I know from experience that owning your story allows you to begin to write your future. It took intensive work, not just acknowledgment, to begin to work past the post-traumatic stress symptoms that were left in the wake of the abuse of my father when I was a young child. It took saying “I was raped” and working with a counselor at a rape crisis center to reclaim my life and sexuality after a bouncer raped me in a dark room at an East Village bar. Though I have written vaguely about the abuses of my ex-husband and I have talked about them, not at length, with small groups I’ve still felt stuck.
Sunday I preached for the first time. For an atheist who had never gone to church of her own free will until three years ago, this seems a stretch. I felt called to not only share some of my stories but to engage the community I have come to rely on for strength and support in a conversation about ways we can support victims and how we can stop domestic violence before it happens.
I’ve spent the last month writing, rewriting, and fine-tuning my sermon, looking for just the right readings, inspirational quotes, and music to include. I don’t think I was ever worried about the quality of my sermon or the reaction of my congregation, but I had this nagging fear that my ex-husband would show up at one of the services. The fact that I cared told me that I hadn’t claimed my story yet.
My sermon began at 9:30, and by 9:35 it felt like a huge weight had been lifted off of my back. Telling a small piece of my story and giving domestic violence victims a face was exhilarating. Between the two services, I had to take my son to transition to his father. This has been a stressful chore for me since we started doing it over four years ago. But yesterday I was less afraid. I walked tall and effortlessly down the sidewalk, Liam’s hand in mine, and I smiled at him as he got in the car with his father.
I wasn’t afraid of him. In telling part of my story in a very public way for the first time I was able to chip away at some of the paralyzing fear he left me with. In owning my story I was able to claim it as my truth, despite his interpretations or retelling. By sharing my story and possibly inspiring someone trapped in their own abusive relationship to get out or seek help my pain seems not so pointless.
I’m not magically healed and I have much more to say. For now, the only question I have is “when can I do that again?”