Every week, Preen tackles motherhood sans the rose-tinted glasses. Our columnists L. Juliano, Marla Darwin, Monica Eleazar-Manzano, Rossana Unson, and Ronna Capili-Bonifacio tell their personal experiences like it is—at times frustrating, oftentimes confusing, but always enlightening.
The #MeToo movement has brought forth a condition I’m learning to live with.
When it first broke out, the first few waves I felt were of relief and vindication. I was happy that abusive men in the highest echelons of power were finally being held accountable. I was happy that more and more people were garnering the courage to speak out and begin their healing.
My mistake was thinking that this didn’t affect me so much anymore. I was raped by an acquaintance in college, more than a decade ago. I thought I did enough work to process what happened and move on from it. It took me a long time to develop the vocabulary to make sense of what happened to me. As a 19-year-old back then, I still couldn’t conceive of someone I knew taking advantage of me. I still thought only strangers could be rapists. I didn’t understand the nuances of abuse yet.
I swung between shame, indignation, and the impulse to rewrite the story. For a time I even tried acting like we were okay as a way to cancel out what he did—until I couldn’t anymore. We disappeared from each other’s lives and that was that.
Being married for years lulled me into a false security that my past couldn’t hurt me anymore. So when this aforementioned acquaintance messaged my social media accounts after years and years of radio silence to ask to meet up and to hear him out, I lost it.
At first, I messaged my girl friends to hash out what I was feeling. My moving on hinged on not having this person as part of my life ever again. I told them that I did not appreciate feeling guilty over not wanting to see or speak to him. While I felt vindicated with how he acknowledged what he did, I really did not care if he felt remorseful. I did not care. I did not appreciate feeling guilt over wondering what a forgiving and peaceful person should look like. Some people have no problem seeing their rapists and having a big reconciliation. That’s fine, it’s just that I’m not one of those people.
After deciding to delete his messages and ignore them (and to his credit, he did give me a way out and said he’d understand if I didn’t reply), I sat down and I couldn’t say or do anything. Then I just started crying.
My husband sat across me and was taken aback.
The difference between 19-year-old and 31-year-old me is vast and significant. 31-year-old me knows nuance. I know where to draw the lines. When #MeToo broke out, I started seeing my stories in other stories. It gave me even more words to add to the framework I developed about consent and abuse. To the point that it started trickling to the other relationships I had with men. There were boundaries crossed even with my supposed consensual relationships. I started crying not because aforementioned acquaintance reached out, but because I was finally coming to terms with all the other abuse stories I repressed.
“I was too young.”
“I didn’t want any of it.”
“I didn’t know how to say no. I didn’t know I could say no.”
Those were the things I was saying in between sobs.
What startled me was when my toddler sauntered up to me and asked why mommy was crying.
I knew how to handle moments like this on my own but I had no idea how to bring my husband and my daughter in. I knew I had to because I didn’t want to be carrying all of this pain on my own anymore.
To my daughter, I told her that mommy was sad but she was going to be okay. I reassured her that she had nothing to do with my tears. That’s all she would be able to handle at her age but I started making notes on how to approach conversations about sexuality and relationships at every point in her life.
To my husband, it suddenly occurred to us that even after being together for seven years, there were still worlds of stories that have yet to unravel themselves.
I started to talk in great detail about what I was like before we got together, about all the ugly and traumatizing things that will always be a part of me. I hinted and gave succinct synopses through the years but I was ready to say more. About how I treated sexuality as a way to spite my religious and regimented upbringing, at the expense of my emotional and mental health. About how I used the attention called to my sexuality to fill in the gaps where my self-esteem should’ve been. About how I allowed my boundaries crossed again and again because I thought people who said they loved me had every right to do that.
Then my husband started speaking up as well. He may not have the same background of abuse as I do, but he also walked similar paths with regard to his own sexuality. I learned that no one knew the things he was telling me. These were stories from long ago, from when he was a teenager, from when he was in drawn out relationships, and they were finally being brought out.
When he started talking about the role he played in rape culture, I felt like I could breathe again. I felt seen and affirmed.
The condition we live with after #MeToo will always be a part of us now. Through it, we’re learning to take the lead in navigating difficult conversations and taking proactive stances in the communities we belong to. Even the way we conduct ourselves in the bedroom has seen some change.
Being able to let a partner into grief, fear, and pain is a life skill we’re learning to do, and I hope it’s something the world learns to do for each other.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in her private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of Preen.ph, or any other entity of the Inquirer Group of Companies.
Art by Lara Intong
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