This post is not about my son and his girlfriend living with us. I will update you briefly and just say that we succeeded in buying the condo for them, and they should be able to move out of our house and into their own home in just 8 more days. Also, Patty is not feeling entirely fine but is also no longer bedridden with morning sickness. So there is a measure of hope in the household this week.
What I want to write about today is something else, however. It’s about the way traumatic sexual violation is like a black hole. Even after all this time and all the work to live and heal myself, it has the power to suck me in and extinguish the light. And not just me—so many victims the world over suffer in the same ways.
This afternoon I went to visit my friend Eva (pseudonym). Eva and I have known each other for about 20 years; in fact I used to be her boss. Even back then, we felt drawn to be friends, which sometimes made work awkward. It’s been great these past 7-8 years, when instead we enjoy friendship without employment and supervision issues complicating things.
Anyway, Eva is in the midst of a divorce from Matt (another pseudonym), the father of her two boys. Matt is very high-energy and extroverted. He can be charming but also moody and volatile. The isolation of the pandemic was hard on him, and some already problematic behavior got worse, fueled no doubt by all the alcohol and cannabis he was using to self-medicate.
She asked him to move out because she and the boys no longer felt safe, and he did, fortunately, but his behavior became ever more erratic. I’ll skip a bunch of details and jump to the point I’m focused on today: she found, on a thumb drive he left at the house, videos he had secretly filmed of them having sex.
Think about that. He had to decide to do this and not ask for Eva’s consent. He had to plan ahead, where would he set up the camera. He probably had to test out the angle, maybe the lighting. He had to figure out how to hide the camera (or his phone or whatever) from her and how he would turn it on at the right moment. He had to get her into the room and maneuver her into position. She’s appalled at the amount of effort and planning he put into setting her up to be his involuntary porn star.
And she wonders: how many more of these videos exist? She asked him, and he said there weren’t any, but she later found an old phone of his with more sexual photos of her that she hadn’t known about. So she knows he lies.
Eva is a middle school teacher (for my friends outside the US, that means she teaches 12 and 13 year olds). Yesterday during study hall, she walked in on four boys huddled around a laptop. They became flustered when she walked in and rapidly closed down the screen. Later she felt sure they were looking at porn.
She couldn’t sleep last night. She was spinning out. What if Matt put photos or videos of her on PornHub? How can she know? What if the boys at the school were ever to find images of her? She’d have to resign her job immediately, she thought. Maybe she’d have to move to another city. Should she get a nose job or some kind of plastic surgery so no one could recognize her?
She is sickened and haunted by this. She feels violated and humiliated. Nothing Matt can say now will ever make her feel safe. It’s not that he is a revenge-porn kind of guy. It’s just a question of what he might have thought would be fun or exciting in the past. He’s been selfish and manipulative and dishonest, so he’s destroyed all trust, and she can never feel sure.
In the process of our conversation, somehow I mentioned that I’d experienced a violent sexual assault just before I met my husband. (This was Stephen, if any long-term readers remember me writing about him before.) I didn’t share any details, simply that I had gone to his apartment even though he felt unsafe, and it turned into a nightmare. I almost never tell anyone anything about this, but it felt natural in the course of our conversation. Perhaps I was trying to tell Eva that I understood, or to match her level of vulnerability; I don’t know. I can’t even recall quite how the conversation led there.
Since our conversation, I haven’t regretted sharing with Eva. I felt only kindness and no judgment from her. But I kind of regret allowing horrible Stephen to bubble up in my consciousness at all. I feel his cruel and painful presence this evening. I feel my pain and humiliation and the old anger at myself for ignoring the red flags and failing to get away while I could.
That’s what I mean about the black hole. So much darkness and such a strong gravitational pull, even after all this time. I mean seriously, Stephen assaulted me in 1998. That was years ago! Decades ago! Hundreds of therapy sessions ago!
I’ll be fine, I know. I won’t get fully sucked into that black hole, not like I used to. I’ll feel it for a while and then use all my best hard-earned strategies to build up my strength, rebuild my power and then fly away from it at warp speed.
It makes me mad, though, that it still exists and can still hurt me sometimes. It makes me furious that Eva is going to feel the hurt and distrust Matt caused, to varying degrees, for her whole life. It makes me want to scream, all the lasting pain and trauma caused by the selfishness or impulsivity or narcissism or entitlement of our assailants. It makes me crazy that our abusers ignore our humanity in the name of their momentary pleasure.
(And why should it be a “pleasure” to use or abuse us?!? A rant for another day.)