I was in high school, just starting my freshman year when my boyfriend at the time began to demand sexual acts I was not yet comfortable with. I never realized how oppressed or controlled I was until I finally got up the courage to leave him. So, when I did, I didn’t exactly know how to share with anyone about what happened between the man I thought I loved and me. I didn’t even really know how to explain what was happening to me.
When I started to open up and share my experience, I remember it was so incredibly hard. The first time I told anyone, I typed it in an email to my best friend. I was terrified. I was still young and unsure of what to do.
She was incredible, a rockstar, and I owe most of what I ended up doing with my story to her. Because of her incredible use of empathy and validation, I was able to leave that experience knowing I was finally safe.
That led me being able to open up to future partners about what had happened to me, it let me be open and honest about the anxiety I suffered and the PTSD that followed for years.
It also helped me when her sister called me a liar.
My friend Shane, almost my adopted brother, listened to my story with anger at my abuser and empathy for me. He did not try to label me. He did not tell me what I needed. He let me tell him. I felt safe and respected.
When I got to college, my roommate met my story with the same stellar manner. The second part to my whole story unfolded before her eyes. An unstable student downstairs came for my dorm room with a stolen Exacto Knife in an attempt to force me into his company. When our other roommate blamed me, she not only stopped and corrected her, she made sure she gave me the space I needed to process everything.
They did what they needed to do. They did not play superhero and they did not point fingers. They simply acted in the manner any empathetic human should. What I felt was supported and comforted. While I did not in any means feel okay or happy on most days, I knew I had what I needed. They were everything I could have asked for.
When I joined A Voice for the Innocent, I was asked to respond to stories on the website. When you read these stories, it is so easy to feel so heartbroken and have your keys fall so silent. It is so easy to want to log off and say nothing for fear of saying something wrong or hokey or generic.
I’m not going to lie, that fear follows me every time I click a story title. Every time I read about someone’s experience, the ghost of anxiety rears its head and I cannot make my hands move. I spend five minutes processing everything.
And then I remember the tireless, careful work of my first responders. I remember their efforts to make me whole. I remember that they didn’t give me anything more than I asked for. I remember their respect, the choices and control they gave me, and I remember their diligence.
They are forever my heroes. They are the reason I am pounding out this blog. And they are in every story response I write.
It never has to be a giant effort, just know you’re making a difference with your attention and your simple response.
Just listen. Just love. That will be enough.