“What a time to be alive” is the phrase my friends and I have adopted as a coping mechanism. We say it to each other every time the shit hits the fan in this country.
We shake our heads in shock and in sadness, and when we’ve all fallen quiet in our stunned silence, someone breaks with an almost involuntary chuckle, as if our bodies were so overwhelmed and thinking so surreal, it’s become hilarious, and they sigh: “What. A Time. To Be. Alive.”
I don’t even really know where to begin describing what this year has been like for me and so many others. I don’t want to simply list off all the horrible things that have happened—we know what those are. But I would like to talk about how it made me, and those close to me, feel.
I want to talk about what we are all learning, how we are choosing to change. I want to talk about the positive growth and hard looks in the mirror we all need to step up to.
If we are honest with ourselves, we notice in moments of complete sureness how the world works, how nature sends a hurricane. Some of us learn from these experiences—self-correct, grow, and move on. Some stay in denial, unable to process painful information without the proper emotional intelligence and tools to decipher all of these unchained melodies swimming around in our bodies.
It’s no one’s and everyone’s fault. It’s extremely hard being a person no matter who or where you are.
November 8 of last year was a strange one. It felt like I was in an avalanche, literally and figuratively.
I was in Montreal, Canada, just starting production on a film called A Worthy Companion, about the cycles of abuse. It is a really intense film, so my headspace was already pretty fragile. I was trying not to think about the election. I think from the second he was nominated I was in such a state of shock and utter fear of the implications, that the thought of his election ever coming true was too horrible to even truly comprehend. And looking back even my worst fears weren’t as bad as the year we just experienced.
Not to mention this election was on the heels of 2016. Remember 2016?? The year everyone you ever loved fucking died. Like almost every other day! It was insane. Another year that didn’t feel real.
Ever since then, it seems like the world as I know it has been sucked into a raging current.
Every time I come up for air and take a huge breath, I am knocked back into the awful turbulence by another wave.
I guarantee a large part of the population is depressed and suffering, just from living in America at this moment in history. (By the way, these feelings are completely justified.)
In the days leading up to the election, people kept telling me, “There is no way he can win.”
But I am a woman, I know firsthand how we feel about women on this planet. I knew we would be more ready to elect our first African-American president than we would be letting a woman lead the “free world.” I knew some people didn’t understand just how much misogyny runs through the veins of this country, keeping its heart beating erratically, so much even some of my most evolved male friends, those who consider themselves to be “one of the good ones,” don’t recognize when it’s in front of their faces or caused by their own oblivious behavior.
Deep down, I had a horrible feeling we would receive the wake-up call of the century.
But on November 8, a small ember of hope was burning inside of me. We may actually have the first female president. Was she perfect? No, but she was overly qualified and deserved to win.
I didn’t realize how much that meant to me until I started allowing myself to be hopeful. I thought about what I would do if she won. I would fall to my knees and weep a cry of relief, justice, and a step for true equality.
Some people who were working on the production, all of Canadian descent, came over to watch the results unfold in real time with me. They brought over a big bottle of Champagne (for when Hillary Clinton won); they seemed so sure that there was no way the results could be anything different.
To add insult to injury, I was waiting to hear about a photo shoot I did for Rolling Stone magazine. The magazine was debating whether or not to make it a cover story. I supported the idea, especially after I heard that at that moment it had been over a year since Rolling Stone had put a woman on their cover. I got the call, and they had decided to give the cover to the Rolling Stones. I love the Stones, don’t get me wrong, but the magazine is named after them, and they or someone in the band had already graced the cover at least 24 times.
In the social-political climate we were in, it was a devastating blow that not only was Rolling Stone extending their streak of a female-devoid publication, but they were rejecting a cover featuring a female whose role represented overcoming oppression and abuse.
This set the tone for what was about to be a disaster with seemingly no limits to its destruction.
As the numbers rolled in, the party got quieter and quieter, until we couldn’t move or speak.
I fell into a deep trance, like Jack Nicholson in The Shining. I couldn’t stop staring at the screen, waiting for it all to be a horrible dream, waiting for a miracle to turn it around.
