Why I am glad they repealed DADT
Content note: brief mention of sexual assault and stalking, but no SA details
When I was a young (female) soldier, I was assaulted by another female soldier who then stalked me for a long time. This was before the days of smartphones that could block numbers, and I was in the middle of preparing for deployment and had a key role and felt I couldn’t change my number (which in hindsight I totally could have), so I just put up with trying to ignore the 100s of daily text messages and voice mails. I had to steel myself each time I picked up my phone, and flinched internally every time I saw her name.
I had an amazing friend who helped me during training. We were packing for the field and I just broke down, wasn’t crying or anything, but simply could not make myself do one single solitary thing more. Looking at the packing list and all the crap on the floor and all I could do was sit there.
I called my friend (another soldier in training with me) even though I didn’t know what to say. When she heard my voice, she asked ‘are you ok?’ and I said ‘I don’t think so’. She said ‘I’m coming over’. Didn’t make me explain or justify. She got there, asked if I wanted to talk and I didn’t, and she didn’t push - just asked for my packing list, and packed my shit. Just packed. After a while I told her I felt like scratching my own body because I can feel the rapist’s hands on me and I was desperate for any other feeling, even if it was painful, because this was the worst feeling. I don’t remember if she said anything or not, but I do remember her intense caring presence and her acceptance of me, and my shame (my now-ex spouse made it seem like my fault, and calling the person who assaulted me a rapist still triggers some part of my brain that’s like nope, that is too strong a word because it’s your fault, even though I could clearly articulate why it’s not).
My friend listened, and cared, and packed. Then stayed up late packing her own shit. Almost 2 decades later and she is still my best friend.
One day, I came back to my phone and had a text from my stalker, saying, “if you don’t call me back I will tell everyone”. (Meaning she would tell everyone I liked women). So I called her for the first time since she assaulted me all those months ago and I told her not to contact me, and I didn’t feel afraid, just furious. I said for her to tell, go ahead and tell, and I will tell too, and I will tell the truth. She immediately backed down and said she was just saying that out of desperation since I was ignoring her. I told her you ASSAULTED me, why would I want to talk to you, every time you text me I have a flashback and I do not ever want to hear from you again.
We deployed and the phone company deleted and gave away my number instead of doing a military suspension as promised, which turned out to be a blessing as the stalker no longer had a way of reaching me. Came home and moved far, far away. Aside from one super inappropriate dumbass psychiatrist who reacted to the news that I had been assaulted by a female with ‘what? How? What did she DO?’ as if a female can’t assault another female (and which is one reason I play the pronoun game when talking to someone, even/especially medical providers who don’t need to know the gender of the person who assaulted me, just the fact that I was assaulted), but other than that I received nothing but excellent military sexual trauma care as well as support from my unit members and leadership.
With the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, service members could no longer be blackmailed with the loss of their career, and forced to engage with their abusers. Forced to choose between their bodily integrity /psychological safety and their careers. Their ability to serve their country.
And fuck all the people who thought DADT was an appropriate compromise.
Pasting this from a reply to a comment below - this analogy really works for me so I’m sharing in case it helps someone:
The supportive comments here are really helpful, and in typing out this yesterday I was able to realize something very important and helpful about the whole situation (which I won’t go into detail in because it feels too raw still). Yesterday I had this revelation and I felt this sense of relaxing and loosening all through my body, almost like increased circulation in places where I had been clenching my muscles like my jaw and neck.
There’s something really special about setting down painful experiences in a supportive and nonjudgmental environment. People dissociate from painful experiences so they can keep going. It makes sense and is an adaptive survival technique. The problem is that they then cut that painful space off from all the sources of nourishment that they need.
Talking about it here, doing somatic experiencing exercises, mindfulness, those kinds of things keep connecting the painful (and previously isolated) parts of the experience to compassion and relief. I imagine it like a dark cold spot in the brain, cut off from everything else, suddenly receiving a connection, a pathway, to compassion and comfort. New neural networks being created and then widened and then becoming the default. So when I have this memory I’m immediately also feeling comfort, and the memory feels like a healed scar, no pain to touch it.
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