For much of the past week, even longer really, I have been trying to draft a post on the topic of consent. As in why there can be no real consent for sex between a therapist and a patient. No small task, that. But for some reason I felt compelled to take it on.
At first, whenever I sat down to write about it, there would come a point fairly early on when my brain would fog over, I’d become overwhelmingly confused, and rapidly lose the ability to form coherent sentences. I’d be sitting at my computer, completely befuddled, not knowing what to do. I didn’t understand what the heck was going on and I started to feel really stupid. The more stupid I felt, the more compulsive I became about writing the darn thing. So I’d push and push and manage to get a couple of pages written. I’d think it was a respectable, coherent treatment of the subject—until I’d print out the draft, read it over and realize it sucked. I’d look at the pages in a sort of stunned stupor and…start rewriting. Over and over again. Always with the same result. It didn’t matter what my approach was—whether it was to draw predominantly on personal experience and creativity, to attempt something more scholarly, pulling information out of several books I have on the topic of professional abuse and boundary violations, or some combination of the two. Every draft I wrote seemed like garbage.
Now, consent is a fairly complex issue, so maybe that had something to do with it. I don’t think I could really offer up an intelligent, well thought out treatment of consent without discussing things like the nature of the therapist-patient relationship, the power differential and why it exists, what it means to consent, and oh so much more. That is the stuff of books, not blogs, and I now accept that I would be way out of my league to attempt such a thing. Besides, there are plenty of books that deal quite comprehensively with the subject, so why do I feel compelled to add my own two cents?
A couple of days ago, while I was flailing about in the middle of my consent writing frenzy, I got a call from my new friend Tim. Tim is a survivor of clergy abuse and writes his own blog (which you can check out here). I had mentioned to Tim that I was trying to write about consent and that it was kicking my ass, so he called to check up on me, bless his heart. I tried to explain to him what I was going through and at some point he made a very intelligent suggestion—that I should remember whom I was writing this for.
Oh, yeah. Okay.
See, I’ve been trying to write about consent for all the people who don’t understand it. And in all likelihood, those are not the people who are actually reading my blog. Basically, I’ve been writing for the people in my life who didn’t quite get what happened with my ex-therapist, who didn’t understand that it was not “an affair” or who just didn’t take it very seriously. I’ve been writing for the media who, I imagine, think that a therapist having sex with an adult patient is not a big deal, so why bother picking up a press release or publishing a letter about it?
You think that maybe, just maybe, I’ve got something to prove? Hey—let’s just add a little bit more pressure to an already challenging topic!
I also think that I’ve somehow gotten the idea that it’s my job or responsibility to tackle this issue. Why? First, because I have a sense of how many other victims there are out there who need help and understanding, and I think that someone needs to be talking publicly about this issue so that it can be addressed. Since no one else seems to be saying much of anything, I figure it might as well be me, as I am bound and determined not to be silent anymore. Another reason is that throughout much of my personal ordeal, I felt that the burden of proof and explanation was largely on me. I guess I haven’t set that burden down yet. With the exception of my lawyer (and, more recently, David Clohessy of SNAP), I haven’t exactly had someone willing to stand up for me, defend my honor, and explain to people what the heck happened. That has been my job.
Take it from me, it’s pretty hard to explain something that you don’t fully understand yourself and that you’re still traumatized by. I JUST WANT PEOPLE TO UNDERSTAND, GOSHDARNIT!!
Yeah, just a bit triggered…
I think a big part of the reason I’ve had so much trouble writing about consent has to do with the fact that I am still very much in the process of recovering from the trauma and its aftermath. And that includes dealing with two of my least favorite emotions: fear and shame. My little friends. Here’s the truth: I continue to be afraid that people won’t take the abuse seriously, that they will think that my ex-therapist and I were two consenting adults and that I should share responsibility for what happened. I am afraid that I will have to explain to them that what happened was, in fact, exploitation and abuse, and boy, I’d better be convincing if I want them to buy it. The reason I am afraid is because, despite subsequent therapy and repeated therapeutic reality checks, despite going through the lawsuit, receiving a settlement from my ex-therapist’s insurance company and having him surrender his license to practice, despite everything I’ve learned about this type of abuse, there’s still this small part of me that doesn’t quite understand that I did not consent to have sex with my therapist. A part of me that thinks that, by not saying no, I said yes, that because I wanted his validation and didn’t understand that he was violating me, I’m at least partly responsible for what happened. And this part of me feels utterly mortified and ashamed at what he did, at what I believe I “let” him do, and at the fact that I didn’t realize how horribly, horribly wrong it all was.
I’m not only trying to convince other people that I didn’t consent to what happened, I’m trying to convince myself. So it’s no wonder my brain goes wonky when I try to write about it.
That being said, I am still going to try to pull something together on the topic of consent. (Yeah, ha ha. You’re laughing now, aren’t you?) It won’t be the comprehensive treatment that I’d like to write, but it will be…well, it’ll be whatever it turns out to be. And maybe, by the time I’m done, I will be closer to not only understanding but also believing that there really is no such thing as consent for sex between a therapist and a patient. Even if the patient was me.