Victim no more; Wave hello and goodbye to Hortense


I had a come-to-Jesus meeting of sorts with Hortense this past weekend.  I’ve been working on a post for the past few weeks regarding Fred the Mosher, Hortense’s alter ego.  They’re really two sides of the same coin. Abuser and victim.  The energy that motivates them is the same;  it just comes out in different ways.  It’s easier for me to write about Hortense than Fred.   Angry people are scary.  To own Fred’s rage has been a challenge for me.  I’m working on it, but I’m not quite ready to drag full frontal Fred out of the closet quite yet.  Bear with me; it’s coming.

Most of my life, I’ve been taught that its more socially acceptable for a woman to be a victim than an abuser.   It’s not okay for a woman to be angry.  Women are often erroneously perceived as the weaker sex.   But when you look at any female trauma survivor or any mother defending her child in a life threatening situation, I would defy that statement with my dying breath.  We women can be  strong and brave as hell.  We’re sometimes like Energizer bunnies.  Many of us are flat-out warriors.  No matter what knocks us down, we jump back up and keep fighting.   And there’s a crafty component to our commitment to survive.  Piss off a teenaged boy and he is likely to get loud and physically intimidating.  He may threaten to kick your ass.  Wrong a teenaged girl and she is likely to get very quiet.  She stuffs that anger.  She waits.  She knows you have to go to sleep sometime.  If she is going to retaliate, it’ll happen when you least expect it.  Or she’ll  turn that anger inward on herself.  I became a master of that dynamic growing up. 

There’s also a part of me that whines.  Sometimes out loud, but most often internally.  Because whining was never permitted when I was a child.    My family members were firm believers in the philosophy of “suck it up and deal.”  Kansas dust bowl farmers, remember?  There is a part of me that often feels extremely melodramatic and martyred.  That bitches and moans about how difficult life is or wails and weeps about never getting a break.  My very own inner drama queen.  The one who sees the glass as terminally half empty.  Or maybe she can’t even FIND the fucking glass.  Oh, woe is she.  That would be Hortense.  Yes, she’s me too.  And she sickens the dust bowl farmer part of me who judges her as weak and  annoying.     Dealing with the dynamic between the two of them can be maddening.

Now, I truly was wronged by other people at various times in my life.  I don’t mean to discount the things that happened to me.  But Hortense can’t get past it.  She’s stuck.  She protects those feelings of victimization at all costs; those feelings are all she has.  Nobody comes out of childhood sexual trauma unscathed. Just when I think I have “done all my work” on these issues, something new pops up that makes me take a look at another layer. It can be exhausting. At least now I have the tools to handle it. These days, I understand where the feelings come from when they flood over me. I know what I need to do to take care of myself and feel safe. I still get triggered, but it’s not nearly as terrifying as it used to be. Not nearly as threatening.

Sunday, the catalyst for Hortense’s comeuppance was a movie. A little independent film about a woman who was gang raped as a child and wrote a song about her feelings about the rape. I realize that a lot of people wouldn’t want to watch this film. But I’ve never shied away from doing the work I need to do to heal from my own history, so it normally doesn’t bother me to watch thought-provoking cinema. Hell, one of my favorite movies of all time is American History X, and that’s not exactly high up there on the “feel good” scale.   On the Netflix sleeve, this movie sounded all happy ending-ish. The film was extremely well done, and it presented views from all sorts of different angles. It was also brutal, frank, and did NOT get tied up in a neat little happy ending package at the end. There was no resolution.  Not for the victim.  Not for the perpetrator.  Nobody got out of it okay.  That movie got me thinking about my own history and process.

I had been molested by two teenage boys before I finished seventh grade. And whether a young person is fondled against his or her will by someone they know or gang raped by a group of strangers, there are some common threads of experience. There is no such thing as “only” being touched inappropriately. Absolutely, there are degrees of woundedness and pain from one survivor to another. And women are not the only ones to suffer this kind of victimization.   There are all kinds of sexual assault. And each and every one of them counts. It impacts a person.

It impacted me. It changed the way I have thought about myself and the way I looked at men for years. For a large part of my life, I discounted what happened to me because I couldn’t remember a lot of the details. I told myself that what I did remember “wasn’t that bad.” I numbed out with alcohol, drugs and food. I ran from those memories until I was so miserable I couldn’t run anymore. And I ALWAYS blamed a part of myself- Hortense, my inner victim-  for allowing those things to happen to me. Misplaced blame is a lot more common than most people would think. And it fucks with your head. For a very long time. I have acted like  that victim and hated her at the same time.  Catch 22. 

