“I’m trying to decide whether I should join the hashtag MeToo movement and tell my story. All these courageous women are coming forward. Why shouldn’t I? I mean, I don’t have the same story. There was no famous actor or congressman, but still, I have a story.”
You most definitely have I story, I think to myself, remembering when Amber first started working with me many years ago, an almost mute thirty-five year old who held herself rigidly together, staring blankly into space. It took her over a year to tell me her story of sexual abuse by both her father and brother.
“And, after all, my brother is a pretty hot-shot business executive,” she continues.
“Is it that you’re concerned your story isn’t …” I hesitate. “…news worthy enough?” I ask, puzzled.
She pauses. “Maybe.” She pauses again. “You think that’s kind of crazy, don’t you?”
“I don’t know about crazy, Amber, but it confuses me. It’s definitely up to you whether or not you tell your story. I’d just want us to consider the consequences of your telling or not telling. But what’s your fantasy here, that you expose your abusers and no one really cares? Is your wish that it be front page news?”
“I hadn’t thought of that but it’s a good question.” She sits in silence. “I’ve never told anyone except for that feeble attempt to tell my mother who obviously didn’t want to hear it so I immediately backed off. And you, of course. But even that took me a long time. I have considered confronting my brother. Not my father,” she continues. “That would be way too scary. But I haven’t even said anything to my brother. What am I scared of? Having them deny it? I guess. Not having anything to do with me? That would be no great loss. But now I’m thinking of telling the world that my father and brother took turns raping me while the other one watched. It’s disgusting. I can’t even say it without feeling nauseous. How could I imagine telling the world?”
Although I have some thoughts about what might be underlying Amber’s conflict, I stay silent, waiting to see what she’ll come up with herself.
“I would love to expose them to the world. I want the world to know how these seemingly normal upper-middle class men – boy in my brother’s case – can be brutal rapists. I was only 11 for God’s sake. And it went on and on until I finally got up the nerve to say ‘no’. And what would people say? That I could have said ‘no’ sooner? That I could have told my mother? Or somebody. I’ve certainly told myself those things often enough.”
“You say that it feels scary to confront your father, but it sounds like you find it less scary to imagine exposing him to the world.”
“I suppose I do. It feels more anonymous, like he can’t get to me. Standing in the same room with him and confronting him, I don’t know what he’d do. Scream his head off at me, for sure. Smack me across the face? Very likely. Kill me? I don’t know. Maybe.”
Feeling my anxiety rise, I say, “Amber, I don’t know whether your fear that your father might kill you is your fear as a child or your adult fear, but if the adult you is truly afraid that your father might kill you, I can’t imagine that your exposing him publically would decrease that risk.”
Amber’s eyes widen. “Now you’re scaring me.”
“I’m sorry, but when I said I thought we should consider the consequences of your speaking out, I wasn’t thinking about your placing yourself in physical harm.”
“But how do I know whether my fear is coming from my child self or my adult self?”
“I don’t know. We definitely need to talk about it more. And I should ask you if you’ve ever known your father to physically taken revenge on anyone.”
“I know I told you that he beat up my first boyfriend. I guess he didn’t want the competition. And that he sometimes beat up gay guys in bars. I know he has guns, but I’ve never known him to use them. Used to say it was for our protection. That’s a joke.”
“Let’s step back a minute. Let’s for a moment ignore the possibility of your father retaliating and look at what you’d feel about publically telling your story.”
“Scared.” Pause. “Victorious. Like I finally got them back.” Pause. “But then I wonder what everyone else would think of me. Especially my fiancé. I haven’t even had the nerve to tell him. I’m afraid he’ll think I’m garbage. Or that he’d treat my brother and father differently.” Pause. “When I hear myself say that I think I must be crazy. Why wouldn’t he treat them differently? And why do I care? You know, I think maybe I should work on telling the important people in my life before I decide if I’m going to come out publically.”
I smile. “Sounds like an excellent idea.”