I generally hate touching. I don’t want my friends to hug me; I don’t like crowded seating, and don’t even get me started on people touching my hair. Still, I chose to practice jiu-jitsu, which requires I can best describe to the uninitiated as “hug fighting.” My training partner / opponent and I are all up on each other. We roll around on the mat like a blur of colors and limbs from a Tom & Jerry cartoon cat fight. It’s fast, up-close, and personal. It’s also dangerous if we aren’t both paying attention.
A fighter “taps” or “taps out” to signal they give in to their opponent’s attack. Since every body moves with different parameters, training partners (and competitors) rely on the tap to know when safe limits have been met. This is communicated either by clearly saying “tap”, double-tapping a foot on the mat, or using a hand to double-tap one’s partner. If I don’t tap, I can get hurt. Still, I took a long time to adopt this critical skill.
I am not at all used to my words listened to. I am not accustomed to being able to stop someone from hurting me by telling them it was time to stop. My father had a very “I’ll give you something to cry about” attitude. My ex-husband would intensify his assault when I asked or begged him to stop. When I hurt was when he started to have a good time. Why would these strangers stop when I asked them to? Because they should? Well, people say fathers should love their daughters, and that husbands should be safe company for their spouses. Yet all those “shoulds” mean nothing to those of us whose lives have been dominated by abuse.
But I couldn’t practice jiu-jitsu, the sudden and total love of my life, without learning to tap.
I finally realized it was a two-way street. My training partners trusted me. They trusted me to respect to their taps and to tap for myself. They couldn’t practice the finer points of their submissions (finishing moves) if they couldn’t count on me to cut them off in time. I had never been trusted in that way before. Accusing me of being untrustworthy was a tool of manipulation used by abusers in my past, but this is my new life.
I made myself try it, and it worked. It worked at my gym. It worked at gyms I visited while traveling. It worked at competition. Someone stopping when I told them it was time became. . . normal
One year later, tapping is second nature to me. The ability to remain safe while doing what I love hasn’t stopped at the gym doors. I noticed how often I had been keeping quiet out of fear instead of advocating for myself when appropriate. Now, I speak up despite that remaining fear.
In big ways: I ran for and hold a board position on my local community council. I voice my opposition to elements of the status quo that keep my neighborhood from being a place safe from domestic violence and from stigma against survivors. In the midst of any negative response, I am at least visible enough for allies to find me.
In small ways: I asked a smoker to move to the smoking area at the bus stop last week. He didn’t laugh a drag-full of smoke in my face; he thanked me for telling him about the designated area and moved.
Tapping serves as a constant reminder to me that relationships can go the way they “should.” My reasons for holding back on trust are valid, but they don’t necessarily reflect the facts in my new life. One tap at a time, I build on my new normal.
Rebecca encourages survivors of domestic to speak about their experiences and to lean on each other for support.