By D. M. Ditson
I don’t have any secrets left. Since the spring I’ve travelled three provinces talking about a series of sexual assaults I endured, the men who chose to hurt me and the post-traumatic stress disorder I developed as a result.
I’ve shared about losing myself in the throes of that illness and kicking my partner so hard that I chipped his tooth. I’ve shared about my recovery, in messy, blubbery detail, and the rage that grew inside me until I smashed holes in my storage room wall.
I’ve shared the story of my life, which once made me cringe with shame, and invited people to ask me anything at all.
This isn’t masochism. It’s not poking at a bruise. My shame is gone, and my story is one of radical self acceptance. It’s the story of how I stitched my broken soul back together and found that there was nothing in me too dark to love.
I’ll be at the Revelstoke public library at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, September 24 to hold a Book Launch and Recovery Conversation. You and any questions you may have are more than welcome to attend the free event.
The following excerpt is from my memoir, Wide Open, which was published by Coteau Books in the spring. It shows the very beginning of my recovery.
I stare at the empty road, clutching my heart. I’m crying so hard I’m screaming. I fall to my knees and wail until my throat aches.
I wrecked everything. He wanted to love me and I drove him away.
I look at the couch and scream again. He’s gone and this is all that’s left.
I collapse on the hardwood floor. My body feels vacant, like a shell that’s left after a soul moves on. It’s like I’m missing organs, like there had once been an octopus woven through me and now there are tentacle holes everywhere.
I pat my stomach, my legs, my chest. How can I be so hollow and yet made of skin?
I’m lying on the floor with my life smashed down and some other me says, I’m sorry you’re so sad.
Weird, it’s like my heart is talking.
I touch my heart and it keeps beating kindness: Yes, it hurts. I’m sorry you lost everything.
I see myself with my new broken heart and my old still-broken heart that hasn’t been whole since youth group when I sang hymns with my hands raised high.
I want to pick myself up and kiss my forehead and tuck me into bed. My fingers caress my arms, my throat, my face. I love you, Sweetie, they seem to say.
Jenna and the kids come over. Sophia, my three-year-old niece, heads straight for Ian’s candy bowl. It’s not there.
“Where’s Ian?” she asks.
“He’s gone,” I say. It’s all I can do to force the words out.
She’s quiet for a while. “When is he coming back?”
“He got a job far away and moved there,” I say. “He isn’t coming back.”
Her little face scrunches up, and I cry at her expression. “It’s sad, isn’t it?” I ask, and kiss the top of her head. “It’s okay to be sad. I miss him too.”
As she snuggles into my arms and drifts off to sleep I wish I had a grownup, some kind auntie, standing guard over me.
I’m self-medicating with social media, scrolling through Facebook day and night.
Wendy, a work acquaintance I haven’t seen in years, posts a link to her blog. My arm hairs spike out as I read her history. It’s full of incest and violence and shame. I don’t know why I keep reading or why I don’t despise her for her wretchedness.
Once I told a friend who worked in a youth home a tiny bit about The Terrible Night. Then we had a blowout and she accused me of pushing her away. “I see this all the time,” she said as she left. “It’s what the kids do when a worker gets too close.”
I thought I had to hide my darkness, that no one could love me if they saw it. But I see Wendy’s and I cry for her pain.
I shiver. How brave and strong she is. How amazing she’s able to let her past exist. She went to the centre of her suffering and sat in it. She opened her heart to it and told the truth and somehow I read it and loved her for it.
What was it Rumi said? “The cure for the pain is in the pain.” I hate the thought, but what if he’s right?
Maybe I can let my secrets out too. Can I tell them without drowning, without hating myself? I don’t know, but I have to try.
I sit still for a long time. I’m rubbing my arms as if they’re frightened puppies.
I open my laptop. Words fall from my fingers and fill the screen. It’s like a writing quote I once read about words just bleeding out.
I fill a few pages with the bad things that happened to me and read it out loud. It’s awful. But true. I go to bed hugging myself tight as my pillow absorbs my tears.
The next morning, Christmas Eve, I turn my computer on before brushing my teeth. I read my words again. “I’m sharing this to shine some light into my dark and sad corners,” I wrote. “I hope to heal, to love more fully and to have the capacity to trust those who deserve it. I hope also to be brave enough to let the world be real around me in its beauty and chaos.”
I do want that, more than anything. I message Wendy and ask if she would be willing to read my story. She agrees. I send her my pages and shiver like a hypothermic as I wait for her judgment, for the gavel to come crashing down.
Seventeen minutes pass as slow as years before she responds.
I’m afraid to read her words. I close one eye and squint at them. “I’m so sorry D. That is horrible and nobody should be treated that way.”
We exchange a few more messages and she says, “There’s a lot of ugliness in the world. Sometimes it’s hard to see past it. But there’s also a lot of beauty if you look in the right places. And thanks. I’m really glad you shared that with me.”
I’m bawling. Somehow she felt for me the same kindness I felt towards her, the same desire to scoop me onto her lap and promise that it won’t always hurt.
I wonder if I’ll ever be able to extend that grace to myself, to forgive my soul for its shame.
Kootenay Author D.M. Ditson will host a book launch and recovery conversation at the Revelstoke library on September 24. For details, see the Revelstoke Mountaineer events calendar here.