The Debris of #MeToo

women at table me too

We are called to go toe-to-toe with evil in our own stories and the stories of others, speaking truth to the systems and dynamics that seek to abuse and oppress. It is beautiful and rich work, and—as you likely know well—it comes at great cost. Here, Laurie Proctor, a facilitator with The Allender Center and past guest on our podcast, writes about how #MeToo has stirred up her own memories of sexual abuse, reminding her that even as she empowers others, the work of telling her story is not over yet.

As the #MeToo movement took our world by storm a few months ago and woman after woman bravely came forward with their stories of sexual harm, I was incensed. The advocate in me rose up and was ready to jump in and fight the injustice of workplace sexual abuse that had clearly been running rampant in our country.

Instead of rising, I was leveled as stories of my own trauma began flooding my body like an angry hurricane. I tried fighting the deluge of memories with all my strength, but it was like trying to placate a burning wildfire by spitting on it.

My body was demanding to be heard.

I was 28 years old and hired at a technology firm as an outside sales person. I had changed careers and desperately wanted to prove myself in this new position. I worked hard and soon landed my first big client, beating out tough competition to land a multimillion-dollar deal. The win, thrilling as it was, surprised even me. My boss wanted me to ask the client what I had done to clinch the deal so that I would know how to continue the winning streak. I called the new client and eagerly asked him. His response:

“You were sexier than your competition.”

His words caught me off guard, and the flush of shame traveled up my body and settled hotly on my face. How do I tell my boss this is why I won the deal? I felt dirty, cheap, and deeply minimized. Instead of saying anything to the client, I just laughed.

I wish I could tell you that this type of incident was a one-time occurrence in my career, but it wasn’t. Situations like this happened with regularity.

Years later, I was hired as the vice president of sales at a small consulting firm. I had earned this job and it felt fantastic until my boss started sending me unwanted, pornographic emails. They made me sick to my stomach, but who could I tell? He was the president; there was no one above him and besides, I loved this job. So, once again, I ignored the screaming of my body with a laugh. I had 15 years of practice dealing with harassment like this, and I had perfected my laugh.

I had 15 years of practice dealing with harassment like this, and I had perfected my laugh.

Soon after, the massages started. He would come into my office and say I looked tense. He would rub my shoulders as we talked business. My skin crawled and I wanted to scream but I remained silent and endured. The abuse escalated, and I eventually came to believe that I was, in fact, a willing participant.

This is how insidious sexual abuse can happen and why I believe so many women haven’t spoken up until now. It’s why I didn’t. The lie that my body deeply held was that it was indeed my fault.

After all, I had laughed, I didn’t say no, I complied. And my body carried the weight of it and paid the price for years. The shame of sexual abuse caused me to turn on it like an enemy of state. I ignored its pleas and filled it with drugs and alcohol, starved it, stuffed it, purged it, ran from it. I did everything I could to quiet the demon of shame that it held.

I thank God for my time training at The Allender Center. The work I did there healed me in so many ways by allowing me to tell my stories and learning how to listen and hold the stories of others. I am forever grateful. I am also thankful that this movement has helped hundreds of thousands of these stories come into the light. We witnessed it with our own eyes as social media gave rise to the previously silenced voices and helped us link arms in solidarity with two simple words: Me Too.

But now what?

Not only do we need to continue to listen deeply to the stories, we need to take it one step further. We must begin to look at the debris that’s been left in the wake of abuse. As I begin to clear away another layer of debris from my own story, I feel hope rising! My hope is for my 15-year-old daughter and the next generation of young women who are bearing witness to cages being thrown open and captives being set free. I am standing against the silence and the laugh and am teaching her to scream “Hell, NO” to any type of harassment or abuse. I am empowering her to find her strong and confident voice. Most importantly, I am passing her a baton of hope and the belief that we can and will change this issue in her lifetime.

As our world unfortunately moves on to other stories and the #MeToo revolution fades into the background, how do we keep it alive? How do we empower women (and men) whose voices are stolen from sexual abuse to break free of the binding shame that follows? How do we make the necessary changes to fix this pervasive problem? How do we continue to name and release the debris that takes hold of our abused bodies?

I don’t have the answers, but I know I must continue to ask the questions. And together, we must continue to listen to and engage the stories and the debris that remains.

I know that it was time to tell a piece of my story. My body deserved it.