When I wallow as a victim of my own circumstances, I stay stuck. Growth stops. I forget I have choices. Now all of the choices might suck, but they’re still valid choices. Hortense chooses to wallow and feel self-pity every single time. She hates those boys that wronged me, and she nurtures that hate like a fragile seedling. She’s told me time and time again that if I hadn’t dressed a certain way, walked a certain way, stepped on that fucking sidewalk crack on the way home from school, that those terrible things never would have happened to me. If I weren’t inherently bad or flawed, I would’ve been able to escape it or stop it. Hortense has a very skewed perception of personal power. There is no way my six-year-old self could have prevented what happened to me.  And being victimized at such a young age set me up to be the perfect victim again at 13.

I know and have known for some time intellectually that a normal, innocent six-year-old child is not a sexual being.  What the head intellectually understands and the heart accepts are often two very different things.  Absolutely nothing about me at age 6 invited being drugged, repeatedly orally raped, and god knows what else I can’t remember. Even when I was an early developing young woman of 13, being felt up in the middle of my science class by an older, scarier boy was not my fault. I’m a smart person. I’ve known in my head that what happened to me had nothing to do with me.   Responsibility for those acts lies with the perpetrators.

But Hortense has held my heart hostage for years, feeding it lies about what was real. I’m 48 years old, and my heart didn’t catch up with my head until I watched that movie Sunday. I finally “got it.” And I grieved for all the years of blame Hortense heaped on that little kid I used to be.  That kid I still carry around inside me, wounded and sad and hopeless.  If I had done something better or different, maybe these things wouldn’t have happened to me. Even with the best of intentions, I have been utterly terrified that somehow I invited those events that warped my life so many years ago.

Sunday, I saw and FELT that little girl’s innocence for the first time. Not as an intellectual concept but FELT IT to my very core. It made me positively ache. All I could do was sit in a chair, rocking and weeping. Apologizing over and over again to that innocent little girl for blaming her. She did nothing wrong.   Her life was forever altered because of the actions and choices of someone else. Then the weirdest thing happened. In the process of releasing the blame of that child, I think I let go of the last shred of victimhood surrounding these incidents. With a little tug and a sensation inside my chest like breaking the stem of a crystal wineglass, Hortense went *poof*. That not-so-subtle blaming voice is gone today. It may not be gone permanently, but it’s gone right now. After all the tears and snot and used Kleenex, I feel freer than I have in years. I don’t feel the need to blame anyone anymore.

Blame and accountability are two different things. I “got” that today too. Both my perpetrators were teenage boys. Normal, unwounded teenage boys don’t drug little girls and turn them into sex toys. They don’t terrorize teachers three times their age into silence so they can squeeze a classmate’s breasts while walking around during science lab. Do I hold them accountable for what they did to me? Absolutely. But do I hate them and blame them anymore? Right here in this moment I can’t say that I do.

I’ve been working on letting go of the rage and anger for a long time. That’s been a process. Hatred takes a lot of energy, and it kept me stuck in self-pity with Hortense for a lot of years. But I really understand today that those boys were dealing with their own demons at the time they sexually assaulted me. They did not escape what they did to me untouched. Whether or not they have chosen to ignore it, deny it, brag about it, or deal with it is none of my concern. In one way or another, they will each be held accountable for their actions. They may wallow in self-hatred and/or self-pity, go to prison, stuff their feelings and develop physical ailments, or just be downright evil bastards who create a reality of endless shit for themselves. The point is that I don’t feel like I have to be the one to hold them accountable anymore. Their accountability is none of my business.

 And that, my friends, lets me off the hook.

Hortense can stop trying to call in some avenging hero to save her. It doesn’t have to be that dramatic. I can just let it go. I don’t have to invest any energy in being a victim anymore. I hereby rip my Victim merit badge off the sash and burn it.  I’ve taken another level of my power back. I can let go of those experiences to the extent that they have limited who I am. This may not be the last time I get hooked into being a victim by Hortense, but our relationship has absolutely shifted. I’ve taken her keys away. She no longer gets to drive the bus.

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~ by dancingwiththeshadow on May 9, 2011.

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