A Survivor's POV: Fear of discovering who your allies really are
Updated: Mar 18, 2019
After someone goes through trauma, they experience a lot of fear. This is obvious, but what isn't as obvious are the different shades of fear that arise.
One type of fear is fear of finding out who your allies and non-allies really are.
As someone working in the Tech industry, I see that allyship is a really hot topic. The word comes up a lot, in my world. Within the context of this piece, I mean "ally" as someone who, at the very least, takes the time to try and sympathize and empathize with someone else's (see also: my) trauma.
It is often paired with a desirable or undesirable feeling on my part, and these feelings are very difficult to describe. Maybe one way to describe the desirable feeling is that it feels like the other person "gets it," "understands," or is "on your side." But again, it's futile to try and properly convey.
Mathematically, the possible scenarios might look something like this:
Sympathy (them) + Empathy (them) + Desirable feeling (me) = STRONG ally
Sympathy (them) + Desirable feeling (me) = Ally
Sympathy (them) + Empathy (them) + Undesirable feeling (me) = Neutral to non-ally
Sympathy (them) + Undesirable feeling (me) = Neutral to non-ally
No sympathy (them) + Undesirable feeling (me) = Non-ally
No sympathy (them) + No empathy (them) + Undesirable feeling (me) = STRONG non-ally
No sympathy (them) + Empathy (them) + Undesirable feeling (me) = Non-ally? *confusion meme*
Just spit balling, but the above makes sense to me.
But back to this fear I want to address.
Some fears are obvious: fear of retaliation, fear of abuser, etc.
Some, like fear of finding out who your true allies are, are not so obvious.
I don't even really know where to begin on this subject. It's a super nuanced feeling. When I first decided I was ready to tell people about getting assaulted and arrested, I told basically anybody who asked. Simply, because they asked.
"What have you been up to lately?" or "where have you been?" or "why were you on leave from work for 6 months?" Questions like that.
I divulged what I had "been up to," i.e., getting assaulted, framed, and dealing with law enforcement officers, because that's how humans are taught to operate. As kids, we're taught to answer questions directly, and tell the truth.
Well, it doesn't really work that way with trauma.
People will react in a spectrum of ways. Some will become clearly uncomfortable, some will change the subject immediately, some will stammer platitudes, etc. Yet, others will listen, others will try and understand, others will check in on you, others will be there for you.
And don't get me wrong--as a survivor, you'll act in a spectrum of unpredictable ways as well. It's all part of the process of dealing with amorphous negative experiences.
The hard part for the survivor, though, is not knowing how people you know will react. There's huge risk involved, and it's not well understood from the get go. As cliché as it sounds, it's true that you don't know who your true friends are until shit goes down.
Because really, who gives a fuck about what strangers or acquaintances think? Sure, their rejection or disdain for your pain will sting at first, maybe make you shed a tear. But after a walk and some Netflix stand-up comedy (love ya John Mulaney), the sting fades.
Real pain is realizing the people you thought you knew, weren't really those people at all. The first time this realization occurs SUCKS. It feels like the deepest betrayal, ever. I'm sure this realization has spawned plenty of suicides, benders, long lasting depressions, etc.
And to be honest, it never stops sucking. But as a survivor, you learn to cope with it.
After a while--after these betrayals happen again and again and again--fear starts to develop. At least, that's what happened to me. I started to fear those I once trusted. I feared telling those I hold near and dear to my heart what happened to me. I still feel this fear. The more I care about preserving an existing relationship with someone, the scarier it feels, for me, to really disclose what happened and how it majorly affects me on a day-to-day basis.
Sure, I have an elevator pitch of sorts--an "X, Y, and Z happened, but it's no biggie. Fuck the police and The System can suck my dick lol. Next subject." But none of that sort of talk is real for me. It's just a spiel.
As a survivor, the hard part is also knowing that most non-allies aren't to blame. It's not their fault that they get uncomfortable, or can't fathom. How can they control that? So, you can either let the resentment build, or let them go. It's tough, but it's a choice I've faced time and time again.
The beautiful thing about all this, though, is you will form deep bonds and friendships with the most unexpected people. And these friendships will have substance and amazing depth. I remember when I first started going public on Facebook about my assault and arrest, people I hadn't talked to in nearly decades came out of the woodwork to not only voice their support and listen, but consistently check in on me as the trial date against my abuser neared. These small acts of allyship meant the world to me.
There's beauty in trauma, because the excruciating pain allows you to really, really see.
You see people for who they are. You see yourself for who you really are. You see the way the world (in my case, The System) works. You see other people's hardship, that you were too blinded to see before.
For brief moments of time, you gain 100% clarity.
But with that clarity comes fear. Fear of seeing your loved ones for who they really are.
That's the fear I wanted to address today.
Follow Jessie on Twitter or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.