On Raising the Dead
I was abducted from my home when I was three years old and sexually assaulted. Although a terrible event in my life, other tragedies have hurt me more. I have found healing, growth and strength in years of therapy and ministering to fellow survivors. I have worked as a forensic interviewer, frequently the first responder to an allegation of child sexual abuse. The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) would respond with me and cleared every home before I entered. In the homes of hundreds of child molesters I have felt unsafe once.
On one occasion a perpetrator moved his chair and placed his body between me and the exit where two LAPD Officers were standing by in support. I knew that if I shouted or called out they would hear me and take action. But my body also knew I was in danger and adrenaline coursed through me as I tensed ready to scream or defend myself. Unlike most perpetrators, that man I interviewed was not polite, charming or conciliatory. He seethed with anger and everything from the tension in his shoulders to the way he gripped the table told me that he wished to dominate me and would gladly perpetrate violence on my person were it not for the police presence outside of the shack door. Late at night in a shack on the back of a run down property with law enforcement nearby, I was frightened. But I did not have a flashback.
On October 9th of this year. I experienced the worst flashback of my life. I was watching live television and I witnessed a perpetrator roaming a stage freely. No prison walls or security visible to hint at safety. Close ups of his face, the hard hurting look in his eyes, and I flashed to the weight of a heavier body pushing me down, nails scratching my legs and gripping my knees, dirt, gravel and briars scraping my flesh as I thrashed about. I breathed deeply and exhaled the past. Reminded myself that I am an adult, safe in my home.
I yelled at the television and yelled at the kind brother watching with me, “Where is security? Do we know he does not have a weapon? Did they pat him down? What if he has a shank or a knife? She is not safe. She is not safe. (thinking and feeling, I AM NOT SAFE) He is going to assault her and we are going to watch it. They are going to show it on television. The cameras won’t cut away fast enough. He can stab her before security stops him. Why are there no protective bodies between them?”
I got up and took medication for anxiety. More deep breaths. Badly shaken, I sighed in relief when the debate ended. I booked trauma therapy appointments to explore and heal from this intense retraumatization. I rewound the DVR and watched her hold steady. I watched her be brave. Her body on the stage with an assailant, not my body. And I worried and remained alert because I could not understand how an unrepentant perpetrator of sexual assault was allowed on a national stage without a cage.
I was in something of a numb trauma response until I watched the election returns come in. Then classic Worden Tasks of Grief began:
Accept the reality of the loss
Work through the pain of grief
Adjust to a different type of environment
Emotionally relocate the loss and move on with life
In the past week I have observed many of the behaviors described in Elizabeth Kubler Ross’ Stages of Grief as I ping pong between denial, bargaining, acceptance, anger, and depression. Shake and repeat. Bargaining, bargaining, depression, and more bargaining questions. Could I have prevented this? If I dressed differently, prayed more, obeyed harder, paid more in offerings…is there some series of ritual gestures and words that might have protected three-year-old April and all the children who have survived sexual assault? Maybe if more of my friends and family knew my story they would have protected me from this waking nightmare of a sexual predator in chief.
In my post-election reality I start my social media responses with this phrase, “As a survivor of sexual assault….” To those insisting that I am to skip all stages and tasks of grief. I witness that I hurt. This is why. Here is my weakness. One of the terrible things I survived. Witness. Be with me in my grief.
I know grief. There are no cheats. It takes as long as it takes. My respite from investigating child sexual abuse is grieving with the mourners in a cancer hospital. I know loss.
But in the midst of my grief a friend though to console me by sharing facts and figures that not all Mormons voted for the perpetrator. Not all. Some. Most.
Part Two of my flashback: a boy on a bicycle sees what is happening. He sees me being hurt. He is too little to help me, but he gets his mother and she comes to me. The police are called. I am hurt, but safely returned to my parents.
My facebook friend I know in real life is sad for several hours when I tell him that to me he is not a safe person. He is not the bystander that brings power to stop the hurting. He is the silent bystander that wants cookies for not joining my assailant in perpetrating hurt.
My friend still wants to save me from my grief. He apologizes for not listening and remembers that before he raised Lazarus, Jesus wept.
I reread the accounts of Jesus raising the dead and restoring Lazarus to life. How did Jesus respond to the mourners who grieved the death of Lazarus? The most powerful being in the universe listened to the concerns of his friends and he grieved with them. He did not tell his friends how or when to feel solace. He did not rush them to acceptance or lecture with facts and figures. He did not complain that his friends were making him feel ashamed that he had not come sooner to keep Lazarus from dying.
Jesus listened. Jesus wept. He did not begin the resurrection of Lazarus by leading a march to the tomb with his disciples. He communicated with the mourners and found out what they wanted. He asked if they believed, if they had faith. Did they want him to use his power and privilege to help them? He waited until they were ready for action and obtained their enthusiastic consent and participation before proceeding with the raising of Lazarus. Jesus invited the mourners to roll back the stone covering the tomb. They chose to engage the strength of their bodies in removing the barrier to the tomb. They physically consented to his miracle. And only then did Jesus raise Lazarus.
As someone who frequently feels like she has exactly what the grieving need most, I know how hard it is to listen, wait, obtain consent and include the mourners in the action. Unfortunately, I am also familiar with the harm I cause when I prescribe remedies and try to force someone to move on before they feel understood and ready for action. I am trying to hold myself accountable for the impact of my actions regardless of my intent.
When an assault on the freedom and safety of one of us is occurring, be the boy on the bicycle that got help. Be his mother who got help. Be the police and enforce the laws of the land.
When the loss has already happened, but you might have some power to make it better: listen, weep, obtain consent, include the mourners in the action.