that. We rise as phoenix only when we let ourselves burn to the ground. And we rise from the fertile loam only when we prune.
Let yourself burn. Let yourself feel. Then sprinkle the ashes into your soil and watch as you explode into a firebird, into an unchecked jungle of unprecedented growth. We have heard that “what matters most is how well you walk through the fire”, but who is measuring “well”? Who can set such a standard? And who says that we must walk upright when we are passing through hell? Stagger, rub the dark soot on your skin, rest and catch your breath, and if you need to, crawl on hands and knees across the coals. Because who can tell us the proper way to behave when we are burning alive? If we yelp when we touch a hot pan, then why are we told to silently bear, to silently carry on when our flesh is melting from our frame? That is the ultimate irrationality.
Burn, weary mystic birds, burn.
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© Alessandra Ragusin 2016-2020