The week of the Kavanaugh hearings I have flashbacks. I’m lying on my yoga mat in my boyfriend’s bedroom while he works downstairs.
I’m driving as I catch sight of my abuser strolling toward me near the courthouse. Bile rises in my throat, my knuckles turn white, and my heart is pounding so loudly it hurts.
I bolt upright and shake my head a few times. I don’t want this.
I am on the stand at hearing. My abuser sits silent next to his lawyer. She goads me patronizingly; “But was he shouting? Did he threaten you?” I remind her that I’ve already answered I don’t know and can’t remember what he was saying. “Could you see a weapon?” I’ve already repeated myself several times that he was always armed, that I assumed he was armed, that I was afraid. Every muscle in my body trembles; I fight the urge to leap over the rail and punch her smug goddamned face.
Fine, I’m having flashbacks. I’ll write about this shit and get it out of my system. I grab my notebook, lie on my belly, and furiously bring pen to paper.
She insists I read my abuser’s words from a stack of printed text messages taller than the Bible. She skips the ugly ones and mostly has me read normal, benign messages–as though that were proof I was full of crap. “He didn’t call you any names, did he?”
He did, I answer. I didn’t read the email where he called me a “hateful, vapid narcissist”. She lies and says she never saw that one. She isn’t under oath. I glare at her like a caged animal.
I’m not breathing very well and my hand is shaking. I keep crossing things out and falling back into the memories, unable to write continuously. I can’t process this skillfully. I begin to cry, distressed. Kevin* calls from downstairs;
“Hey, are you okay?”
He pauses for a moment and I realize I am not fine, that I’ve responded out of habit and conditioning.
“…are you sure? You don’t sound fine.”
I’m not fine. I’m feeling vulnerable and overwhelmed. I don’t want or need to go through this alone, and I don’t have to. I close my notebook and trudge down the stairs, tense and frightened. As he holds me, I let my head drop to his shoulder and allow myself to let go. Kevin’s* arms are strong and solid encircling me, and the burden of needing to keep myself together drops away. His voice is soft and soothing, asking what’s going on. I can’t answer him yet, but he continues to hold me patiently.
“Bad memories?” he asks.
I nod and cry some more, burying my face against him. I’m sad and ashamed, I resent my memories and it hurts. He whispers the promise he makes at times like this; “We’re going to make new, happy memories.” It’s exactly what I need him to say, and I believe him–so I cling more tightly and then begin to relax.
I’ve been working my ass off–diligently going to therapy, writing, struggling to form the coherent narrative of my trauma that lets me step out of its grip. I’ve grappled with this shit on long runs, on my yoga mat, in my meditations, with the friends I trust not to turn away. I don’t have the luxury of turning away–I’ve felt stuck with my painful feelings and terrifying memories. These things haunt my dreams, steal my joy and knock me over again and again. My struggle has cost me friendships with people who weren’t strong enough or didn’t care enough or both–and still I’ve kept stubbornly leaning in, facing down my demons.
I understand about attachment, and I know that people heal in relationship. It’s the basis for therapy and an important part of my own work with other survivors. Still, my growing trust that I am seen, known and loved feels like a revelation. What’s being revealed is what was there all along, buried under all that pain. I feel stronger, calmer, more focused and serene. I am more in tune with joy and possibility. I feel awake and alive and more myself than I’ve been in years.
I rest my head against Kevin’s* shoulder, trusting him to hold me as I open back into the present moment where I am loved, respected and safe. When I finally pull back and look at him, it’s like the clouds parting after a storm–I feel peace.
*Name has been changed