It never came.
My friends slowly began to creep out the door, leaving me with my country’s horrible fate. They were silently thanking god they don’t reside in my home, giving me a look of pity as they closed the door. Like most people that night, I drank myself to sleep. It felt like the only way to not run through the snowy streets of Montreal shrieking.
The next day, I woke up out of my self-induced coma, numb and quiet.
I was out of the country and away from the people I loved and cared about.
I immediately got on the phone with one of my best friends, and we wept together.
That morning I paced around my small apartment in Canada, wondering if I didn’t have a small child waiting for me across the border, whether I would ever go back. I lay down in bed deciding what to do next.
After a while, I told myself, Get up. Now more than ever. Get. Up.
I walked over to the phone and called Rolling Stone. You see, in the interview I had done with them, I dodged questions about sexual assault and rape.
Now, I was done pretending. We were in this mess because of silence and apathy. I got up and admitted to them, “Yes. I have been raped.”
This was also the day I vowed to only wear suits to every upcoming award show I would be attending. I would not conform to a society that didn’t stand up for me or value me as a human being, so I would not be putting on a dress just to be liked.
After hearing the president openly talk about sexually assaulting women, it was one of the few days my strength and persistence buckled under me and I cried all morning.
I was going to have to face my rapist every day in the form of The President of the United States. I would also have to explain this mess to my son, who occasionally will walk into the room after I have read news about things like the trans military ban, or the anti-Muslim travel ban, to finds his queer mother silently weeping.
I tell him it’s up to us to change the world and that he is the future. I don’t want to lie to him or hide my tears. I also don’t want to scare him, but I do want to prepare him for the world he will be inheriting.
People who have experienced gaslighting and abuse recognize the signs.
It is so obvious to someone familiar with these tactics, it triggers your whole body, like a cat predicting an earthquake. We know what this is. Watching half of the country walk into this abuser’s trap was like watching your baby sister start dating a man twice her age, a man you knew would take all that was pure and innocent inside of her and destroy it. She would never see it coming.
I started making plans to March on Washington in the Women’s March. I ended up at the front, alongside Katy Perry, Halsey, and Cecile Richards [the head of Planned Parenthood].
I marched for equality, as a protest against this administration and its ideals, and as a rape survivor. Later, I would tune into a conservative radio show to hear what “the other side” was saying in response. One woman called in confused, wondering why so many women were protesting just so they could get “free birth control.” All of our efforts, pain, and the largest protest in American History was reduced to misinformation and the false idea that the marching women were just being whiny sluts.
These thought patterns in my head are remnants of a dark past. The shrapnel of a war, a wreckage like the Titanic at the bottom of the sea; an empty, hollow, and decaying shell of a vessel that resembles the form of something it once was. Something that was said to be so powerful, it could never be destroyed, the mental scarring of gaslighting.
Gaslighting is when someone hijacks your mind. They break your will and self-esteem through careful manipulations. They cause intense hysteria and paranoia to cut you off from the outside world, so that you are easier to control. They make you question your own sanity if you dare to second guess motives or step out of line.
By the end of my experience, I felt like every move of mine was being controlled by someone else, and I was being horribly abused emotionally and physically. To be honest, the physical abuse was easier. To cope, I developed a hell of a case of cognitive dissonance and disassociation.
Half of me believed the things that were being used against me. But when I look back, it was really only the things that shattered my self-esteem, not the actual ideals this person had about life. I believed them when they told me, “No one would ever love me like them, no one would ever understand me like they could."
I was told we were the same—incurable and misunderstood by the world. It made me angry at everything, but it also confirmed the horrible feelings I had toward myself from years of a different kind of conditioning to never feel like what I did was good enough to deserve respect or the knowledge that love as I knew it was not unconditional.
My job, for instance, from age 5, was asking: “What do you want me to do? Who do you want me to be?”
I had mastered the art of pleasing others before I ever had the awareness to ask myself who I was.
This is also the trap so many of us fall into from the time we’re very young, whether we are a child star or not.
