Survivor’s Guilt

 

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I think about her every so often.

I’ll be sitting on the bus heading to an appointment across town, or at home, chopping veggies for dinner, and suddenly, there she is—or, at least, a reasonable facsimile. We’ve never met, so I have no clue what she really looks like, how old she is, where she lives, what kind of car she drives, if any, or what she does for a living, but I have no doubt she’s out there somewhere.

Sometimes, I wonder if she wonders about me, too.

If so, does she blame me, because I didn’t protect her?

Barely seventeen years old and struggling to survive my own trauma, I wasn’t strong enough to save anyone else, but even so, after more than two decades (twenty-three years to be precise), it still haunts me at times, the idea that she exists, the knowing-in-my-bones of it, and the guilt, the shame, because I let it happen, not only to me, but to her, and any others who followed and suffered through my silence…

I let my rapist walk away scot-free.

Free to do it again.

I refused to report the rape to the police. Didn’t tell my mom. Instead, I just tried to put it behind me, move on, forget about it. It was 1993, after all, and the term “date rape” was not in widespread use. Most people still tended to believe that a rape between people who knew one another was basically a misunderstanding, not “real” rape, which was assumed to be committed by a stranger, and since my rapist was known to me, intimately, the very notion of filing a report and potentially testifying against him, a former lover, in a courtroom stuffed with stern, judgy people made me want to die.

I couldn’t.

It took years before I was able to own what happened to me.

Rape.

I couldn’t possibly have said it aloud in front of a judge and jury, God, my mother, and anybody else who happened to be present—the word and the whole ugly story and everything that came before—only to be disbelieved or, even worse, blamed. No way. I didn’t have that kind of courage or conviction.

Although contemporary statistics have proven beyond all doubt that the perpetrator is known to the victim in a vast majority of rape and sexual assault cases, we still inhabit a world where only a Perfect Victim is entitled to justice, and even then, doesn’t always get it. If I had told someone way back when, filed a report and testified, the boy who raped me might have gotten away with it anyhow. It’s probable.

We had a history and I was an imperfect victim.

Still, I feel guilty about her sometimes. I don’t know her name, but I know her pain, as sure as I know my own. Did she survive? Does she feel guilty as well, knowing, as I do, there must be others like us? I mean, if a boy rapes a girl and gets away with it, who does he grow to become, in all likelihood?

A man who rapes women.

According to Google, survivor’s guilt occurs when a person perceives themselves to have done wrong by surviving a traumatic event when others did not. Most often associated with accidents or natural disasters, I think it also applies in certain circumstances to victims of unreported rape who, in addition to the weight of their own pain, carry the added burden of responsibility toward potential future victims.

How ridiculous is that?!

A rapist walks free and we, the raped, hold ourselves accountable for future rapes by this rapist??? No.

No, no, no, no, no!

A rapist is the only one responsible for rape.

The boy who raped me is the only human being on this entire planet accountable for his actions.

But even so, every now and again, I think of her. I’ll be walking through the woods on a golden afternoon, or in the office, putting sentences together for an essay, and suddenly, there she is…

Love Warrior

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“I don’t know how to fix my marriage. All I know is that I need to tear down my own walls and face what’s underneath. I cannot save my marriage but I can save myself. I can do that for me and for my children and for every relationship I have now and for every one that comes in the future.”

Glennon Doyle Melton, Love Warrior

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I was a little afraid of this book at first.

Okay, I was a lot afraid.

I probably ought to admit that fact upfront if I’m going to be even half as honest as Glennon Doyle Melton was in the writing of the fierce tour de force that is her powerful new memoir, Love Warrior.

Why was I so scared?

Because I was terrified of what it would mean for me.

My husband and I have been working through a complicated separation for the past couple of years, spending lots of time in liminal space, the in-between, and so, as excited as I was to read Love Warrior, a small part of me fretted that I would turn the last page feeling even more discouraged and heartbroken about my own love story. And what if this book affected me so much it altered my own outcome? What if it made me want to go back and try once more? Or never again? What if…?

