I know exactly how you feel.
We say it all the time; it’s one of the phrases we use without even thinking. We use it to comfort someone, to let them know that someone else has been through something, has survived it. Usually it’s for the tiny tragedies in our lives. When our best friend breaks up with her girlfriend. When our sister is stressing over her career. When our co-worker loses out on that promotion. Most of the time we say it without really meaning it, without actually knowing how it feels. We can guess and we can empathize; we can try our best to place ourselves in that space and let our consciousness absorb their pain and disappointment, but we really cannot know how they feel.
But as a woman, there are times when I can honestly say, “I know exactly how you feel.” When your friend is harassed walking home from work. When she gets catcalled so aggressively, that she calls you for the simple comfort of having someone on the phone, just in case. When your friend is sexually assaulted. When your friend is raped. I know exactly how you feel. There is a club amongst women, a club none of us want to belong to, but one most inevitably find themselves a member. A club filled with survivors, of women who have had their sanity, safety, and identity taken violently from them. The spectrum of sexual and gender based violence is too far reaching for all of us to comprehend each individual experience. But, whether you have been raped by a stranger, assaulted by a friend, had a substance slipped into your drink, hit by your boyfriend or girlfriend, violated by a family member, used as a sexual pawn in warfare, been touched against your will, been placed in a dangerous situation because of the body you inhabit, or any other of the countless violations that have been perpetrated against women, you know how it feels.
You know how it feels to blame yourself. You know the humility and the embarrassment, the shame you feel living as a victim in a society that continuously blames you for the crime committed against you. You know how it feels to question your safety in your own home. You know how it feels when the darkness is just too much, too overwhelming, too thick, too suffocating. And no matter how many lights you turn on, the darkness cannot seem to clear. You know how it feels for your mind to play dangerous tricks on you, making it seem that the shadows are him or strangers are familiar. You know how it feels to have your stomach hollow out, to feel the cold shiver travel through your limbs, thinking you’ve seen him, but knowing that you really haven’t. You know how it feels to desperately want to move on, but barely able to keep from slipping deeper into the dark pit you’ve dug out for yourself. You know how it feels to lose parts of yourself, unable to pick up all the falling pieces, wanting so much to hold on to the person that you were, but knowing that the terrifying truth is that you may never pick up all those pieces again.
If this is your story, I know exactly how you feel. I may not know how you’ve traveled through this world or know how it feels to live the life you’ve lived. But I do know exactly how you feel. And I hate that I do. I hate that my story has bled into the countless others, that my experience has become one out of far too many. But what I hate most, what I hate more about reliving my rape or shaking off moments of true fear, is finding myself sitting across from a friend, and finding myself having to say “I know exactly how you feel.”
I know exactly how you feel, and I wish I didn’t. But what I wish more is that you didn’t have to know, exactly how I feel.
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