By Janet Goldblatt Holmes, artist and sexual assault survivor
In honor of Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, Janet Goldblatt Holmes would like to share her experience of abuse as a young person. We thank her for her contribution.
When I was an adolescent and feeling lonely, I used to stand by the window in my bedroom and dream. The empty lot behind our house was a place to transport myself and feel free: I could imagine myself frolicking and dancing, teaching dance and living in a big beautiful house full of light and laughter. My dream filled me with calm and momentary confidence, and I felt strong.
In 2006, inspired by an article about The Voices and Faces Project (voicesandfaces.org), a national documentary project on sexual assault, I began the process of writing about being date-raped at the age of sixteen. Two essays I wrote about the experience – “The Burden of Silence” and “The Voice of Date Rape” – were published in The Globe and Mail, Canada’s national newspaper, and an Australian healing arts magazine.
Through The Voices and Faces Project, I have had the opportunity to speak to audiences of adults and high school students about rape, and the importance of discovering one’s voice. As a dancer, I have created movement-based workshops to promote positive self- esteem and empowerment for young women.
In June of 2012, I took part in a Testimonial Writing Workshop, for sexual assault survivors. Participants’ stories were both painful and poignant – especially those from members of the Canadian Aboriginal Community, who spoke of the generational continuum of abuse and violence in their community. Their stories inspired me to take a closer look into my past, and I began to see that the verbal, emotional and physical abuse I’d experienced had left deep scars. Since then, I have been writing about the past, and trying to make sense of the obscure and lonely memories that remained locked beneath the surface.
Some have said my early abuse clouded my judgment when relating to other people. They also believed that in my naiveté, I put myself in compromising situations, like the one that led to my date rape. These suggestions were unsettling, but the impact of violent behavior has become evident to me, as well as the troublesome feelings of shame, blame and guilt. In the past I have felt like a “victim” – continually seeking approval, acquiescing to situations, giving up my ground, compromising my sense of self.
Each person’s experience with domestic violence is different. In my case, as with date rape, I believed that being subjected to abusive behavior, as a child and adult, was reduced because there were no external signs of either assault or abuse. I lived in denial.
Chances are, the abusers live in denial. The rationalization may be, “My parents did that to me.” Did their parents do the same to them? How long has the generational continuum existed in the name of discipline? To say a behavior is a cultural norm, that it’s the way things are done, perpetuates the myth. Violence and abusive behavior is anything but normal. In an attempt to come to terms with the past, we may struggle to find reasons for events. There may be no answer and no resolve. Even so, I believe that we each have a light within us. It is our birthright.
Once I find my way through the darkened hallways, the fog will lift and I will be able to find my way to the good. In the meantime, I remember to be true to myself, and to maintain an open and compassionate heart.
Today I dream about learning to live with things for which there is no resolution, let the past be, and move forward with grace and dignity. As for my childhood dreams, now I frolic and dance, and live in a beautiful house filled with light and laughter.