This is the sixth in a series of twelve photos from my portfolio “Barriers”. In these symbolic photos, I explore the journey of claiming my story and sharing my healing process, as I use my photography as part story-teller.
Above all be the heroine in your life, not the victim. ~ Nora Ephron
I was in my mid-thirties, a wife and mother of three children under the age of nine, when I had what I refer to as a spirit breakdown. Most people, including medical professionals, call this a mental breakdown. But truly, it was not my mind that could no longer carry my burden. There was a disconnect from my spirit, from my center, from my wholeness.
For years I had successfully woven together a life that looked much like any other woman’s in my neighborhood. I was married. I worked part-time in the physical therapy department at a local nursing home. I led Girl Scout troops, worked in the concession stands at Little league games, organized a co-op playgroup for my two-year old and her friends. I was active in church and school functions.
And then one day in an early October, I received a jury duty summons in the mail. Two weeks later, I was in a courtroom, one of thirteen jurors chosen to hear an assault case. The case was a first degree sexual assault case; the victim was a woman my age, married with three children, active in her church and neighborhood.
The woman testified repeatedly how she was unable to recall many details of her assault, how instead she’d had an out-of-body experience. She had floated above her body as the two assailants raped her and had observed the attack in a haze. In her dissociative state, she felt no pain, no fear. Even when she returned to her body, after the assailants had run away, she questioned what had actually happened. It was several hours before she went to a hospital, was counseled by a law enforcement/rape crisis team, and the necessary examinations were completed and documented.
This testimony caused quite a stir during jury deliberations. People were skeptical, doubtful. Many of the jurors, including most of the men, did not believe her. They accused her of telling lies to cover her own part in what they thought was a possible illicit affair. However the women on the jury found her testimony very believable. One woman juror, a recently retired nurse, stated dissociation was a well documented medical phenomenon.
I took part in the jury deliberations, but some of the time, as I listened, I felt an overwhelming sense of fear and anger. I felt threatened. I requested a break as I was feeling ill, but convinced myself I’d contacted a flu bug in the close quarters of the courtroom.
After several days of deliberations, the jury found the men guilty.
“Only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth, and that is not speaking it.” ~ Naomi Wolf
During the following six weeks, I could not stop replaying the woman’s story. Visions of her rape and dissociative testimony haunted me. I began to feel less connected to my life. Time became distorted. I struggled with my regular activities and my children’s schedules. I began having flashbacks from my childhood.
I felt the need to get away from my family. I felt unworthy to be a part of their lives.
I wanted to hide. I imagined myself in a place far away where no one would know me or expect anything of me. I dreamed of hiding in a tall tower, alone with my shame. I wished for a life like the fairy tale character, Rapunzel. I could live alone. I’d have no contact with anyone and no one would have contact with me.
During this time, I had glimpses of my truths; I refused to believe them. I wanted my life to return to normal, yet I vaguely understood I could never be the woman I’d been only a few months before.
Unsure and frightened, I was in limbo.
– compiled from journal entries and letters, 1990-91