My ancestors told me there is no healing without justice.
So what is justice?
I will never live in a body untouched by sexual violence. No matter how much healing I do, no matter how much I practice embodiment, practice erotic liberation, practice boundaries and consent, I will never, never live in a body that has not endured things no body should have to endure.
This body holds multiple truths. It holds the truth that I am grateful for who I am, and would not be different. And it holds the question of who would I be, had those acts of violation never occurred?
In this latest wave of the sexual trauma healing process, I have questioned what healing is, and if it is even possible to do.
How can I be with what is, while I also move toward healing? How do I accept and also change? How do I accept what has happened, that this is the body I live in, and how do I also change my body to be one of strength and ease?
I long for steady, quiet power that is embodied and just. I long for the wide view, the acceptance that healing happens in degrees, that some wounds take more than one lifetime to heal, and that is okay. I long for acceptance of the degrees of healing I have accomplished, rather than the constant presence of all that remains unhealed.
Here’s what I believe about healing: two things are required. Acknowledgment, and justice.
Wounds cannot heal fully without these two medicines. They can partially heal, and heal enough for those of us bearing them to be able to survive, do good work even. And yet they remain painful, though clean.
What is acknowledgment?
Everything that happened to me happened to me.
This has been my mantra for months. It’s taken so much work to even get here, to be able to say this.
There is space in me to acknowledge the entirety of my experience. The childhood sexual abuse, the incest, the spousal rape, the transgenerational transmission of sexual trauma that I carry from my ancestors. Everything that happened to us, happened to us.
There is a starkness in this acknowledgment that feels clean.
And part of the acknowledgment is knowing that justice will be what I make it.
There is no justice that can make what happened unhappen. There is no way to ever answer the question of who I would be without these violations. What is, is, and sometimes that makes my stomach wrench and my skin crawl, and sometimes there is a quiet widening into the fullness of my embodied form, that this is a source of great power for me.
Acknowledgment as a practice is personally challenging, and culturally almost impossible. Denial has been a steady friend, but one who rarely returns what it borrows: my memories. I want all of me back.
I’m ready to open all of the doors of all the locked nightmare rooms, because I deserve to have all of me. And all of me deserves to belong. And fuck that familial pattern of turning attention away from the wound, hoping it will go away. It hasn’t, and I’m not passing it on.
The practice of turning my attention to the wounds, to truly see the monster that is my father, the trainwreck that is my uncle, and the rapist that is my once beloved and now ex-husband and father of my children.
Even as I identify these men I worry: what ramifications will I face for breaking silence? What further violence is heading my way?
To acknowledge the existence and brutal impact of these three men is to acknowledge my own powerlessness.
The ownership, possessiveness and disregard all three had for my personhood, even as they loved me. The dismissal of my dignity as a human being who deserves choice. The invasion of my body, even when I voiced my choice. The blatant lack of care any one of them had for the impact they would create in my body, my relationships, my capacity to trust, my capacity for pleasure and erotic freedom, and even my ability to feel love, the giving and receiving of love.
How many times have I asked my sweet partner “Are you loving me right now? How do you know?” because I cannot feel it.
Can you look at this, dad, uncle, husband? Can you merely see, without turning away, what you have done? I bear witness, those things happened. Can you bear the load of your transgression without collapsing into worthlessness or aggression? Was your dignity lost when you violated mine?
Acknowledging that these men took what was not theirs to take, and gave not one fuck while doing it breaks my heart so completely that it is difficult to imagine repair is indeed possible.
Acknowledgment is expensive, because it means examining my role, my silence, my terror, my anxiety.
At least I’ve broken free of this terrible idea that somehow I could have been complicit. I was not complicit, in anything other than my own survival, fuck you very much.
The feeling of powerlessness is beyond unbearable. To acknowledge these perpetrators is to acknowledge that this is a true thing in the world: humans violate other humans and don’t give a damn. And there is no ‘justice system’ in the world that could ever undo the harm. Ever.
I am sick as I write these words. And I write them in honor of my ancestor, burned alive by her husband. I write them in honor of my mother. I write them in honor of my own sweet self, who has survived the ashy trauma-filled wasteland of these violations. I write these words in honor of my children, so they may be free of these abusive patterns. And I write these words in honor of the black heart of innocence, the rose that grows from the bombed-out rubble. My heart.
What is justice?
Justice is not some state that can be cosmically, karmically achieved. It’s not legal punishment for perpetrators. It’s not retribution. It’s not forgiveness, nor denial, nor being competent in spite of my past.
Writing this is me providing justice for me. In doing so, I claim rank among all victims of sexual violence who blessedly will never understand the impulse and follow through to perpetrate sexual harm intentionally upon another.
Justice is getting to be soft instead of brittle.
Justice is marrying my sweet partner with all of our cherished chosen family in witness, in a sacred grove in the California hills.
Justice is professional success.
Justice is creating financial well-being and security for myself.
Justice is a sexuality I inhabit exactly how I want.
Justice is choosing movement and dance.
Justice is vulnerably opening again and again to receive support from my deeplings.
Justice is choosing transparency about what happened to me.
Justice is my 13-year-old child understanding transgenerational trauma, and naming my role in healing it in our bloodlines.
Justice is knowing without a doubt I belong to my loving ancestors, and feeling that when I die, they will welcome me home.
None of these things alone is justice. But when I put them all together, and I hold the weight of the life I live against the violations that occurred, I see that there is some balance here.
Somehow I thought justice would be more assertive, louder, more definite or more precise.
I thought finding justice would be about the righting of wrongs. The undoing of harm. But it’s not, because it cannot be. What is, is.
Instead I find justice in the quieter moments of my life. The moments when I can accept the goodness I have.
Justice finally is how I place my attention on love, the feeling of it, the giving it, and the receiving it.
I get to feel worthy of love. I get to be here. I get to be well in all the ways.
This is my justice.