Necessary Boundaries and Abuse Survivors
It’s been a while since I’ve written. The corona virus – I’m used to calling it that, though I note we switched to COVID-19 a few weeks back, which I guess sounds cooler – brought a curtain down on civil cases, not to mention everything else.
For me, it’s interesting to note that the curtain began at just about the time that Harvey Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years in prison for rape by Justice James Burke, a formidable presence and an old school buddy. That was March 11, 2020.
Sentencing a rapist or any criminal is a very concrete form of creating a boundary. In boundary-making, we are deciding what to include in our circle, and what to keep out. It’s a very high form of evolution and perhaps comes naturally for many people. For abuse survivors, whose bodies and souls were violated by perpetrators like Weinstein and these two Saint David’s School teachers, the notion of boundaries and the drawing of lines does not come naturally.
Once our bodies are violated, we are not sure what to let in and what to exclude. In my experience, we often stay in situations that are really bad for us because we are hoping things will change, or we don’t see the damage we do to ourselves, or we think we deserve it, or we see no choice. This is so common among abuse survivors, all this second-guessing and wondering; we feel like we are in a war zone for years afterward, always wondering when the next blow will fall. Because of this perceived need for heightened awareness, we can’t concentrate or relax. We gravitate towards dissociation.
Jessica Mann, a witness against Weinstein, said, "Rape is not that one moment of penetration. It is forever."
The words of Jessica Mann and the other women who came forward “Took down a predator and put him behind bars and gave hope to survivors of sexual violence all across the world,” said District Attorney Cyrus Vance.*
Weinstein left court that day to go back to Riker’s Island. I love it that Riker’s is the prison where the father of sexual predator Rey Buono was warden, many years ago. Perfect.
The corona virus has forced us to make boundaries too, but we are not in jail. (People who are in jail, we must hold them up now, because they cannot protect themselves against this disease). We put on a mask to avoid inhaling other’s breaths or to prevent our own breath from reaching others. We stay inside, for days at a time. We don’t touch each other unless we are in homes where everyone is healthy. Even then, if someone goes out for groceries, and is potentially exposed to the virus, touching one’s spouse or partner or child may be a threat.
We create a boundary between ourselves and others, and between ourselves and the world. And sometimes boundaries are forced upon us: for example, when I was awaiting virus test results three weeks ago, I was told not to come to work, even when asymptomatic (and hours were deducted from my sick time). This kind of forced boundary felt a bit like assault, in that I was powerless over it.
The virus is bringing up trauma memories, trauma body, for so many of us. Because it is unpredictable, like a sexual predator. Because you have to be on guard all the time. Because it inspires fear. Because it involves power, and invites insolence. Because we have no national leadership and are instead having to listen to a patchwork of advice and rules that varies from state to state, township to township. Trauma thrives on inconsistency. President “I-just-grab-em-by-the-pussy” Trump reinforces this over and over; he does not believe in helping us to feel safe. And safety is the golden apple for abuse survivors: we crave it so much.
It’s easy to catch this disease ... but it’s also easy to avoid catching it.
And when I go for a walk in the woods or on the beach, I am certainly not abiding by the fear-based directive to “stay at home,” but I am keeping my boundaries strong, which are: to stay healthy, to get some air and exercise, to feel the sun, to not breathe in viral particles by sharing space with another person too closely, to wear a mask and wash my hands and use sanitizer. It’s pretty simple.
* quotes sourced from https://www.npr.org/2020/03/11/814051801/harvey-weinstein-sentenced-to-23-years-in-prison