In Lisbon, at 2 am on Samhain, on a dark street criss-crossed by tram tracks, I was assaulted by some M***** F*****. The subsequent days have been a process of orientation, of finding out what is going on with my body, my heart, my emotions, my mind. The time to heal has not yet come, because first I need to make sense and meaning of this. I’ve been, as they say, coming to terms. I say that the following are things I’m learning, because I am still, and will probably always be, processing. These are not lessons learned… they are lessons ongoing. Their shapes and colors and nuances will continue to change. Some of the things I’ve come to realize were already obvious to me in other contexts. Like this:
There are some things you just don’t have power over. In this new context, I realize that this sometimes includes what happens to our bodies. Let me clarify that there is a way things SHOULD BE and there is a way things ARE. I’m talking about the way things are. Sometimes there will be someone who is stronger, more skilled, more powerful, and who wants to do something to you that you don’t want. I am not saying that this is something we should expect, but it is a reality and a possibility. The MF in question touched my ass while I walked with my best friend and… well… I thought that was an injustice worth confronting. It is NOT. One thing I learned in Krav Maga is that you never know what skills the other person has, you have no idea what they’re capable of, so get out of the situation as quickly as possible. In this instance… I should have walked away. I can’t tell you how much it hurts my heart to say that I should have just let him go after touching me without my permission, but what happened after was worse. Pick your battles. This brings me to the next lesson:
There are other ways to defend yourself: emotionally and energetically. To be honest, the next time someone touches me on the street, I will walk away. Again, the feminist in me screams in frustration at this. But a person who is willing to touch a woman without her permission is a person you want to get away from asap. I’ve asked myself… how can I stay true to my integrity with this knowledge. No matter how much martial arts training I have, there is always a risk that a person is bigger, stronger, or more skilled, and that something bad will happen to me if I engage them. But how can I resign myself to letting people touch me and just walking away from it… a punching bag… a doormat… a weak, resigned woman? Well, until someone invents a forcefield that shocks people when they try to touch you without your permission, there is no truly safe way to protect yourself (or get revenge… more on that later), except… energetically. This may not work for the science dogmatists out there, but for me the answer is magic. It’s energy. From now on, when I leave the house, I will wrap myself in protective intentions. I will hold the belief that acts against me will inspire a change of heart in the perpetrator, or result in their punishment. If someone touches me, I will mutter a curse under my breath, I will thank the gods that I’m not that kind of person, and I will walk away in my own strength, knowing that in my heart I resisted and that that MF doesn’t know the wrath he has brought on himself from the gods and the universe. There is also a much nicer way to go about this. If you’re allergic to vengeance, the next section is for you. Currently, I’m oscillating.
Violence begets violence. After the assault, I sat in the police station with an ice pack on the back of my head, smudged Samhain makeup all over my tear-streaked face, left arm limp and useless at my side. I joked, “And even after all that Krav Maga I took.” This sparked a conversation with the officer during which he made clear that unless you’ve had years of martial arts training and it has become second nature and automatic to you, it’s useless. I thought about all the dabbling I’ve done: Aikido, Muay Thai, Krav Maga, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu… always for short periods. I get bored or I find something I don’t like about the art and move on to the next one. This time, I thought… I’m going to pick one and stick to it. But then I remembered what I learned in Krav Maga… you never know what skills the other person has.
Will being a skilled martial artist just get me into more trouble? Most of the time, men are stronger. Sure, I could catch someone by surprise or maybe they’ll have no techniques, but can I count on that? I remembered that the best self defense is to avoid conflict. I remembered that violence only begets more violence. I remembered Aikido.
Aikido was my first martial art. I’ve never met a more amazing individual than my Aikido instructor, Sensei Yoshi. The first few classes he taught to us were magic. All of a sudden I could take down a huge guy with a simple wrist lock. I could go from struggling and tugging to pull a jar of miso from an over-stocked shelf in the fridge of my favorite health food store, to thinking about Yoshi, about Aikido, planting my feet, imagining a river of energy flowing from the earth, up my body, out my arm… and free the miso in one swift, easy pull. That actually happened. It’s silly, I know, but it was also impressive.
Aikido is about compassion, especially for those who wish to harm you. In class Yoshi used to give us directions, “Do this… do this… do this… now lay your opponent down like he’s your own child.” After a few months I had to give up Aikido because it conflicted with my opera schedule. I tried checking out a Ninjutsu class in another part of town. The instructor gave directions, “Do this… do this… do this… now break his arm!” It startled me. I tried another Aikido class but it just wasn’t the same as Yoshi’s. Then Muay Thai… punching, kicking, knees and elbows. Krav Maga… eye jabs, groin kneeing, throat punching… and always this air that we had to protect ourselves from attack. That wasn’t the world I lived in… a world where I was likely to be attacked. I chose not to live in that world. I still choose that, even after the assault. I also tried Brazilian Jiu Jitsu… but that is a first order commitment I just couldn’t make.
Martial arts are great and each one is great for someone. But I realized that what I really needed, beyond some skills that might save me if I’m forced to fight, was a way to calm my spirit, a way to let go of anger, to choose love, and to be able to walk away. While I contemplated my desire to defend myself I realized that I really wanted to learn how to de-escalate. I didn’t want to fight. In Aikido you learn to stay calm in a stressful situation. You learn skills to help defend against an attack. You learn compassion. It fits my world view. My needs. The truth is that I could have done things differently. I could have walked away. When I did confront the MF with words and he grabbed my wrists, I could have planted my feet and said, “let go of me,” instead of going all Krav Maga and kneeing him in the balls… which escalated the situation and led to my current injuries. And so, the next lesson:
There is a difference between blaming yourself and taking responsibility for what you could have done differently. The one thing I’m not open to right now is people telling me what I should have done differently. First of all, I’m not an idiot. I thought about it. I know. But also, there is a fine line between practical advice and blaming the victim. I know this: it is not my fault. I did not lead with aggression. I did not seek a fight. I did not sexually assault a woman walking on the street. Yes, I confronted him, with words. And yes, I fought back when he escalated it to a physical altercation. But the bottom line is that the fault lies with him. You can think back and decide you could have done things differently, you can decide to do them differently in the future, and you can also know in your heart that you are not to blame. Finally:
There is a meaning for everything. As Paolo Coelho offers in The Alchemist: follow the omens. Before the assault, I was feeling very connected to magic and to my witchy side. I had picked up some new altar pieces, a beautiful piece of labradorite and a silly pumpkin candle, and I had set up a little space for ritual in the hostel dorm where I’m currently living. For Samhain, I dressed myself as a summoned ancestor, peering through the veil. I painted a door-opening sigil on my forehead. I was connecting with the stream of destiny… and that night I was attacked. Some might see a bad omen, but I saw the gods guiding me. There was something I was supposed to learn from this, and it was an important lesson, which is why it came with days, probably weeks of physical pain and a lifetime of emotional consequences. I see pictures of myself from that night or think of earlier parts of the evening and think of those moments as the “old” me, the “pre-assault” me. It’s not a bad thing. I’m accepting the lessons being presented. I’m following the omens. Right now, I’m following the omens back to Aikido, back to compassion, back to empowerment without violence. Back to inner strength and outer calm.
My heart goes out in solidarity to all of the people who have experienced a moment of powerlessness and have had to come to terms with it. I realize that I am lucky and that my experience of assault was relatively minor. Whatever happened to you, wherever you are in your journey, I hope that you are moving toward and accomplishing your goals in that matter and in life (which is so much bigger than this). Love you.
And to those who have moved on to other realms… Samhain blessings. Thank you for crossing the veil to teach us. Love you.