Sometimes the unknown can be pretty damn scary.

Once Canada Post had delivered my precious advance reading copy, it still took a few days before I was brave enough to actually crack open the cover. I did, however, carry it around with me everywhere I went until then, of course, because that’s what you do when you get your hands on a priceless treasure, you hold onto it. Maybe it sounds silly, but I knew Love Warrior was going to be kind of a big deal for me, like Carry On, Warrior only different, and I just felt like I needed to take my time.

Go easy. Don’t rush. Breathe.

I could have gulped it all down in one sitting.

Glennon is a natural wordsmith and it was that good.

Instead, I sipped Love Warrior slowly over the course of a couple days, savouring every single sentence, setting it aside every so often to stare into space, stunned by the beauty and raw honesty within. I don’t know how she does it, but somehow, Glennon, a master truthteller, is not only able to see through smoke and mirrors to the soul of the matter, but she also has an incredible knack for articulating precisely what has been discovered and making it personal to the reader, who feels as though they have been embraced as a confidant, witness, friend.

My girl digs deep. Gets on her hands and knees and claws to the bottom of the bottom of the bottom until she has excavated the bare bones of truth hidden underneath, far below the surface, dusted them off, and brought them out into the bright light of day. Reverently, she extracts the rich marrow for closer examination, and then generously, gracefully, shares what she has learned. Shamelessly.

Love Warrior is the story of a marriage and one couple’s efforts to rebuild after infidelity, but even more than that, it is the story of one woman claiming her own space and learning to finally feed herself once and for all. Through a refusal to abandon herself any longer and a commitment to face her pain, no matter how awful, Glennon began the arduous process of becoming who she was always meant to be by letting go of everything she never really was.

Unbecoming.

Glennon does not claim to be any kind of guru or marriage expert, nor does she offer unreliable advice, or even worse, “7 Steps to a Happier, Healthier Marriage.” This book will not suggest that you stay in a relationship and it won’t tell you to leave. But it will probably carry you into a fuller understanding and acceptance of yourself, encourage you to embrace your own truths, whatever they may be, and offer a more sage perspective on being in love than any you have likely ever come across before.

Although it will be described as many things, Love Warrior is, above all else, a call to love, Warrior.

A deeply intimate experience, Love Warrior is one of those books that stays with you long after the last chapter has ended, and it will come to mean many different things to countless people in the way that all exceptional books do. My dog-eared, underlined and highlighted copy can attest to how much it has meant to me. But even so, I find myself struggling to find adequate words to convey  how incredibly necessary this memoir was for me, and is, for all of us. I wanted to write something elegant, but instead, all I’ve got are these ramblings as my thoughts continue to settle.

Mind fully blown.

If you treat yourself to one special purchase this month, do yourself a favour and let it be Glennon Doyle Melton’s new memoir, Love Warrior. Do not be afraid. If you are, do it anyways, then go on and buy one for a friend, too. Trust me, it’s a giver.

Love Warrior was written for me. And it was written for you.

In truth, it is a love letter from Glennon to every single one of us stumbling around in the dark, trying to find connection and meaning, a reunion of body/mind/soul, despite the constant bombardment of messages designed to keep us lost and separate, scared and alone.

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“We aren’t different. We are exactly the same. We are individual pieces of a scattered puzzle and we are just a little lost down here. We are all desperate for reunion and we are trying to find it in all the wrong places. We use bodies and drugs and food to try to end our loneliness, because we don’t understand that we’re lonely down here because we are supposed to be lonely. Because we’re in pieces. To be human is to be incomplete and constantly yearning for reunion. Some reunions just require a long, kind patience.”

Glennon Doyle Melton, Love Warrior

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You can find Glennon chatting with Oprah about her new memoir, Love Warrior, and other awesome stuff on Super Soul Sunday on Sunday, September 11, 2016 at 11:00 a.m. on OWN. Details (here).

Or visit Momastery.com for an event near you! Follow the link (here) for more info.