Still Talking Around Myths; on how we tell new versions of the same thing

Since I left my full-time advocacy position in September, I’ve only accepted two training opportunities.

Fittingly, both have been on the topic of youth survivorship for audiences of youth.

That point was further drawn home for me this week following the airing of Surviving R Kelly.

Last night and this morning I watched the six episodes in the privacy of my apartment alone.

I’ve learned that any time I hear a survivor speak, I have to set up a container in order to be present to what is being shared with me. And as importantly, I have to be in a place where I can be present to listen more than I speak.

All the more so when the discussion includes children and youth.

As advocates we are often looked at for answers, and sometimes we take chances to speak more than we listen, appropriately and inappropriately.

We’re guilty of projecting our needs into the words of someone else’s story, and we reach for labels and conclusions that are not ours to offer.

We reach for words that we will be consoled by, that will mobilize, and that will present information in a digestible and actionable way.

We want to be who a survivor needs, and a lot of the time we are.

As an adult spending time with youth, and much of the time engaged in conversation about youth experiences of violence, I straddle the line of holding back and over stepping when it comes to my insight and expertise, and even my lived experiences, and I try to be explicit about that quality of the work. The tendency to misjudge appropriate boundaries, and the instincts within me that can be quieted by stated best practices or environmental factors, or even fiercely held opinions.

Against this backdrop I feel paralyzed much of the time, and I ruminate on worries and unresolved questions within myself and within my advocacy.

And yet a huge amount of the time I am drawn into spaces of discussion with youth about their experiences of and analysis for violence against their beliefs about power, control, and consent.

I am spellbound by their wisdom, protective of it, disillusioned because of it, and repeatedly humbled.

As a trainer I don’t often cite personal experiences in my facilitation, but I feel the need to authenticate this blog post in the thoughts and feelings that are present for me today.

My freshman year of college, two of my closest friends from high school were in romantic relationships with abusers. Myself hundreds of miles from home, and each of them hundreds of miles away from me, I was asked to grapple with the characteristics of violence not specific to the community in which I was raised. I was looking to my peers to understand my own experiences in a season where it was especially clear that their assessments were rooted in ongoing violence. I was caught in rejecting their understandings, and rejecting the understandings of older adults who didn’t share my context. Whose discomfort with youth sexuality interfered with their differentiation between consent and rape, whose advice to me was fantastical and full of blended myths and stereotypes alongside deep care for me.

I was without adequate words, and without any success stories for healing or body autonomy that modeled a viewpoint I could embrace.

I was dissonant in every sense of that word, and harm was real to me. Harm has always been real to me.

I remember viscerally a conversation with one of my friends, after months of being estranged and being regularly contacted by her parents and her abusive partner, and I got the gall to ask her a direct question. “What do you need from me as your friend right now, the truth, or what you want to hear.”

How she answered me is less important than the fact that I felt compelled to ask, and my awareness that her answer has changed as frequently as her evolution in her experience moved us both forward, and even into sustained tension with each other.

Her survivorship and its needs didn’t address my own, and vice versa, just like her self-advocacy or mine on her behalf remained incomplete. We didn’t know what we didn’t know, and what others knew wasn’t what we needed or were ready to learn. I would add too that adults had as much to learn from us, but that standpoint becomes more adversarial than I intend quickly.

My memory of this conversation’s reminder to me today is that projection does not leave room for us to uncover our instincts about how we’re doing within our experiences, and it often comes at the price of unconditional support of us.

The shame is from every side, and the resistance to being controlled.

There isn’t space to debate what’s more or less safe in the moment when we get the courage to ask follow up questions, and the systems to escalate violence are well oiled and erect.

And yet when instincts finally do talk to us within the breaks between numbness they never whisper. They yell, and they overwhelm, and they nurse the shame and confusion others may or may not perceive in us.

Where is the space to ask questions and to say that a proposed response feels incomplete, and where is that space for youth amidst violence targeting them?

Where is the protection from voyeurism as you learn and stumble?

Where is the safety from truths that broke you as you learned them?

Where are the tears that don’t come with ‘I told you so’s?

Who can teach us how to trust our instincts when what we most learn from experience is vulnerability to abuse?

If not ourselves, and not our peers, and not our families, and not our public discourse, and not our communities, then where?

How does one appropriately cope with the immensity of that truth, and the myths that don’t feel like myths as we learn and teach them.

In the first training I gave in November, I came back to the event organizers and asked for a closed youth space, making it a condition of me accepting the training request.

I couldn’t quiet the voice in my advocacy that felt more discontent than content with what I represented as an adult stranger coming in to talk to youth about their most private and complex experiences.

I couldn’t pretend that I represented a safe or noncontrolling perspective, and I didn’t want to.

I could be more rather than less authentic, and more open to listening than advising.

I could choose to leave space to not be on display for adults in your emotions and angst.

And I can choose that again as I train this week, not because the violence doesn’t deserve a response, but because it is not mine to offer unilaterally or non-consensually.

It is not for me to know better.

It’s for me to learn with.

It’s for us to speak and hear truths that cannot be simplified or healed from alone.

It’s for us to name that we see the harm and our part in it.

It’s for us to hold out for solutions that reflect the truth we live through, are witness to, and have avoided.

It’s for us to dispassionately give space to consent back to each other.

It’s for us to tearfully receive the emotions that fills us with, the pain of it, the quandary of it, and the challenge to stop holding them back or sharing them just because they’re asked for.

It’s for us. It’s ours. It’s mine. It’s yours. It’s yours when and even before you’re ready, and regardless of whether I am.

I am learning how to invoke a consciousness in myself to know what and when I project sentiments that are not mine to offer, and I am learning to notice when and why I fail to say the truths that aren’t being seen. I am learning to give others that same space in themselves. I am wanting youth to be included.

And I am wanting my teenage self to be in the presence of adults who believe and can give that to her.

I want her to hear the adult in me give my one-year old niece that same space, as I did on Thursday when I turned the car around three times as she revoked consent to leave the house.

I want her to hear me narrate that to my niece, both that I heard and that I respected.

I want her to keep visiting me as recollected anecdotes and questions and even tears.

I want to be somewhere new together, and I want to be somewhere new together right now.

It’s for us. It’s ours. It’s mine. It’s yours. It’s yours when and even before you’re ready, and regardless of whether I am.

It’s for us to tearfully receive the emotions that fills us with, the pain of it, the quandary of it, and the challenge to stop holding them back or sharing them just because they’re asked for.

It’s for us to dispassionately give space to consent back to each other.

That’s what I plan to model on Friday. It’s what’s in my heart. It’s what I believe. It’s what I will say if asked. Every time.

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Amanda Lindamood

Writer. Thinker. Facilitator. Advocate. Invested in accountability for power based violence, creative initiatives, and meaningful, nuanced dialoguing.