Guest Essay by Mary Fish Arango –
I am grateful for whatever led this video to my FB feed this morning. It helped clarify some of my disorganized thoughts about assault, truth telling, sharing one’s story, resentment versus gratitude, addiction and alcoholism, entitlement and privilege, courage and cowardice, wisdom and stupidity, aggression and kindness. The video makes the important point that one of our president’s core qualities is that he flips the tables, making the accused seem like victims.
I have super-developed sensitivity to people who cultivate resentment. It goes along with a childhood spent living with an alcoholic and a rage filled dry drunk, both of whom abused prescription drugs. I am wary of people who go out of their way to feel resentful or create situations that promote resentment. In my experience, people who cultivate resentment do it in order to justify acting out, whether that be overspending, overeating, binge drinking, gambling, drugs, rage, or some other addiction or problem behavior. I can’t trust people who cultivate resentment, because they put blame on someone else in order to dodge their own responsibility and give themselves permission to act out. I am like the dog under the table waiting to get kicked: the sound of fostered resentment makes me want to leave the room to avoid what inevitably comes next. The overeater is gearing up to consume the chocolate cake. The alcoholic is gearing up for bourbon or beer. The gambler is gearing up to put the house mortgage at risk.
Our current president is exceptionally talented at stirring up resentment cultivators. You speak loudly, you exaggerate, you repeat an untruth for effect, and resentment cultivators like having someone nurture and support their resentment and stir up anger. It entitles them to acting out and not being accountable. Giving it air time on television repeats the message like a hypnotic suggestion and collects more and more followers who wish to be unaccountable and entitled to acting out.
Not all people who have been sexually assaulted are women. If you think it’s rare for women to report sexual assault, consider the likelihood of a man or boy reporting sexual assault or sharing his story. Ask yourself how many people have shared their personal stories of assault with you. Is it because it hasn’t happened to people you know, or is it because you are not a safe enough receiver of that story? Would you believe the story if it were told to you? Would you shame the person for their experience? Would you end a friendship over the telling of the story? Would you marvel at the courage and endurance and emotional strength of the person extending trust enough to tell an excruciating story? Do you wish they wouldn’t change your world by sharing something you can then not un-know?
For an assault survivor, the events of the last several weeks have been triggering in a way that cannot be overstated. If “triggering” is a word that doesn’t have intense immediate impact for you, it may be because you are not a safe enough receiver of someone’s devastating story. Rage and bullying are triggering in themselves. Hearing someone claim, “She must have been mistaken,” when she says she is 100% certain….. Having someone discount the emotional impact or challenge the veracity of a compelling and detailed account…. Blue eyes and gray hair…. Responding to a question with redirection and the insinuation that the questioner is in the wrong…..
Someone who has been sexually assaulted will never question someone else’s waiting 36 years to relate the story. If you’ve never been molested or tortured or brutalized or assaulted, you may have the luxury of wondering why someone would wait to tell their story. If it has happened to you, you know exactly why someone would wait and you feel it in your core. You know exactly what it is to feel threatened and overpowered and unable to protect yourself. If you have been bullied or harassed or intensely and aggressively intimidated, you probably don’t wonder why someone wouldn’t relate their story, either.
I had been afraid of the dark for my entire life — not just kind of afraid of the dark — panic-stricken, stomach-clenching afraid of the dark. Afraid of things that might be under my bed, afraid of closet doors that were a tiny bit ajar, afraid of dark spaces behind hallway doors, afraid of turning on lights in a darkened house that I returned to at night, afraid of getting into a dark car on a dark street…. I got a puppy right after I graduated from college, and the dog was my constant companion for 14 years, my protection from gripping fear of the dark, a living thing making noises in the silence. Several years after his death, I walked down the wooden stairs at night into our basement family room, during a storm that had knocked out power in our neighborhood. My hand on the railing, I paused at the foot of the stairs and realized I was no longer afraid of the dark — for the first time in my life. In the same moment, I realized it was because my aggressor could no longer be a threat to me; his brain was strangling with dementia.
It takes courage to hear people’s anguished stories, whether they are stories of grief or loss or anger or despair. Their stories might change you, might affect you, might refuse to be forgotten or put aside. If you have the courage, ask the people you love to tell you theirs. If you hear enough of them, you may join those who understand why someone would wait so long to tell their story.