Billy Pilgrim, the protagonist in Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Slaughterhouse Five, is described as having “come unstuck in time.” His life was no longer linear. He jumped randomly back and forth in time, never knowing what part of his timeline he would find himself in next. Billy and I have a lot in common, because that is precisely what my life as a survivor of childhood rape is like. I can be catapulted into any event in my personal history suddenly and without warning. And we are not just talking about a bad memory. This is a full-on, technicolor, surround-sound re-experiencing of the abuse. I feel it in every cell of my body. Sometimes the flashback is more real than my current reality.
We are not just talking about a bad memory…Sometimes the flashback is more real than my current reality.
People talk about triggers—about avoiding triggers, or about healing from them. If I avoided every possible trigger so as not to re-experience the rape, I would have to close myself in a room and prevent myself, somehow, from seeing or feeling or hearing anything. Triggers are everywhere.
But despite the triggers and the trauma, I have managed to achieve some healing breakthroughs as an adult, while carving out a place for myself as an advocate, an activist, and an artist in the survivor community.
How did I get here? Well, it all goes back to Doctor Who. Yes, you read that right. The British science fiction program played a major role in my healing.
By the time I was in my later teens I had shut myself in my room, trying to protect myself from emotional, mental, and physical harm. I was deeply agoraphobic and utterly terrified by the world outside. The irony of this, of course, is that I had locked myself up with my own trauma.
The irony…is that I had locked myself up with my own trauma.
I created a mental and emotional shield out of the records I listened to, as well as the science fiction and fantasy stories I read. And then Doctor Who came along. I became obsessed with the program, particularly because the Doctor was a unique kind of hero. He was kind, he was open minded, and he often tried to understand the alien creatures he faced, rather than immediately going to violence as a strategy.
By this time, I had joined a science fiction fan club through the mail, and I was receiving monthly newsletters. I devoured each issue, living the life of a sci-fi fan at a safe distance. Meeting real people still terrified me. But I could pretend I had friends.
Then I started getting flyers in the mail for science fiction conventions. The notion of going to any of these events was unthinkable. But when a flyer arrived for a Doctor Who convention featuring the Doctor himself, guest of honor Tom Baker, I was in a quandary. My hero—and in some ways my only friend—had come all the way over from England and was just a short bus ride away. I might never get another chance. I had to go. But could I?
To this day I have no idea how I got the courage to leave my room, never mind leave the house. But somehow, I did.
I have no idea how I got the courage to leave my room, never mind leave the house. But somehow, I did.
Soon I was standing in line to get a photo with my hero, the Doctor. Of course, I was trembling uncontrollably, my eyes fixed on the carpet, worried that someone might speak to me. Then someone did. A fan in line in front of me just randomly began talking to me about the show, about Tom Baker, and about how amazing it was to be there meeting him. I kept my head down and quietly said something like “uh huh” while wishing he would leave me alone. Then the person in line behind me joined the conversation, and I was trapped. I had no escape. I had to say something. And again, I have no idea where I got the courage, but somehow, I did. Pretty soon the three of us were chattering away, and not just about Doctor Who, but about sci-fi and fantasy books and movies, and, well, everything I cared about. I had found my people.
There were a lot more conventions after that, and I even joined the cosplay ranks, dressing up as the Doctor. Heck, I founded a Doctor Who fan club, another avenue for meeting people and making new friends.
While my life a survivor has continued to present challenges, I look back on that first convention as a watershed moment in my healing journey. Oh, and yes—I still dress up as the Doctor and attend conventions.
Michael Broussard is the author and performer of Ask a Sex Abuse Survivor, an interactive performance that shares the story of the abuse Michael suffered as a child and of his path to healing as an adult. The show is Michael’s way of taking back the power from his abuser and reaching out to his fellow survivors to tell them they can do the same. As part of the show, Michael invites audience members to ask questions, make observations, and share their own stories.