Day 1 of the conference, National Sexual Assault; Equity in Action, was amazing, and rough. Two thousand people filled the room for the morning plenary session, and words were not minced about why we were there. It didn’t matter if you were ready, or not… truths were going to be told, and it was likely to be legitimately destabilizing for some people in that room, if not all of us, on some level or another. The role of white supremacy, colonialism, imperialism, capitalism, and cis-hetero-normative culture’s impact on the prevalence of sexual assault was named plainly. Boom. And then… when a plenary speaker acknowledged the prevalence of childhood sexual assault… I could feel the already shaky floor drop.
Childhood sexual assault is something that a lot of us have denied, hidden, dissociated from, and/or diminished. In many regards it actually goes against our wiring to name atrocities we experienced as young beings by those we were close to… those who were supposed to be our protectors, our safe people. Our brains will cover up these atrocities in an effort to keep us safe while we’re in unsafe dynamics. It doesn’t help that we’re often gaslit by family members and by culture when it comes to abusive behaviors, and blame ourselves, even when we’re no longer in those predicaments. Because abuse has disrupted developing a healthy relationship with self from a young age, it can really impact our relationship with trusting life. When our bodies, minds, brains and nervous systems are not given the love and guidance needed to develop into secure human beings, and instead were directly or indirectly harmed, violated and robbed of sovereignty, it is a journey to unlearn survival patterning and develop a different relationship with life.
So, when someone names the stats of childhood sexual assault out loud… well, it’s gonna shake some shit up. My system spontaneously burst open as the plenary speaker’s voice filled the room, reminding me that not only was I in a room where some real shit has gone down for people, some of those people were also still coming to terms with it. Mercy to the human, is what I say in response to what so many of us have experienced.
The truth bombs continued when Nicole Pittman, the last plenary speaker, named that when we’ve been sexually abused as children, a secure and healthy sense of self doesn’t have a chance to develop, and so as adults we can easily continue to look for love and connection in all sorts of dysfunctional ways. As a trauma therapist, and as a survivor of abuse, I know this territory well… how deeply rooted it is in my programing to be drawn towards people who are not emotionally available and/or who are afraid of intimacy, just like the people who I bonded with in my formative years. Abuse survivors are so used to a lack of mutuality… so used to dysfunctionality… it takes hard work to change that programming.
I’d been feeling that burn so strong lately. And, well… to be honest, some fierce judgement towards myself. While I know that each dynamic I’m involved with is never the same, and the way I discern now is so different than it used to be… which is to say that I am making better choices these days… some habituations are still hovering for me in ways that I really don’t like, and sometimes I outright despise. Unlearning programing can be so uncomfortably humbling…
I felt my heart burn that morning, tears filling up behind my eyes. Compassion tipped the scales over judgement and a huge naming came from my heart to my heart right when I needed it:
It can be really hard to be loving towards patterning that was born from abuse, when it causes so much misalignment and dysfunction in our life.
Phew, so much fuckary…. it can be hard to stay loving with myself, with regards to my habituations/ my conditioning / patterning that’s formed over the years. AND, so important to remember that that patterning did not come out of thin air… it was born from abuse.
I posted some of this to social media at the end of the morning plenary sessions, and shortly thereafter received texts from folks reading my post. Me too, they wrote, and so much more. I responded to one friend “This text means everything. Thank you. 🙏..” My nervous system needed to read that text, needed that comradarie, because the simple truth is: we’re in this together, siblings. We’re unlearning old survival patterning, and we’re discovering that we can have trust with life, together. Day by day, choice by choice, breath by breath.
As more compassion trickled in, I was reminded that trusting life… trust with life… is a journey; something that we are somatically developing, discovering, and remembering. It’s not a place of arrival or a place of static perfection, or an idea or concept. It’s a momentary-by-momentary somatic experience. This brings me relief- to remind myself that I am on a journey of discovering, not perfection, and in that journey there will be moments where I have clarity, where I know true safety, and am able to make choices that align with my core desires. And, there are moments when I’ll be hijacked by survival patterning, fear, and forgetting of my wholeness. Regardless, the journey continues… the unlearning and remembering never stopping.
I grounded a lot that day, and tended to myself in ways that were purposeful: being with my people and out of crowds, having food that nurtured me, and best of all, tending breakout sessions that I knew would be for my whole being. Ways of engaging that remind me that I am co-creating trust with life. The breakout sessions I attended that day were amazing: Transformative Justice in Practice, World Building: Utilizing our Radical Imaginations, and Restorative Justice for Sexual Harm. I was in rooms full of people I’d never met, and at the same time they were my people- folks eager to move beyond blame, defense and punishment/retribution models, and instead ready to explore what might be possible in this oppressive capitalistic culture when we lean into we-ness oriented transformative models of healthy interdependency and intersectionality. Together we breathed, grounded, visioned, listened, danced and were still. We co-created. We remembered. We felt ourselves and each other. This is what I needed. This is what we need if we are to develop a trust with life.
 Being raised within denialist cultures creates denialist psyches, something most of us know all too well
 I want to pause here and say that any kind of abuse (including sexual, physical, negligence/neglect, and/or psychological/emotional) intensely messes with a person’s ability to have a healthy relationship with life. Trust is perhaps what survivors struggle with the most, for good reason. So, there is so much more to say here, and, as a survivor, everything that I write includes my experience as a survivor, as well as one who has journey immensely into the territory of having trust with life.