How the #MeToo Movement Helped Me Recognize My Emotional Abuse

Women’s March 2017 by Aura Lewis, auralewis.com
Women’s March 2017 by Aura Lewis, auralewis.com

The spirit of the Golden Globe Awards this year felt like a long, drawn-out exhalation of relief. On the heels of a year of anguishing news headlines that seemingly reflected a horrifying downward spiral of questionable political leadership, attacks on freedom of speech and acceptance of hate speech, I was in disbelief that I could be watching prime time TV and feel optimistic and spiritually nourished.

The brave women that came forth over the course of the second half of this year through the #metoo movement, and all of the women before them, finally were given a significant voice. And then there’s Oprah. Her speech brought me to tears because of the layers of momentous history making that she artfully and effortlessly articulated in her uniquely genuine way. I was reminded of the first time I opened my Facebook account and saw all of the #metoo postings. I realized this was an opportunity for women to talk about the abuse they had gone through. I thought to myself: Wow, what a shame that so many women have faced this on a day-to-day basis. I felt grateful for their strength and for having avoided such serious abuse in my own life.

 
“Similar to the #metoo situations, I had spent years in a relationship with someone who inflicted undue power and disregard for my person …”
 

That is until memories started flooding into my mind of harassment I had experienced as a high school student on the streets of New York City in my Catholic School uniform. Oh, and there was also that time I had a personal trainer who took it upon himself to show me a nude photo of himself during our last session. At the time, I thought about all the ways I might have sent him the wrong signals which might have made him think he should do that. And those guys on the street making sexual comments to me even though I’m clearly underaged—well, that’s just part of the street culture.
The #metoo movement gave me a space to think critically about these and many other experiences in which I internalized, brushed off, and sometimes blamed myself for situations that I should not have been put in to begin with.

Intellectually, I understood the dynamics of power and gender and the ways in which women through history have been treated as lesser-than and have had to bear the burdens of a society that does not hold men accountable for their actions. Emotionally and personally, I had not made those important connections to my own life. I felt a little ashamed that I had not expected to be treated with dignity in all of these situations, that I could live in a world where I did not have to acclimate to the discomfort of feeling vulnerable for no reason other than being a woman. It’s not a matter of education—I went to an esteemed women’s college, and have an MBA from an Ivy League institution. I have been exposed to and surrounded by strong, intelligent, accomplished women. This is a deeply ingrained societal ill.

As I watched the solidarity at the Golden Globes, I also felt weighed down by another difficult realization I had recently made. A relationship I had been in for many years had ended in a way that felt brutal. I had gingerly and kindly communicated my need to move on from it before traveling for the holidays and came back to a harsh reality that I was being kicked out of the home we shared after having been literally erased from the house—my possessions removed from view and the space already ready to accommodate someone else.

This was a culmination of years of having given inordinate amounts of emotional and spiritual energy to someone who I did not realize at the time had neither the will nor the capacity to give me the empathy or attention I deserved. Every time we got into an argument in which I tried to connect and be reasonable, I got harsh pushback and biting critique. I pined for any kind of support, often questioning if I was becoming too needy when I continually did not receive any. I wondered why I was so successful in other parts of my life—at work, with friends, with family, but I just could not get this relationship right. I ignored my gut and the voice in my head that would occasionally remind me that something was terribly wrong.

As I watched Oprah talk with grace and class about the people in her world who had supported her unconditionally to get to where she is today, I was absolutely reaffirmed in thinking that I deserved the same. Similar to the #metoo situations, I had spent years in a relationship with someone who inflicted undue power and disregard for my person, and I did not realize until the cruelty was so starkly thrown in my face that under no circumstance should I have to endure such abuse. Emotional abuse is insidious and I have just started to accept that this is in fact abuse that I faced. It’s not as overt as physical abuse, but it permeates the soul, leaving a survivor questioning everything.

I am starting on what will be a long journey of healing, and I am grateful for the ways in which the universe has pointed me to this difficult realization at a time when so many other women are coming forward with their own stories of sexual and emotional abuse. My hope is that we can continue to build on the #metoo movement to encourage women and men to understand what it means to honor the humanity in each other through respect, dignity, and love in our relationships.