In a dedication which may surprise her, it was my mother who taught me to roar. By that I mean speak up, share my opinion, look after myself, stand up for others less fortunate or any victims of discrimination. She also taught me, by example, to keep talking until the bastards listen. We haven’t always had the easiest relationship (the mother and the lioness, roaring at each other) but one of the fundamental principles I hold dear – I have a voice and I will use it – grew from the values she demonstrated before me and encouraged in me.
Speaking up for yourself can sometimes take more courage and raw guts than you think you have. It can, depending on the situation, almost break you. My mother’s greatest gift to me has been the absolute refusal to step back when the going gets tough. It will hurt. I will cry. Break down. Think about ways to cut the pain out of my physical being and set it alight, destroy it or, failing that, destroy myself. Just. Make. It. Stop. By any means possible. Hey, I’m your garden variety anxiety-driven, sometimes depressed individual. Far from perfect and often stripped of the sunny and positive. But when I find a way to drag myself up out of the swirling vortex of desperate emotions which threaten to strangle me, I talk myself into one more bout in the ring. Because you can bruise and cut me but I will always get up again. You cannot force me submit or go away quietly. Was this a serendipitous twist of fate or simply the ‘journey I was mean to take’? So cheers, Mum. You’ve given me what I needed to save my own life.
The toughest bout started almost five years ago for me. I didn’t sign up for this particular fight. I was dragged into the ring. I didn’t use my voice all the time. I experienced all sorts of feelings and demonstrated a myriad of behaviours. Not all of them were helpful to me. I figure they were pretty textbook-standard for the situation, really. This fight is still going on and I am still working on keeping myself strong enough to keep swinging. I was whispering, ashamed and humiliated for long enough. I have experienced several victories along the way but regularly resent the events which forced me to have to be here at all.
I wish to loudly reclaim my right to be guilt-free and unashamed. I did nothing wrong. THEY did. For that I will roar with all that is in me. I will continue to seek all avenues available to have this recognised legally and perhaps one day publicly. I am not doing this to appear a martyr. I wish to respectfully acknowledge to all that I do not claim to have had the worst experience of any victim, ever. I do not wish to define all that I am by this experience. I’m not a preacher. I respect the fact that other victims would not wish to bring these things into the open. And I am sincerely grateful to live in a country which affords me the right to seek justice. What I am talking about has happened to too many and will sadly continue to happen. This should be of utmost concern to every single one of us. That is why I want to talk about it and make my point, get it on the record. You will hear me.
I was raped by my boss in my first professional appointment. He stalked me, harassed me and continued to assault me. He invaded every facet of my life, professional and personal. He wove a web of lies with such ease that I would try to speak up then find myself asking if I was going insane. Almost every colleague warned me to shut up, cover up or get out. They swiftly moved back to form an alliance of apathy which still takes my breath away today. If you say something I’ll get into trouble, too. If you make this public you will be labelled a slut. Mud sticks. You will end your own career. And my personal favourite – You are young…he’s clearly not getting anything from his wife. These comments were made by my superiors and were very nearly worse than the events themselves. They keep me awake at night still. They incite such rage and howling pain that I still haven’t worked out how to use ‘for good’ (rather than evil). I have to take any platform I can to repeat: What he did to me was not okay. What the people around me, in positions of power and influence, did and failed to do was not okay. Of course, more colourful turns of phrase come to mind. None of them enough to appropriately display what they have done to me, the old me. So I’ll keep it simple. IT WAS NOT OK.
Deciding to go from a whisper to a roar has changed me forever and dragged me on a journey through the legal system, the organisation itself, its regulatory body and plenty of medical and mental health assistance. Often crushing, sometimes like a small release from prison – always trying. Five years later and it’s still creaking slowly through the motions. I’m still practicing my right hooks. This blog will hopefully become the place in the world where I am not told to shut up and go away. Where I can identify and applaud what has helped me, inspired me and when I need it, remind myself of how far I’ve come. It will also be the place where I am able to express the isolation, frustration and raw emotion that scares me. Makes me want to take my brain out of my head and my hands over my ears LALALALALACAN’THEARYOU! Or consider elaborate revenge plots with bloody endings. Or sit inside my house with the blinds down and hope myself into non-existence.
So if you have taken the time to read this, I thank you. If any of these words mean anything to you then it was worth exposing my bleeding heart. If all of this just disappears into cyberspace, that is ok, too. Because tonight I will go to bed a little lighter than when I woke up this morning for having opened this secret file. For whispering this out into the world from my computer. Lighter means stronger for me. This is a very good thing.