35 feet in the air

“I’ve come very close to death, many times. And you know me, I’m really open with talking about my issues. Today though, being up there, even though I  was strapped in, and I had all this equipment on… even though I was safer than I have been in a lot of situations, I was so much more scared. It’s the fear that gets to you.”

Today was a beautiful day. It was warm, much warmer than it should be in Michigan this time of year, which is both a blessing and a curse. The trees have all but lost their leaves, so the remaining few are a perfect golden brown. The hillsides are speckled with pine trees, and I am surrounded by champions.

The last few days, I’ve been working with women in recovery from substance abuse. They drink boatloads of coffee, they smoke like chimneys, and they have some of the largest hearts I’ve ever seen. They spend all their time smiling. They hug each other often, and sometimes even complete strangers like me.

There is no apologizing for who they are, here in this safe space that has been held by women, and only women, for the last century.

Today, we took them on our high ropes course. Up amongst the trees and the cool November air, we encouraged them to push themselves, to step outside their comfort zones, as we always do. The ropes course is a powerful experiential tool for the reclaiming of one’s bodily autonomy. It requires the loss of control in some ways, for the regaining of control in other much more personal ways. As a facilitator, a psychology graduate, and a survivor of sexual assault, these are the things I find myself thinking about.

Yet, amidst all my thoughts, there were real tears, and there was real laughter. There was the physical and mental conquering of fear. There was support. There was love. And there was this comment.

“…It’s the fear that gets to you.”

This week has been a lot about fear for me too.

And when I learned that the statistic is something like 80% of women who have substance abuse problems have been sexually assaulted, I realized I was surrounded by women who have experiences that mirror my own.

I was just one more woman finding solace in this women only space.

And I realize how much fear I still hold inside my body, even now a year later. I realize how often I struggle with the fact that my assault was not conventional.

Not that there is any sort of conventional sexual assault, especially now as we are stepping further away from the narrative of strangers and dark alleys, and accepting the fact that we are more likely to be harmed by someone we know.

But I was assaulted by someone I thought I loved. There’s something damaging to the soul about that.

We are often warned that the people we love will also break our hearts, but I never thought they meant in such an ugly, volatile manner. A manner that leaves us skinny and desperate, shaking in dark corners, wondering when it all went wrong. A wound that cripples us, and makes us wonder if it’s actually possible to love someone and also trust them.

Our beginning was easy. It was a whirlwind. We learned our way around each other with the help of early morning intimacy. Staying up till 4:00 am, bonding over the fact that we’d both lost a mother. Falling for the fact that he thought I was cool for talking about it on stage. Falling even harder for the fact that he told me I was brave.

I thought I knew him. I met his friends, and listened to his stories, but I didn’t really know a damn thing. I only knew the person he pretended to be. Even when he took me to his childhood home, and we stood holding each other in his garage, he was a stranger.

He knew me though. At least, well enough to play me like the strings on his dad’s guitar that he spent a few months trying so hard to learn.

“We’re not compatible.” He said, “We’re not compatible because you’re emotionally manipulative. You’re overly friendly with your male friends, because you’re trying to hurt me.”

The conversations we had are burned into my subconscious memory. Conversations where we talked about the consent I revoked, and you so willingly violated, once. Almost twice.

I guess I was lucky not to be too drunk the second time.

How do you talk about rape when it’s so intertwined with intimacy?

How do you talk about rape when it’s so intertwined with trust?

I’m only beginning to find out.

But the more I watch these women, who have climbed physical ropes courses and metaphorical mountains, who are survivors and warriors, who are strength, and resilience, and grace, and kindness embodied in the female form,

the more I am beginning to realize that 35 feet in the air is a good place to start.

#ThisIsMyStory

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