How Being An Actress Made Me Forget What Abuse Was Until ‘Me Too’ Happened

Unsplash / Jonatan Becerra

To post or not to post? That is the question.

Every day, every new moment, every fun photo, every political happening, every happy day, every sad day. I go on Facebook and I love seeing friends and family posting about their lives, their fun moments, their activism, their successes, and their failures. I like, love, haha, wow, sad and angry at them. But do I post something about what’s going on in my life? No, no one is interested in that. Do I take a selfie on a day that I’m digging the way I look or while I’m out with friends> No, I don’t do that. Every now and then I gain the courage. Every now and then a moment happens that I am determined to keep a part of my life and I get a Facebook-worthy photo. And what’s funny about those is that they don’t even have to be good photos. It’s the moment, the memory that is important to me. But I digress…

Sunday morning. I go on Facebook as part of the regular ritual morning routine. I see “me too” posts from a couple of people and I have no idea what they’re about, but I’m sure Facebook will reveal their purpose soon. I go about my day, have a long overdue catch up with a friend and no, I don’t post about how wonderful it was. I get back on FB later that night and now the posts have started to flood in. And there are stories revealing the purpose. Personal, angering, heartbreaking truths from women whom I love and respect. Some of the stories I know, some I learn about for the first time. But me too? No, I don’t do that.

To be perfectly honest, I was out of the loop. I had heard off-hand comment about a woman accusing Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment and caught a couple of the headlines as more women came forward. But it wasn’t important to me. What the president was doing nationally and internationally was important to me. The current state of Puerto Rico, the wildfires in California. But a woman being sexually harassed in Hollywood by a prominent male figure? Yeah, I’ve heard that story before and I know how it goes.

You see, I have become desensitized because how many times has this has happened, only to fade away to nothing. But then I see me too, me too, me too, me too, me too… And you know what really got me? The posts that made me want to find out what was going on? The ones that came from the men sharing their new awareness. Not only of how ALL women are subjected to this on a day-to-day basis, but also of their personal responsibility for perpetuating its normalcy. Now this is something I have not seen or heard before.

So I open up this weeks’ Time Magazine and begin reading the four pages of articles about what happened, why it happened, the timeline and what we need to do about it now. All it took was the first paragraph and I identified a truth about myself: I have not become desensitized because of hearing this story over and over again. I was taught. I was told. I was encouraged to accept it as a way of life.

Okay, I’ll post.

Who told me to feel this way? Well, society, yes. But I’ve always been rather keen on challenging what society tells me I should I do. But it wasn’t society that told me it was okay to be objectified, touched in ways that made me uncomfortable and denied when I said no.

It’s actually heartbreaking. It’s one of those disillusioning moments that comes with getting older.

It was my acting teachers. Any actor knows the power and influence an acting teacher can have; they become more than teachers, they become mentors, friends. These were significant and meaningful people in my life. Why would they tell me to do something that was wrong? They’re my teachers and they have my best interests at heart. Right?

(I want this to be known: I’ve also had many other teachers who advocated for self-empowerment and a woman’s choice that saved this from being a much different story. These women and men made sure I knew how to keep myself safe and taught me methods for getting out of uncomfortable situations.)

From a very early and impressionable age, I have been told that it was okay. That it would be a part of my life as an actress. And some even implied that I had a responsibility to be available to it. I didn’t just hear it as a child, but also as an adult. Constant reinforcements throughout my life from different women and men whom I respected and took deep pride in learning from. I’m a good student. I always try to take the lessons being imparted to me and incorporate them into my life, my being, and my point of view.

Now, my reactions to these particular lessons have changed over time. First, believing it to be 100% true and necessary. Then knowing that it’s true, but also knowing I have the choice not to seek out such situations (thank you, self-empowering teachers). And finally, believing it’s a personal choice — if a woman is okay with using her body to advance her career, then that’s her right. It’s her body, her career. I’m not going to do it. But I don’t condemn the women that do.

You see, I never once considered the man’s role. Their responsibility, their choice. Boys will be boys, right? In my travels I have found that the intensity with which men will commit these acts varies from culture to culture. Which means it’s human nature. It’s not society, it’s primal instinct. And I, the woman, share in the responsibility if something happens that I don’t want.

Wrong.

The big problem with being taught to have the perspective I had on sexual harassment, especially during the time in my life when I was learning about myself sexually, is how it carried over to all parts of my life. I didn’t only have to accept sexual harassment as a part of my career. I had to accept it as part of being a woman. Whether it came from men I cared about, friends, colleagues, or strangers. It’s going to happen. Accept it, allow it to a point, and don’t say anything.

I got by thinking this way about 95% of the time. When it was a quick touch, stroke, grab, squeeze, as long as they didn’t make another attempt, I was fine with it. Other times, I learned to use my genetic passive aggressiveness to end particularly uncomfortable and persistent moments. After, I always felt slightly disempowered as a woman for not being direct and calling out the man’s behavior for all to hear. But it was more important to stop the behavior from continuing to a truly inescapable the point. Because at some point I would just have to let it happen, right? (Also, it’s important to note that a few times when this happened among actors, the man would go seek another actress who was more open to it. And why was she open to it? Because she too was taught to be.)

