Dear Dana is a bi-weekly advice column for humans who engage in romantic relationships. Please send your dilemmas, issues, conundrums, assumptions, conflicts, anxieties, worriments, obstacles, complications, predicaments, queries, questions, and any other synonyms for “problems” to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m choking on rage. I can’t turn on the news or even check social media without seeing evidence of how little this country cares about me. I’m a victim of sexual assault and I’ve been managing OK but now it’s like I can’t keep the pain away. Every headline involving Brett Kavanaugh and the Supreme Court nomination brings it all back. I feel like if he’s confirmed I’m going to sink into a deep, dark hole. I wake up scared and angry every day and it’s taking a toll. How do I manage?
Despite All My Rage
Dear Despite All My Rage,
I’m so sorry that you’re going through this. I know that this past week was a dumpster fire of hot emotion, an overflowing toilet of entitled prep school bullshit, a full diaper genie of unexamined sexism, and I’m so sorry that you feel the worse for it.
I’m also so sorry for what happened to you. It’s not right and it’s not fair. Not only did you have to live through sexual assault, but now you have to recover from it, which is so. Much. Work. When your body is taken from you it takes an enormous amount of resources and time to get it back. Recovery is so much work every day and some days you don’t have the energy to do it, especially when it appears that our government is saying “what happened wasn’t sexual assault and if it was it’s not that bad and please think of the men because you ate the apple and we got into Yale so it’s your job to suffer and our job to tell you that your suffering should be silent.”
The Kavanaugh nomination feels especially raw for a few reasons — the current president’s record on sexual harassment (i.e. “pro”), the upcoming midterm elections throwing both parties into a frothing tizzy, the constant news coverage of said frothing, and the vortex of social media feels in reaction to all of the above. My own social media feeds have been full of women sharing their stories of being abused and their fears of a conservative Supreme Court and their feelings of stark vulnerability in the face of Kavanaugh’s possible confirmation. Meanwhile, those among us who aren’t strong enough to deal with the pain of the prevalence of sexual assault excuse it away, preferring bold cruelty over the blistering facts that they are both vulnerable to and culpable in perpetuating sexual assault.
The first step to managing is to reframe the current events. Sit down. Breathe. Take a moment and realize that Brett Kavanaugh has fuck-all to do with you and your life and your story. I know that it feels very desperate and crucial at this moment, like if he’s confirmed then no one cares about sexual assault victims and and if he isn’t confirmed then we’ve finally won and women’s pain will be legitimized for the first time, but neither of those is true. Sexual assault victims are currently being seen, and heard, and legitimized in a way never before seen, and that isn’t going to stop. The truth is that if Kavanaugh is confirmed he may make terrible decisions that lead the Supreme Court to undermine women’s bodily autonomy in the years to come, but, also, he may not. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t care about his nomination, but I am saying that living in terror of it isn’t helpful to you, or your allies, or your cause. If he isn’t confirmed it’s likely that another man who shares his same opinions will be nominated and confirmed instead. Should someone who assaulted multiple people be a Supreme Court justice? Fucking of course not, but controlling the outcome of this is outside your, or my, sphere of influence. There isn’t enough time for each of us to move to D.C. and get a job as a lobbyist and make friends with Lindsay Graham so he’ll actually listen when we explain to him that being physically assaulted is a million times worse than being accused of physical assault and, by the way, women are also humans.
So what the fuck can we do?
First of all, I want you to take care of yourself. Get a therapist who specializes in sexual assault, if you haven’t already. RAINN, the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, has a confidential, free number to get a local referral — 800-656-HOPE — or you can request a confidential chat session on their website. There are specialists available to help guide you through the tough work of reckoning with what happened to you and reclaiming your body and yourself.
Second of all, I want you to take your rage and use it. Convert your internal rage, the kind that sits in your guts and eats away at you every day, and change it into an external rage, a rage that extends outward from your body, radiating from you like a fiery aura. Don’t let your rage consume you, let it motivate you. Think — what can you do, in your sphere of influence, to make a difference, to help other victims, to help yourself? You can register people to vote, volunteer at a women’s shelter, find a local political candidate who you believe in who also believes in you, canvas your neighborhood, find other people who support your cause and say “thank you,” say “I believe you,” say “me too,” say “this ends now.” Yesterday, I saw people canvassing my neighborhood for Democratic judges and I pulled my car over and yelled at them “THANK YOU YOU ARE THE DIFFERENCE WE NEED I APPRECIATE YOU.” It was a mother and her teenage son — the teenager fist bumped me. Two years ago I barely noticed people canvassing — today, I canvas myself and scream my appreciation for other canvassers. Find the people who are doing the work you believe in and then help them to do it.
Take that deep, red rage fire that is churning in your guts and push it outward. Take action to alleviate your suffering, and then take action to alleviate the suffering of others. And know that you are not alone, there are millions of us who are mad and who vote, and we are going to pull each other out of our deep, dark, holes. We are going to make the world we want to live in.
Dana Norris once went on 71 internet dates, many of which you may read about here. She is the founder of Story Club and editor-in-chief of Story Club Magazine. She has been featured in McSweeney’s, Role Reboot, The Rumpus, and Tampa Review and she teaches at StoryStudio Chicago. You may find her on Twitter at @dananorris.