Sometimes I play the victim. Most of these times I don’t realize it…The clinic that I run at Pacific College of Oriental Medicine operates on three terms per year, and we have an associated general faculty meeting for each term. Because of the number of clinic shifts we have to accommodate, this is really the only time that I can get ALL of my supervisors and staff together in the same room to talk about policies, standards, and leadership expectations. For this particular term I was tasked with talking about the MeToo movement. New York has initiated the “Enough is Enough” and sexual assault is rampant in both the higher education setting and all of the United States, at large. Although I feel as though we are making progress and have come a long way, we are no where near the finish line. It is a difficult conversation, but it is a crucial one. It is one that needs to be had. Most of you know this hits VERY close to home for me. I’m not going to rehash what happened to my ex-wife when we were both in the Navy. I have written about that HERE and HERE. Nor am I going to tell you about my detailed thoughts about sexual assault or the despicable people that perpetuate the culture, as I have talked about that HERE. What I will tell you is that I still don’t like speaking on the topic of sexual violence. I saved it as the last item on the meeting agenda, and in hindsight that was a horrible thing to do, as I was distracted for most of the meeting. While Geoff, the department chair, was speaking, I was zoned out trying to prepare for what I needed to say and anticipating my strategy in the event I got too emotional. Writing about it is one thing…I can pause and breathe and center myself.
I can be safe as the victim, rather than be on display. Putting my heart out there in a room full of people is a whole other thing.It’s required, sometimes. That’s the way it is. No one said leading was easy. That’s why not everyone does it. I’m sure it was noticeable to those in attendance. Fidgeting, sweating, rocking back and forth: the body language was all there. One can only blame “too much coffee” for so much.
It’s all just so triggering to me, but I never stopped and ask why. Why did I feel like the victim, here?Afterwards I was a wreck. For the remainder of the day I was mopey and spaced out and depressed. Oftentimes I drift back to the “what ifs”, as they still linger and haunt me like decrepit old ghosts. “What if I was there?” “What if I could have stopped it?” “What if I fought harder?” One can drive themselves insane fixating on the “what ifs”…
I was texting a bunch of people, both clients and friends, and two of them said something that fell along the lines of:
“Why don’t you figure things out and talk to me again after you are done being the victim?.”In the context of the events of the day, this may be perceived as awful and insensitive, but these people knew me well enough to know if was the truth. My girlfriend knows this well enough that she doesn’t even react to it. She sat there and completed an online course, not acknowledging or reinforcing my behavior. Why IS it triggering? Within the context of ME. This is not insensitive. These reactions and statements are tough love call outs (or silences) coming from people who know what I need to hear (or not hear). Let me explain WHY. During the course of the talk, I said: “I didn’t happen to me, but it kinda did, and it wasn’t about me, but it kinda was.” For many people, this is a reasonable statement, but when view against the backdrop of everything that I preach and teach, the statement is absurd and there is a massive incongruity with my values and ethics. The reality is that it didn’t happen to me. AT ALL. And it wasn’t about me. AT ALL. I CHOSE the make it about ME. I made a CHOICE. There was a situation. There was something that happened. It just WAS…and I made a conscious decision to label it and classify it and wrap it around me like a sweater. I let that CHOICE dictate my behavior for a long time and, arguable still do. The point remains: I WAS playing the victim in this situation. And I DO consistently play the victim when this topic arises. By no means am I attempting to downplay the trauma, or any trauma anyone has felt when dealing with a similar issue. What I am saying is that I really wasn’t the true victim in this case. My ex was. And how insulting is it to her, and others who have experienced something similar, that I acted like I was??
Truly, I don’t know why I act this way. The genesis of this behavior is something I haven’t pinpointed. Yet.The key is that it has been brought to my attention. The AWARENESS of it, however, it gold. A nice, shiny hunk of gold that I can use to guide myself to change and perhaps even a bit of redemption. When the rubber meets the road, I’m not sure what lesson is to be learned here other than the importance of self-reflection and self-awareness, as well as the importance of having real, genuine people to surround yourself with in the even you are trying to bullshit yourself. What I do know is that life is a process and part of my process was dwelling on feelings of being the victim for entirely too long. I’m not naive enough to think that this realization will cause me to “fix” myself overnight, and I’m sure this will make great fodder for plenty of therapy sessions, but it is a step in the right direction. And moving forward from this, and really any traumatic situation, is all we can hope for.