It’s not your fault

Good Tuesday morning, writers & writers-to-be — the sun is shining outside and the guys who are fixing my car window have got the vacuum running strong and my poor little dirty girl is getting a bit of a cleanup.

What’s outside your window today?

My car was broken into last night. I parked in a busy lot in a bustling part of town, and my sweetheart and headed off to pick up our bit of take out. When we got back to the car, fewer than ten minutes later, a back window had been smashed in and the bag that I’d inherited when a dear friend passed away — filled with nothing more than a couple of writing notebooks and some flyers for upcoming workshops — was gone.

I was quite confused as I approached my little car — I thought, Wait a minute, isn’t that where I parked? Why is that smashed up car in my space? Oh no — that smashed up car is mine.

And then I decided to run around the neighborhood to try and catch whoever it was. I stopped people walking and said, Hey, did you see a guy running past here carrying a brown bag? (Please note my assumptions.) Of course, no one had.

We’d just been gone a minute! How far could they have gone?

I thought I could catch whoever it was. I thought maybe I could get back my bag and what it held — the project notebook filled with ideas and visions and plans for upcoming writing ourselves whole workshops, events and books; the notebook filled with writes still to be typed up for the writing ourselves whole book I’m compiling; the notebook of workshop writes from Saturday’s Liberatory Potential of Erotic Writing workshop up in Sacramento.  I thought I could get back the little (empty) coin purse I’d received from my mother many years ago, and my first business card case that I was so proud of.

The truth is that whoever stole that bag must have been disappointed: no money, no cell phone, no computer. Nothing to try and sell but maybe the bag itself. They don’t even want what’s inside — why couldn’t they have just dropped it at the edge of the parking lot?

My sweetheart called around to window replacement companies, and we came home and shared our take out Thai meal. We watched a movie. We tried to redirect our attention from fury, disappointment and violation to next steps and connection. We went to bed. Neither of us slept well.

I was up in the middle of the night rehashing my choices last night: If only I hadn’t taken the car out at all…; if only I had parked in the first spot I saw, that brightly-lit one…; if only we’d talked to those guys in that car making noises at us instead of ignoring them (were they they ones?)…; if only I hadn’t re-locked the car as we were walking away, thereby letting those guys know which one was ours; if only …; if only…; if only…

I’d done some of this at dinner: I should have taken my bag out of the car, I said. I know better than to leave my bag in the back seat of my car! How long have I been living in the Bay Area? I know not to leave anything enticing in plain view.

My sweetheart said to me, This was not your fault. You didn’t cause this.

Period. No exceptions.

And then I got it: Right. If only I hadn’t been wearing that short skirt…

We smiled rueful smiles at each other. It’s almost impossible not to blame ourselves when we are violated in this way — whether it’s our car, our writing, our home, or our body that got broken into. We have been trained away from putting the blame squarely where it belongs: on the perpetrator.

I tried to remind myself of this during my middle-of-the-night self-recriminations. If only I’d… Jen, it’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. It doesn’t matter that you left a bag visible on your back seat — no one should have smashed through your back window to grab it. Period.

What about, If only that motherfucker hadn’t decided to smash in my window and steal from me…?

Maybe you know something about this kind of self-blame, of blame we take on ourselves because the person who should hold it is unknown to us, or won’t accept it. If we are to blame, we think to ourselves, then we can make different choices in the future, ones that will keep us safe. If we can be mad at ourselves, we have somewhere to direct our fury.

It’s not your fault can be hard to believe if we’ve been hearing the opposite message for our whole lives. Today I’m doing some acting-as-if. I’m noticing how deeply ingrained are those stories that we bring on our own misfortune, that we are to blame for the violence committed against us. We are not to blame. It’s not our fault. Maybe if we say it over and over, we will begin to direct our anger, we will be able to put the blame where it belongs.

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Are you blaming yourself for something someone else did to you? Do you struggle with the message that it wasn’t your fault? Can you take some time to write this today? What are the ways you are taking responsibility for their actions? What if, no matter what choices you made, you didn’t ask to be harmed, you didn’t deserve to be harmed, and you are not to blame? What if that’s true?

I am sending love and compassion to whoever it was who smashed my window and stole my words — at least now and again, I’m breathing in this practice. May they find peace and the roots of peace. May we all find peace and the roots of peace. I’m grateful to you, today, too, and grateful for your words.

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