And then there were the times that I felt powerless to stop it. And didn’t. And didn’t get angry about it afterwards and didn’t talk about it either. No, I rationalized those times. As a person, I have severe guilt issues and will take on the guilt for just about everything. Even having to sneeze. (I’m working on it.)

The two times that I could not deny that the sexual harassment — or as I later learned, abuse — had gone too far, I had to find a way to take responsibility for it happening in order for me to move on and “not let it affect me.” It was not the man’s fault, it was mine. I let it happen. I was the guilty one. I am not going to detail these stories or the men. It’s how it has affected me, physically, psychologically, and socially that is important now.

It starts with medical issues that could not be identified or cured by doctors. Medical issues that made me feel inhuman, worthless and a waste of time to love. And when the doctors couldn’t figure them out, I became even more sure of these things. One doctor finally said that she thought it was psychological. Well, this just pissed me off. Why the fuck would I choose to live this way?

Fast forward to a few years after I had started therapy and my therapist, whose insight I greatly valued, said the same thing. She asked me if I had ever been raped. No. She asked if men had ever made me uncomfortable. Yes. She asked me if any of those men had ever made me do physical acts I didn’t want to do. Yes. She asked me to tell her about it. I told her and I included the reasons why it was my fault and how I’d learned from my mistakes and why it wouldn’t happen again. She asked if I said no. Yes. Sarah, she said, that was not your fault, you were sexually abused.

To this day, I struggle with this. I vividly remember the moments when I was overpowered. I also remember the moments that I “should have been smart enough, strong enough” to get away. I don’t necessarily carry the guilt of it happening with me anymore, but I do feel guilty for not speaking up when it happened. I feel guilty for making myself feel guilty and causing myself the pain that I did. (I’m working on it.)

The medical issues have, very thankfully, subsided dramatically, leaving me to work out the psychological damage. Socially, I’m still a mess.

I’m known for shrinking my body and my energy. Sometimes I feel very body confident and want to show it off. But one look, one touch from anyone and I’m ready to put on a sweater, sit and cross my legs and arms, and stay close to my closest friends in the room. It happens subconsciously. When I feel shitty about my behavior later and am trying to figure out why it happened, I’ll remember the moment and have myself another little guilt trip for how I’ve damaged myself. (I’m working on it.)

I am prone to panic attacks if someone I am attracted to starts to get close to me. I’m damaged, I’m not good enough, they have no idea how fucked up I am and if they did they wouldn’t try to get closer. Start the hyperventilating. Start the sweat. Start the ringing in my ears. I cannot tell you how many men I have literally ran away from. Good, decent and kind men — from what I knew of them, at least. And then I have myself a little guilt trip for how I denied and possibly hurt the good decent and kind man who just wanted to get to know me a little. (I’m working on it.)

So, me too? Yes, me too. And I’ll post about it. Fuck that. I’m going to write an article about it. Why? Because I know that I am not the only one. I see it, I hear it, I experience it. Every day, every place I go. I have had friends tell me their stories and it is eerie how close their feelings echo my own. And I hate the feelings I have. And I hate knowing that others are feeling this way. And I fucking hate to think of today’s young girls having to continue this cycle.

So, yes, I’ll post about it.

I’ll post about it for the teachers who told me it was okay: I believe you were just trying to do your job and impart the fucked up lessons that your teachers taught you. I believe that your goal was to help me achieve my dreams of being a successful actress. Despite your good intentions, you have hurt me and my fellow actresses in ways you cannot imagine. And for that, you will not be forgiven.

I’ll post about it for the teachers that told me it was not okay: Thank you for putting me on the path that I am on today. Thank you for speaking louder than the other voices. Thank you for imparting knowledge to me and my fellow actresses that has kept us alert and safe in dangerous situations.

I’ll post about it for the women: I’m sorry for not being able to stand with you right away. Thank you for having the courage to share your stories. Thank you for allowing me to believe that I can be beautiful and not have to feel ashamed of it. Thank you for the healing power that our unity can bring about.

I’ll post about it for the men having their awareness expanded: Thank you for allowing this information to wash over you. Thank you for honestly confronting your own transgressions. Thank you for challenging yourself to rise to a new norm. Thank you for letting this very imaginative woman see something she never imagined possible — a conscious desire to become more than a boy being a boy.

I’ll post about it for my fellow actresses and actors (yes, male actors too, I know you received the same lessons we women did): Women are coming out against Harvey Weinstein because they want to change the dialogue and change the too-long accepted way of this business. Let us be inspired by them now. Let go of the old lessons that don’t serve us anymore and take the new ones from the people opening the doors for us. We are a special community of people and we have so much powerful energy, and it’s time we use it to make a world we are proud to live in.

I’ll post about it for myself: So that I can continue healing. So that I can start following the lessons that I teach to my own students. So that I can then change the world for them. So that my voice is heard. So that I can find pride in the ways I have picked myself up from my darkest moments. So that I don’t have another little guilt trip over not posting my story. So that I can hopefully reach other women that are suffering from that same guilt and let them know that it too was not their fault.

I’ll post because #metoo has given me and all women the opportunity to do so. I’ll post because I have been inspired by the women and men rising to action. I’ll post because it’s 2017 and that’s the way to be. TC mark

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