I fell into an abuser’s arms after years of microaggressions and crushing little pieces of my soul every day to please others. Years of never being able to express my emotions in a safe environment, for fear of upsetting everyone else or being judged. Years of looking at the world, and seeing what role it carved out for me, a woman. Years of feeling shame about a sexuality I had buried deep into my psyche. Years of feeling shame about all of the things that made me feel “strange,” when held to the unrealistic standards we hold everyone but ourselves to.
This person knew my weaknesses, and he fed them one by one until I was broken and at his mercy.
He didn’t invent the weaknesses, he was wicked enough to spot them and know exactly how to disguise his control with love. He knew the first few times he was right would be enough to seal the deal. If he confirmed one bad suspicion I had about myself or others, he could ensure my allegiance by promising to love me in spite of my shortcomings and even offering to help.
Oh, how lucky I was to have such a wise person by my side, someone to free me, to break the chains of society’s backward thinking, by wooing me with the promise of another world, our world. I was the victim, pure and simple, too perfect for the outside to appreciate and he my only hero. This was exactly what he wanted.
Anything that went wrong after that was blamed on the outside, it was other people that drove him to this. He wasn’t abusive, he was “complicated,” and it’s all (insert name here)’s fault. He understands me, he really cares about me, he might hit me, but, at least, he’s honest. I am strong for staying. The world turns their back, but not me. I can take it.
This logic, of course, is a symptom of cognitive dissonance.
I tell you this because I never thought I would ever be a woman that stayed with a man who hit her, threatened her life, constantly put down her efforts, appearance, and scared her so badly that she still struggles with PTSD over a decade later.
Why did I stay?
First of all, I went through a period of grooming. There was a time I felt safe and never thought this person would ever hurt me. These were the memories I held onto, hoping that one day, things would turn around, and we could go back to how it was.
Later, I didn’t leave because I was terrified for my life and my reputation. Not only was I being monitored and had surveillance on me at all times, including my phone and emails being hacked, but this particular man was very calculated in getting people to go along with atrocities.
I was too afraid to speak up or to not laugh at what he found so amusing. I would be singled out, they would know I was not one of them.
If I showed concern for what he did, if I spoke the truth of how hurt and scared I was, I feared it would only cause more abuse. I would have been accused of humiliating him, not getting the joke, being uptight, or flat-out plotting against him.
This man is powerful, and he has a network of enablers around him. The few times I did reach out to people close to him for help, they were on payroll and had signed non-disclosure agreements, so they would have to shake their head sympathetically, but ultimately close the door on my face, while I stood there shaking and covered in blood.
People outside of the circle would only judge me, yell at me, or beg, “What is wrong with you?”
So I stayed. I stayed far longer than I should have and when I really ask myself why, underneath the sheer terror I felt, it's because I thought it was the best I could do. Truly.
That’s how little I actually thought of myself. That’s how scared and confused I was by the world. That’s how lost I truly was. Every time someone called me a whore or closed a door in my face, I knew I was alone and that the world was not set up for victims to call out their abusers. I would have to play dead until they didn’t want me anymore and I could find a way out.
I tell you this because this is what half of America is going through right now. Half of America is traumatized and in an abusive relationship with this administration and people (especially women) are so triggered because it’s deja vu.
The president emits all the same qualities my abuser did. I feel like I am watching a train wreck and, once again, I am powerless to stop it.
I believe this is what so many of us think. We have been made to believe we are terminally unique and separate from each other. We believe that because someone has a completely different belief system than us, then we have absolutely nothing in common. There is no reasoning with them! But really all that means is, you can’t convince them to think like you.
That’s a trap.
I know we hear this a lot and it starts to become a soundbite version of the "Just hang in there" cat poster, but we are so so much more alike than we care to admit.
Cognitive dissonance is how a pro-lifer kills an abortion doctor. It’s how a person who hits you one second can claim to love you the next. It’s why battered women can’t leave. It’s why we ignore God killing David’s son to prove a point, because certain ideas fit our narrative and when those ideas are challenged instead of facing the problem, admitting we are wrong, or seeing the hypocrisy, we get defensive, we get angry, we stop listening, because we are afraid—afraid to be alone, with no meaning, no purpose, no comfort. If we are afraid to face each other, we are afraid to face ourselves.
