Last week, a co-worker loudly exclaimed to the entire office that they were sick of hearing about new ‘sex scandals’ and new ‘victims’ coming forward in the wake of Weinstein. I have issues with the phrase sex scandal and victim but above that, I have issues with this becoming ‘old news’ and others to feel that they shouldn’t come forward and add their brave voice to the chorus currently being heard for the first time.
I love quotes. I don’t find it twee or ostentatious, intellectual snobbery or laziness to quote others: great writers, leaders, philosophers and scientists (also on occasion, my ridiculous sister). I find huge comfort in taking inspiration from those wiser than me, whose words resonate when I can’t find my own. There is nothing lazy about turning to the words of others when your voice seems lost.
Whatever you are going through, someone – or many someone’s – will most likely have gone through it before. If you cannot find the words to fit the moment, someone else can. That is why, in the current climate, those coming forward and using their voice to draw attention to sexual assault, harassment and abuse is so vital – not just because of the wider societal impact but also to those who cannot find the words to do the same. It is also why those who haven’t spoken out should not be criticised.
When I was deep into the worst of my PTSD and seeking ways to control the panic, the methods my therapist initially suggested were not working. I couldn’t hold onto the pictures of my ‘safe place’ long enough to conjure the sights, sounds and smells that should have calmed me. The panic drained the imagination straight from my mind and the exhaustion kept it away. After much trial and error, the way I focused myself and overcame the panic was to recite Still I Rise by Maya Angelou.
When I started to recover (side note to anyone struggling, you will recover) I started considering why that poem. It’s not the only one I can recite, and also isn’t the only Angelou I know by heart. My private education means that I have a repertoire of go-to poems committed to memory. But never once, in the height of a panic attack, did it ever occur to me to start reciting Blake, Hardy or Wordsworth.
It wasn’t just the rhythm and repetition that was calming, it was also the words themselves. The lines and words gave me strength all whilst the rhythm calmed me. One line in particular, if I ever wavered or the panic threatened to overwhelm, I would repeat: ‘with the certainty of tides’. The inevitability of this line, the conviction and the power gave me confidence that no matter how many times I found myself shaking uncontrollably, crying or hyperventilating, I would recover.
At this time in my life, I had no words and no voice of my own. I couldn’t, poetically or otherwise, describe how I felt or what I wanted to achieve and so I turned to the words of others. What at first was a coping mechanism, turned into a mantra and a source of strength. Rose McGowan’s tweets are not insignificant, they are not hyperbolic or crass, they are vital to those who cannot find the words to say so themselves. Salma Hayek’s New York Times piece is not her jumping on the bandwagon, it is important, brave and inspiring.
Violence of this nature is isolating. Despite, logically (my therapists least favourite word) knowing that others have been though similar things, you feel utterly alone. You can’t have a bad day and explain to your boss that the Weinstein headlines have made you remember your own rape and so you’re, understandably, a bit sad and hyperventilate-y. At least, not in the same vein as explaining that the bad smog has made your asthma flare up and you’re struggling to breathe. Both have the same physical effect – one is easier to stomach over polite small talk in the office kitchen. This need to spare others from the nature of your despair makes you feel very alone. Your own voice, in isolation like this, is faint.
This is why these stories are so important, why it matters and will never be old news when another has come forward to share their account and say, loud enough for the word to hear, that this happened to them too. It matters because when one voice is brave enough to shatter the white noise, others can heed the call. One voice can shout loudly into the silence and when other voices join in, that shout becomes a roar.
This, is vital. Not least because to some, it can break down any barriers preventing their sharing and so add to the volume. But it is also vital to those who still cannot break the silence. Back when I was panicking and couldn’t find the words to say, and I couldn’t or wasn’t in a place to calm myself or imagine myself safer, I drew on strength found from the words of another, took comfort in those words and drew hope from them. People coming forward, sharing their stories means that others who may never be able to speak out in the same way can listen to the voices being raised for them and know that they are not alone.
Conversations have started, taboo subjects are being broached, consequences are being reaped and the uncomfortable is being dragged into the open.
I didn’t need to be a great poet to overcome my trauma, I was able to draw on the voice of another and use her words to lift myself up. Those like me who have similar experiences need never tell their tales if they are not able. Those who have already done and continue to do so, have already lifted us up. Comfort, strength and kinship can be drawn from what seems like constant news stories. That’s why this cannot become old news and the conversation must keep going both for those who are still to speak out, and those who will never be able.