I was standing on the carpet. The numbers 1 through 10 taped down in a row with blue painter’s tape. To my right were four women, each standing on numbers ranging from 5 to 7. There were only six of us total in the room and one was facilitating. She said she would place her comfort level at a solid 10. She looked at me and said, “I’ve never had anyone stand on the 1 before. You are a strong advocate in early childhood; a strong voice for children and families, for teachers and community. Why are you standing on the 1?”
“I don’t like being in the spotlight, with all the attention focused on me. I just want people to talk about the issues. I don’t want people to look at me. I don’t feel comfortable standing up for myself and exercising power.” I said.
“Why do you think that is?” she asked.
“I don’t know” I said flatly.
It was a lie.
I lied because I was afraid. I am afraid. I’m afraid that if I tell people, they will view me differently. Afraid that history will repeat itself. Afraid that I will be questioned about something that runs so deeply within me. Afraid that people will believe what they were told by someone else. I’m afraid that I’ll lose friends; afraid of making people feel uncomfortable. And so, I lied.
I’ve been hiding it for years. Telling myself it was a long time ago. When I hit the 10-year mark, I think I thought it would magically disappear. I could tell myself it was now too long ago; too irrelevant.
But there I was standing on a piece of white printer paper, taped to the carpet with blue painter’s tape. There I was, standing on the number 1, telling a lie to protect myself from repeating history. To protect myself from the risk of what would happen if I came right out and said why I was standing on that number. If I came right out and said why I was afraid of standing up for myself. So, I did what I always do. I used humor. I talked about Eileen, the name I’ve given to my inner voice (if you’re interested in meeting her I introduce her here… but fair warning she’s a real B). I shared my story, but I left out the same chapter I always leave out.
Because the truth is, I am terrified. I am terrified that if I say it out loud I’ll experience the same thing I did the first time around; the first time I broke the silence and stood up for myself. The first time I sat in an office with a college administrator asking me if I was “sure I hadn’t wanted it to go that way”. If I was “sure that’s what had happened.”
Even now, as I write this, I don’t know if I can go through with it… owning the chapter I always skip.
There are times when silence is golden. But the silence I’m carrying around is eating away at me slowly. It feeds the voice inside my head that tells me I’m not good enough. The voice that tells me that no one will believe me. The voice that comes alive at night and brings life to the memories I’ve worked so hard to try and forget.
I’ve tried to keep this chapter in a different book…. tuck it away in a box and ship it to a library on the other side of the world. But it’s eating me alive. And this chapter is holding the power; which is why I was standing on the number 1. I was standing there because I hate the word “power”. To me the word “power” implies a clear winner and loser; in my experience, it was used to silence me, and I just can’t do it anymore. I can’t carry this anymore. I was the one who lost and the cost was great.
I feel the need to apologize before I continue. It’s another bad habit I’ve acquired from this buried chapter. I always apologize for things I haven’t done. I apologize when others are in the wrong. I apologize when I think I’ve made people feel uncomfortable, because that’s what I feel happened in this chapter of my life I’ve hidden. I feel badly that I made other people uncomfortable. And that’s what happens when you share something that your friends don’t know how to handle. It wasn’t their fault that some didn’t talk to me anymore, or stood silently while I was trying to advocate for my safety. It wasn’t fair for me to have expected college age kids to know how to handle what I shared with them.
I pray that it doesn’t happen again. I pray that you won’t see me differently. I pray that you’ll still see me…
I was sitting in the recliner in my parent’s living room. My Mom’s side of the family was coming over for Christmas and my Dad asked me to go downstairs in our finished basement and vacuum…. but I couldn’t. All I kept thinking of was the memory I have of myself many years earlier, standing in the shower, scolding hot water turning my skin bright red as I tried to muffle the sound of my crying, my Mom standing outside the door asking if I was okay. It was the beginning of the lie. The beginning of a chapter I’ve tried to hide. I told my Mom I was fine. It was the night my boyfriend told me he loved me. It was the night I was raped. I’m a Christian. Sexual acts before marriage are wrong. Why couldn’t I stop it? Why wasn’t I stronger? How could I make God forgive me? How would anyone ever want me when I was “used”. Every time after that when I had bad cramps during my period I would cry in the bathroom and make promises to God. I would promise Him that if he stopped the pain I would be stronger. I would stop it from happening. I would fight back. I told God that I was sorry.
My Dad has always said if anyone ever did “that” to me (rape) that he would kill him. It wasn’t my Dad’s fault, but I was terrified of the fallout. So the first time it happened I didn’t say anything. And after the second I tried to convince myself it wasn’t rape because it was digital. After the third I became numb. One day I just stopped counting. The relationship was manipulative, controlling, and eventually when I reached my breaking point and ended the relationship, the stalking started. Then the attempts by others to convince me I was wrong, that I had really wanted it.
But what started that day as I sat in that administrator’s office was the beginning of something that I hadn’t recalled hearing before. It was the birth of my inner voice; and it was ugly. It tried to convince me that I was a terrible person because I was “ruining” someone’s life by talking about it. That I was a sinner.. an unforgivable one. That I was damaged. That I was weak. That God hated me.
It was the day I landed on the number 1, and I haven’t left since. Every time I advocate for someone… every time I do something I should be proud of… all I hear is that inner voice telling me that God hates me. That I should have done more. That if I ever try and stand up for myself again, the same result will always occur.
And so tonight, as I stood on that number, I felt my chest begin to tighten. I felt my heart beating in my chest. I felt shame because I lied. I knew exactly why I was standing on the number 1… because I’m afraid. I’m afraid that anything I say that has the potential to be controversial will end in a public verbal lynching of me… a public attack to prove me wrong. And I’m so afraid of history repeating itself, that I am terrified of standing up for myself, because I don’t want people to see me differently.
I just want them to see me… Elizabeth.