Without the awareness that however strongly you harbor the opinion you are right about something, someone else feels just as strongly that you are wrong, and it isn’t necessarily because they are stupid or a bad person, it’s because their narrative is completely different than yours and that isn’t their fault. We won’t understand these ideas until we learn the other narrative, so we can deconstruct it instead of generalizing it, getting our pitchforks or tiki torches. What if we really started to listen to one another by asking the right questions instead of yelling the right answers?
We must stop punishing people for being wrong. I know this is hard. When I was being abused, I was not myself. I was angry, I was reckless, I had given up on my well-being and the world, so nothing mattered to me anymore, except my new dysfunctional family I had adopted, the all-American rejects.
I never harmed anyone, but I was brainwashed into turning a blind eye to the horrors being done around and to me. I learned to be compliant for survival.
Violence, abuse, and oppression run rampant in the past of angry violent people.
Remember this when you are calling a Trump supporter a fucking idiot and punishing them for being lost.
That’s what they are. They are lost. When a child does something bad or wrong, do you make them feel like a fucking idiot for it? Or do you try to guide them in the right direction? Do you get them help? Are you patient? Do you listen?
Somewhere along the way, we were made to believe that if you make someone feel guilty and stupid enough, they will change their ways.
It’s a tactic used on children very often.
We turn our backs and fume and sulk, shunning the perpetrator, punishing them.
We have all been raised on a system of punishment and reward, so, of course, it would seem to be what’s right, to scold and shame. Make people see the hurt they are causing by scaring them straight, making them feel unloved, stupid, and invisible.
We all are guilty of these tactics. So often our feelings do not match our behavior.
We don’t know how to engage, so we stop engaging.
When people tried to make me feel dumb for being lost and angry, it only made me push back even harder, and it reinforced the lies my abuser told me. It was the people who didn’t judge my awful behavior, but saw the hurt, scared girl, under it, that really made a difference in my life.
I am not saying to excuse horrible behavior or violence, but I am asking you to understand it.
Understand that these people who have different ideas than you may not be violent now, but if you keep calling them stupid, or making fun of their bad hair, small hands, or funny accents, then you are just as bad as they are. You have become the bully you hate and you have also fueled the fire of violence.
You have to practice what you preach. Being smug, holier than thou, or a dick because you rest on a bed of facts, does not make you part of the solution. You are making it easier for these people to forsake reason.
Try compassion. Try keeping the focus on the "real" issues and not fight back with the same closed-mindedness and venom.
The reason I keep making connections between my experiences with abuse and people you don’t understand is because after the years of work I have had to do on myself to see my situation objectively, being horrified at my own reflection, and working to change it, I can’t help but draw comparisons to the world and its behavior today.
When I zoom out, I see that everyone is traumatized. The problems that divide us are simply reactions, and coping mechanisms, for the emotional torment everyone who walks the earth feels in one way or another. What we have to remember is they are symptoms of the same problem, they are only realized in different forms.
One person’s heroin addiction may be another person’s white supremacy, one person’s gestures of grandiose and narcissism may be another person’s domestic violence. One person’s school shooting is another person’s masterpiece of art. One working woman’s fight for equality in the workplace is a stay-at-home mother’s fight to raise good children and shape the future in a healthy way for all of us.
If we could take a step down off of our moral high horses for a moment and listen to each other, we can look deeply into someone and their situation to find out where these ideas and beliefs come from and why. When you ask the right questions, you realize the "why" is sometimes more important than the "do."
The ‘"why"s are what connect us, so ask questions of your "enemy."
Statistically, the most known reason as to why couples get divorced is poor communication.
Two people that entered an agreement promising to work together to nurture this thing called a marriage, give up more often than not because we simply do not know how to express ourselves in a way that will be received. We cannot escape our own egos long enough to find a common ground.
