Just in Time for the Holidays: Surviving Dinner with The Family Rapist

-Trigger Warning: In the words of Solange, “This shit is for us.” Us who have been sexually abused by a family member or close family friend. Us who continue to navigate encounters with those who have hurt us. And finally, us who are just looking for healing.

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We are far more likely to be sexually abused by a family member or a close family friend, and we don’t always disclose this to our families. And shit, even when we do, these predators are unlikely to be reported and even more unlikely to be convicted. In fact, they often remain an intricate part of our family, which makes navigating holidays harder for us. Therefore, I find it imperative to write this blog to a) illuminate the experiences of women who have been sexually assaulted by a relative and/or a close family friend; b) heal from my own experience with sexual assault by a relative; and c) help to navigate holiday gatherings and family functions when we are confronted with those who have sexually abused us

First, we are not victims; we are SURVIVORS!  And when I say “we,” I mean me, you, Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey, and thousands of women across the African Diaspora who have been sexually assaulted by a relative.  We are strong. We are resilient. We continue to survive in an unjust world where our attackers roam free.... They even roam into our family functions and holidays.

 
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As the holidays approach, I get overwhelmed with an immense anxiety about sharing space with the man who molested me.  Each year, I consider abstaining from the family holidays because I know that my assailant will be present. However, I continue to attend family events to hold space with other family members and loved ones... I want to see my extended family, eat turkey, play spades, and reminisce about “the-good-old-days.” In the same breath, I feel a cool uncomfortableness when He is present... My body is tense. My scalp is sweaty. My eyes are on full alert. My breath stops as He nods and grins from afar.

If you're like me, then you may have disclosed the sexual abuse with members of your own family. So, it is particularly belittling when we are made to take family pictures and sit at the family table with the person who abused us. And if we aren’t particularly gleeful on these occasions, we are regarded as “funny-acting.” But Sis, let me tell you... We are not the problem! THE SILENCE IS THE PROBLEM!  There is a prevalent and toxic “Code of Silence” in the Black community (e.g. Snitches get Stitches), stemming from a long history of racism and the inherent need to protect Black men from white supremacy and imprisonment. As Black women, we have been socialized to compromise our own healing and safety to be our brother’s keeper... In other words, we are BEAT and ABUSED by the very Black men we protect... [End Rant]

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Still... it is a disparaging feeling when we are setting at Thanksgiving dinner and the family rapist asks us to pass the potato salad... Some of us choose to avoid these occasions. Some of us tough it out and deal with the excruciating uneasiness in order to spend time with the ones we love. Either way, it’s hard as fuck to navigate birthdays, graduations, weddings, funerals, let alone the holidays—a time centering family unity. Therefore, here are some tips and strategies that I have employed to navigate my holidays:

1.     Affirm your emotions. People will tell you that the holidays aren’t the place and time to bring up my stories of sexual assault. Somehow, our realities always seem to make everyone else feel uncomfortable. But it’s okay to feel hurt when you feel hurt, and it’s okay to express hurt when you feel hurt. We don’t have to fake smile, and we damn sure don’t have to smile in the face of those who have sexually assaulted us.

2.     Just Don’t Go. We are not obligated to take up space with people who have hurt us. Personally, I have found this path more difficult because I love reuniting with family members that I rarely see throughout the year... To avoid this pressure, I intentionally carve out time throughout the year to spend with these family members.

3.     Lean on your village.  I have confided in a family member, a friend, and even prior partners about my anxiety of going home for the holidays. They have all been rather supportive of my feelings and reservations. They have even made space for me in their holidays. 

4.     Get you some therapy.  I have seen a therapist who has helped me to heal and navigate the holidays. Therapists can help to affirm, validate, and navigate our feelings so that we can begin the healing process.

Sigh... “This shit is for us.”

-Natasha M. Lee