I spent all day responding to emails and texts and Facebook messages and tweets that came to me like individually wrapped gifts of love about the story I wrote yesterday. Not a single troll either. And I have known me some trolls in my time. (Dear trolls, please do not take this as a challenge. I’ve already been told I’m ugly and have no talent and you would spit on my corpse, so please know: I get it! You say incredibly devastating things. You win, forever. Now leave me alone.)
You know, I really do believe there is some kind of magical thing that happens when one person takes a moment to pass along a kindness or a note of acknowledgement that we are both sharing this life, this human space, together. It’s a weird kind of honoring. I like to call it: “I see you.” I see you, Mandy. I see you, and you are real.
I see you, too -- and I thank you so deeply from the bottom of my heart.
Sometimes, I think the front or the persona or the defense mechanism that we put up can become so much bigger than what we were ever feeling in the first place. Like, sometimes I can be funny, and sometimes when I write something that is straining to be funny it reads like the worst kind of torture. That’s because it is pretend. That's because it is fake and the sadness can begin to seep through like a stain. When I read blog posts from when I got divorced in 2005, where I was making jokes about that utterly fragmenting experience, there was humor, and maybe a funny bit or two in there, but it reads to me now like so much stuffed-down pain and anguish.
It sounds cliché, but as any therapist worth her salt knows, aphorisms so maddeningly often are. We are so conditioned to spend our lives posturing as wonderless untouchable cynics, resisting anything that smacks earnest lest we appear weak and vulnerable, that our very first instinct can often be to reject these stunning pulses of what is so often actual naked human emotion.
But you did not reject me. Instead you overwhelmed me with your love.
I want you to know, I am saying to you now, that when you reach out to someone, when you say a small kind thing, like so many people did to me today (and whose words I'm going to share with you, all names removed except for one), you are absolutely and resolutely changing that person forever. I am now a different person from reading these stories and these kindnesses -- these little pulses of love.
And what a thrill it is to know we have this powerful weapon constantly in our possession. This totally free, totally wonderful, thrilling little weapon. As we fight to make our voices heard louder than the bleat of Todd Akin's ignorance, it reminds me of one of my favorite sentiments of all time.
"There will never be peace for as long as we call the movement anti-war." I truly believe this. And I especially believe this same principle applies to the way we treat one another.
Which is why I send to you now, more than ever, so very much: #legitimatelove.
I see you.
“Mandy, this is exactly what happened to me when I was 19. By someone who was in a leadership position to me in a youth organization. I just wanted to say thanks for writing what you wrote. I have found ways to avoid thinking about it, pretend that it never happened, but this Akin stuff in the news, and that term ‘legitimate rape,’ it just brings all of it crashing back. How I have wondered so many times over the last decade whether or not my rape was rapey enough to be called rape. Thanks for being a part of my healing process through your writing."
"I just read your article, Mandy. I am sobbing. I am so sorry. This happened to me as well by both family members and people who were supposed to be taking care of me as a kid. I wish I had the courage to write this. Thanks for being my voice.”
"I just read your post about being raped. I was sexually abused by a family member when I was really super young also. And I got a lot of help with the Joyful Heart Foundation out of New York. They are my friends there and they deal with this sort of sexual abuse all the time. They have retreats and programming to support survivors. You should check it out and get involved! I am sure they can help you in your healing. That's all!!!!”
“My dear you are very brave to share this with the world. There are many horrible ways in which people are made to suffer at the hands of others. For me the worst aspect of that is the holding onto the experiences for a lifetime as if they continued to exist in the moment without solace, without healing. I spent an entire lifetime in shame and self-abnegation feeling as if I didn't deserve to breathe oxygen as a result of my experiences. I waited until my parents were dead to begin the healing process. I am glad you are taking care of yourself sooner than that. EMDR was very helpful to me for some of the experiences. I found that once the healing began and my little wounded self felt safer to remember, more things came up for healing. You are my hero, Mandy. Please be gentle and patient with yourself. Healing takes time and love."
“Mandy, a few years ago I ran across a book called 'Lucky' by Alice Sebold. She is the author of 'The Lovely Bones.' It is her account of her rape and the aftermath. Even though my experience was different than a one-time rape (I was sexually abused by my oldest brother for about 5 years from ages 6-11) it really helped me to read an eloquently written and honest account of another woman's experience of rape. It wasn't an easy read and I cried all the way through it, but when I finished it, I felt stronger and more able to talk about what happened to me. Ultimately I felt less alone. Peace to you.”
“I've never read something that actually helped me make sense of my own rape (I've never even written those words, 'my own rape,' wow). 'That feeling of shame' is so real, and by putting that out there I'm sure you are helping so many girls like me who are still trying to make sense of their sexuality in light of an assault. You and your words are so valuable, and I can't thank you enough for sharing.”
...and one last soul-touching note from a woman who helps legitimize my voice and so many others...
“You are fucking amazing and I am so proud to know you and work with you. Your post today is yet another one of my proudest moments in my career. Thank you." -- Jane Pratt
To which I wrote back: "This is the best note of my career. Tomorrow I'm going to include some of the beautiful reactions (and stories that have been shared with me), including this one, if it's ok with you." And Jane replied, "Of course it's ok. Own it, as I'm learning from you."
Find Mandy long-form at http://tinyurl.com/stadtmiller.