As activists, we talk about moving people, moving organizations, moving politicians (toward our goal/desired end result). We talk about push-back when there’s resistance. But what do we do when the resistance we encounter is within ourselves? What do we do when the push-back is from our gut?
I ask these questions because, like many activists, the very reason why I became an activist is rooted in personal experience. Yes, I want to make the world a better place. There’s no lie there. But the foundation for why I want to do this comes from my own background. When I needed services, organizations — help — it wasn’t there. So, I work today to make sure EVERYONE has the resources, the tools, the way out, the whatever they need to live a safe and healthy life.
So, yeah, the personal is political for me. Of course, there are layers to this.
I’m pretty well-known for being a fierce activist for reproductive rights. And the why there is easy for me. Because I’m a woman. Period. I want access for myself, for my daughter, for every woman who walks the earth. I don’t want anyone to have the power to tell me what I can and can’t do with my body. I don’t want anyone else to have the power over my reproductive choices… my very uterus. That’s never going to change as long as there are anti-choice politicians, lobbyists and people who want to take away my autonomy, my access — or that of any other woman. It’s personal for me because it directly impacts my life by the very fact that I have a uterus.
Then of course, there’s my activism for LGBT rights, domestic violence victims, sexual assault survivors, civil rights and more. (Not that I’m trying to brag.)
But you can get even more personal than that.
On The Sin City Siren I have talked publicly for the first time about surviving childhood sexual abuse. By its very nature, this is a much more difficult and personal activism for me. It took me years to just get to the point where I could say, “I was molested.” So, to be at this point in my life is very significant. It is another personal milestone in taking back my power. One of the ugliest parts of surviving sexual abuse is the secrecy and so to expose my truth to the light of day is very powerful for me. And I look forward to taking it to the next level as a new board member of the Nevada Coalition Against Sexual Violence. Part of my healing process is to finally turn that horrific experience into something…productive. Rather than destructive. And by that I mean that I can use that experience to speak as an advocate for others, to lobby for services and help for those who are in a living hell right now. I know exactly what that feels like. And I am willing to put myself out there in order to help other people. Because I can’t let some other little girl feel helpless and alone. Not when I have the ability to do something.
But just because I want to help other sexual abuse survivors doesn’t mean that it comes easy. And it doesn’t mean that I am Mary Poppins — practically perfect in every way. I have gone through counseling, read books and cried so many tears. I’ve done some intense emotional work to finally feel my feelings and process them so I can live my life as a happy, healthy adult with a beautiful, loving, safe family. Getting to a place in my life where hope is not a luxury…that wasn’t even a little bit easy.
And just like everybody else I have set-backs, too. I have times when it feels like my emotions are trying to move me, push-back against the forward momentum. There are times when I have emotional triggers that make me question whether I am strong enough to help myself, let alone anyone else. Who am I anyway?
I recently spent time with someone who really pushed some old buttons. And it made me question just how far I’ve come. Do we ever get over our emotional triggers? (For instance, I have a very visceral reaction to a certain brand of cigarettes. How do you reprogram memories attached to scent? Is it even possible?) The whole incident was a big reality check for me. It re-affirmed that there are certain aspects of healing that take what can feel like an unbearably long time. And there are certain aspects of healing that are about emotional tools, rather than a robotic ability to erase something from your brain. As hard as it is for me to admit it, there are just some wounds that never quite heal all the way. This is what gives me empathy for people who struggle with life-time issues like eating disorders and addiction. While being sexually abused is not self-inflicted (and I mean that in a non-judgmental way), it is something that stays with you forever. And it can haunt you if you let it.
So, today at least, I have decided that the ghost does not get to haunt me or define who I am. The ghost is just there. Sometimes I can barely see it at all.