Even if a couple decides not to stay together, you may be able to eliminate so much resentment by asking your wife why she cheated on you rather than kicking her to the curb for having pretended to love you. We could ask what she was feeling, what she thought she could get out of it, if she was happy, if she was in love, and go from there.
We can’t be mad at the way someone feels because we can’t control all of our feelings, but we can repair if we listen. If we try not to find where that piece of skin is exposed under the armor, not to find a vulnerable place to attack and discredit an experience because accepting it would feel too much like taking away our right to be angry.
We don’t want to be walked all over, but there is a way to be angry and understanding, to honor your feelings while accepting others. You can still be angry and hurt, but understand why someone hurt you.
We can walk away feeling the pain, the emotional betrayal of our own minds when we accept that the picture of how we thought things were supposed to be is not the reality and we must let go of the picture, let go of the false prophet, let go of our savior.
We must free fall and hold onto ourselves while surrendering to the unknown.
We must admit where we are a part of the problem before we rip each other apart.
We have to learn to learn from each other.
If you think that this year has made me angrier, know that actually, the opposite is true. I have let go of so much anger toward other people and their beliefs, but it actually started with admitting to myself that I was a part of the problem. It started with me asking myself the same questions I was trying to corner people with.
You see, I fell into the trap so many of us do. I got lazy because I had facts on my side. I never followed up with research, I never thought of new ideas, I resigned almost immediately to a voice that told me, I wasn’t smart enough to fix these gigantic problems which were so out of my realm of understanding. The facts were so obvious to me, there was no way I could ever say anything that people hadn’t already thought of or heard, nothing I had to say would ever make a dent in society, surely, I could never hold my own.
This is where we all do ourselves and each other a disservice.
After a year of torment and digging into the center of myself, to find some silver lining to all of this madness, division, and unfair fighting, I managed to uncover a pearl in the darkness.
One beacon of hope I found, was that whether or not you agree with someone’s opinions, the fact that they are angry, triggered, and ready to fight, means they care. I know it seems crazy to think that someone who doesn’t want queer parents to adopt, or who wants all abortion to be legal, cares.
In the eyes of some, when a person inflicts suffering because of their seemingly unreasonable beliefs, it must mean they hate the presumed victim.
We assume this because we cannot step outside of ourselves. It’s hard when you feel so fucking right, and sometimes even when you very much are, to step down and have the conversation without getting so upset, without wanting to take out all of your frustrations about the world at large onto this other human who disagrees with you.
But it isn’t just your frustrations about the world or this human which makes you incapable of communicating, it is also your frustrations about yourself, your powerlessness, and your inability to feel heard? We want so badly to be heard, but we don’t make the effort to figure out how, and more often than not we are silenced.
We are so angry about being invisible, we shout so loudly, and we don’t wait for a reply. We just want to say the "truth" and walk away, leaving the other with their decision, leaving the other with no context, no feelings, no compromises, no confessions.
We need a big shift of consciousness, and from what I can see right now, we are in the middle of a much-needed growing pain.
People are starting to face the truth, and admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery.
Right now, I do not want to be writing this article. I want this all to go away. I want to live in peace and without fear. The intense worry I have for my child and his future accompanied by the sudden Sarah Conner urges I am having about raising him are very real and again almost comical. Sometimes I believe the only thing getting me through this, is my ability to laugh at the absurdity of our situation. That doesn’t mean I don’t take it seriously. In fact, if this year has given me any gift, it was a good hard kick in the ass.
I genuinely thought that by just having good opinions I was making a difference. I was spreading the word, and that was enough. I was naive, and I was also lying to myself.
However, I was completely unaware of this fact at the time.
And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why our own minds are sometimes our worst enemies.
I get involved now, I don’t wait for other people to do it for me. I join groups, I speak out, I speak to lawmakers, I open my doors to people, and I admit when I am wrong so I can learn. I have changed so much in this past year. The gloves are off.
When that little voice in my head says,“It would take a miracle to change things, what’s the point?” Another little voice speaks, a new voice, my true voice, and it says, “Why not me?”
I continue to fight and feel. To stay strong but to allow myself moments of grief.
I have no other choice, for apathy will be the true death of us all.