Dedicated to the students and instructors of the IMPACT Women’s Basics Course Fall 2017
It took 44 years and 50 seconds to lift my father off of me.
He was the nice parent. The one who made French toast for breakfast and did the laundry and helped with my homework. He was the one that wasn’t jealous of me. He didn’t watch TV incessantly or make fun of people or get in fights with the neighbors.
And yet, it was his weight on me in the middle of the night that drove terror and immobility deep into my cells. It was his hands and whispers – everywhere and nowhere, all at once – that trained my body, in the face of any threat, to shut down. To play dead in order to live.
As a result, I was left with just two tools in my emergency response kit: freezing, and femininity. I was a petite “girly-girl” who survived by playing dead in the darkness and being good and helpless in the light. During the day, if something came up that I couldn’t handle, I just asked someone else to do it – and they did. Whether it was making a clock in 8th grade Shop class (thanks Scott & Larry) or jump-starting a car, I asked for help and help appeared.
Freezing and femininity had kept me alive – which is why taking a self-defense class had never been a consideration. The very idea of fighting back or taking action in the face of fear was unthinkable. To be responsible and present terrified me. It would get me killed. I wasn’t even sure I had any fight – or flight – in me. I often joked that in the wake of a Zombie Apocalypse, I would be one of the first dead, which worked just fine for me. “You don’t understand,” I’d say. “I’d rather be dead.” In scary situations, dead was what I did best.
However, my life’s mantra is “to live is to grow.” In leading Parillume, I am committed to shining in my heroic journey, which includes continually pioneering my own happy ending. When IMPACT Personal Safety of Colorado – part of an international organization dedicated to ending the cycle of violence by teaching empowerment skills, including self-defense – joined Parillume’s Transformation Tribe℠, I knew my days of playing dead were numbered. It was only a matter of time before I too would be in their acclaimed Women’s Basics course, led by founder Amelia Dorn.
And so I found myself, on a Wednesday night in October, half-way through the six-week course, in an exercise that would change everything. In many respects, it was a re-enactment of the very horror I had experienced as a young child.
I was instructed to lie down on a bright blue mat and close my eyes so that a masked perpetrator named “Ted” – in reality, a kind, generous male instructor covered in massive padding and denim overalls – could wake me from sleep to assault me.
I lowered myself to the mat, turned on my side and shut my eyes. My heart beat wildly and I could feel disassociation tempting me from the edges of my consciousness.
Gently, compassionately, Amelia guided me as Ted hovered above me, my classmates poised at the edge of the mat, ready to shout their chorus of “Nooooos!” with me, when – IF – I fought back. He grabbed my arms and turned me on my back. As he did, I placed the soles of both feet on the mat and scooted my right foot an inch higher than my left.
And then it happened. He was on top of me, his entire body weight pressing me further into the mat.
I had been taught that one small shift of my hip would throw him off my body. I had seen Amelia and my classmates do this, one after the other, but could I? Little Lisa? Would it actually work? Was I strong enough? Brave enough? What if it didn’t?
I could barely breathe. The weight of my father, my uncle, my ex-husband, my mother – all the abuse I had endured throughout my life: sexual, emotional, mental, religious – all awakened in this moment that seemed to last for an eternity.
Staring through the blackness of his thick, protective mask, I did what I had never done before. “NOOOOOO!!!” I yelled as I used the strength of my leg to lift my right hip.
Ted slid to the mat.
What happened next was sheer adrenaline, something I had never accessed before: I was fighting back, for my body, with my body. My knee thrust twice into his groin and, with Amelia’s grounded guidance, I poked him in the eyes and then turned and slammed my heel into his face: once, twice, three times, my fellow classmates screaming along with my defiant rage. I was lost to myself, and was anything but perfect or good or sharp in my movements. I was all reaction. It was messy and incessant and fast. And I just didn’t stop.
The whistle blew. Ted, my perpetrator, lay on his back, defeated.
Still guided by my instructor, I stood and looked around to assess if it was safe to leave. As I did, my whole body began to quake and hot tears streamed down my face. After checking in with a student instructor, I left the room and found a dark corner to stand in, the adrenaline purged in waves of choking tears. I was in shock. I did it. I actually did it. The muscle memory of a lifetime had been replaced with something else… Power? Choice?
I drove home that night, crying almost the entire way, and as I did, a barrage of anger at my father flew from my mouth. It had been 23 years since “the rage stage” of my recovery work and yet here I was shouting at him, swearing at him, acknowledging the sickness of a man who would do that to his little girl. I sounded different. I felt different.
As I began to process what had happened over the following days and weeks, I realized the balance of power had shifted – in my favor. I saw the weakness of a father who chose to overpower a child in the middle of the night, and the strength of a child to hold the weight of her father for all those years.
The tears and rage signaled the end of an ice age for me, the end of being held captive in a frozen state of submission, needing others to help me, to give me permission to be in my power. I had reclaimed my voice and my choice – not just in my mind or mouth or circumstances, but in my body.
It may have taken 44 years and 50 seconds, but I finally lifted the weight of my father off of me. And in doing so, I found the freedom to fight, and maybe even to fly.
If you or someone you love are ready to begin or continue the Hero’s Journey for Overcomers of Sexual Violation™, just fill out the brief form below and Lisa will contact you to answer your questions and guide you in the right direction – whatever that direction may be.