in remembrance of my second decade

[hi, friends. I know I’ve been away; the ICD fallout was incredibly taxing, and it continues to be taxing, but I needed to prioritize my students. I’m so grateful to all of you who have reached out, either because of that post or in the intervening months. I’m not sure I’ll be back to weekly posts just yet, but I’m starting to head in that direction. Thanks for being here.]

in remembrance of my second decade “surviving”

By my best estimates, I was assaulted somewhere between three and five years old. I can’t pinpoint it closer than that, and getting more specific likely wouldn’t be good for my mental health, but every year, I think back. Hell, almost every day, I think back, and especially when the political sphere is so turbulent, I spend more energy than I’d like to trying to figure out who I might have been had things gone differently. I’ve said before that I wonder how much of who I am is because of my assault and how much of it is despite it. I’ll never know, but as the year winds down, I’ve found myself needing to spend time committing words to paper and reflecting on what will, even on the conservative end of my estimate, close out my second decade post-assault.

Dear me,

In our mind, there is always a before and an after. The important one happened a long time ago—before we ever could have thought to know we were in danger—but more often than not, we still stare down those same ever-forking paths. This second decade has brought us into adulthood, into independence, into love and relationships but also through heartbreak and continued trauma. This second decade has come with its own befores and afters: dates we probably cannot name but will still mentally acknowledge every year, even though we don’t talk about most of them with the people closest to us.

This decade has brought complicated and emotional choices, from what to speak about in public to who to date to whether drinking is worth the risk of what could happen to us when we’re not in control. It’s brought knowledge and perspective, so we know when we’re dissociating even when we can’t actually tell anyone that’s the case. It’s brought the weight of countless stories, each as uniquely sad as the one preceding it but all worth the burden of carrying them.

None feel as heavy as my own. None probably ever will, so helping other carry theirs always feels like a gift beyond measure.

This decade has brought coercion and anxiety, bad decisions made by partners who should have known better, and the continuing aftermath of things I don’t tell my family about but somehow can easily convey to my friends. This decade has brought occasional run-ins with the darkest parts of mental health, of crying at 1am because I want to live, but also of keeping undergrads company at 8pm because it’s the safest way to make sure they’re still here tomorrow.

In our mind, there is always a before and an after. Always a separation between mind and body, so that voice in our head says we and not I unless the two are in utter agreement. This decade has brought understanding of the safety mechanisms my body created to keep me safe after my first assault—and knowledge of how those responses can still be fooled into thinking no harm will befall me. It has brought nights of having one tentative drink with my partner and never any drinks with anybody else, because even though they laugh, it’s easier to let them hurt me with their derision than to loop them in on the violence I’m really afraid of.

The end of this decade has brought clarity through new friends: an unexpected truth that some people really do love the side of me that handles the writing and the trauma and the rage and the accountability. The side of me I thought only I would ever get to admire. Some people really do love me even on the days when part of me feels like it died when I was three to five years old. Some people really do love me even when my understanding and solidarity are the only things I have left to give. Some people really do love me even when I tell them, point-blank, that they need to do better.

This decade tried to kill that, between many of my friendships and much of my professional life. But the friends who have gotten me through this twentieth year, the friends who mostly won’t read this but still know who they are, hold me accountable—by looking me square in the eye (or calling me out in the voice channel) and telling me I am in this for the right reasons.

There is always a before and an after, but this year, my mind and body are more in agreement than they have been for as long as I can remember. And I owe part of that to the people who love me at my worst, certainly, but I owe most of that to myself.

Year twenty. I didn’t think we’d make it.

But that’s a story for another time.

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