The Secret Keepers
I’m going to do something I’ve never done before. I’m going to ask you to share this post. Reblog it, share it on Facebook, tweet it. Someone out there needs to hear this message today. Even if you think you don’t know anyone who has been abused. Even if you don’t read the entire post.
About a month ago I was asked by Dawn at WTF words, thoughts, feelings to contribute an essay for an anthology that she and Joyelle are creating for parents who are survivors of childhood sexual and physical abuse (learn more at https://www.facebook.com/TriggerPointsAnthology).
I submitted my essay but I also want to shine a bigger spotlight on this project because I fear that they may not get many submissions. Not because it’s not a worthy cause or because there aren’t enough people out there to contribute but because survivors of abuse are secret keepers. We’ve had to be, either as a form of armor to protect ourselves or because we’ve been pressured not to tell.
But sometimes, we keep the secret because we’ve never truly acknowledged to ourselves the effect it has had on our lives.
It wasn’t until I was in my 30’s that I could call what had happened to me sexual abuse. I told myself that I wasn’t really molested. It was just my first kiss. After all, I wasn’t raped, just fondled. Sure, by a grown man when I was 11, but still. It was nothing like what some people go through. I wasn’t held captive or repeatedly raped. What happened to me couldn’t possibly be big enough to explain the years of night terrors, paralyzing anxiety, self-destructive behavior and general misery I suffered. There had to be something else wrong with me. For some reason, it was easier to believe I was inherently messed up and flawed.
I started blogging as part of a spiritual quest to figure out my life. As I explored truths and lies about myself I found that I couldn’t stop thinking about “my first kiss” and I decided to write out what had happened to me. I remember being nervous about having it on my computer. I’ve watched enough episodes of Dateline to know that nothing on a computer is really private. What would happen if it fell into the wrong hands? Then I asked myself, who are the wrong hands? Who am I trying to protect? What am I, decades later, still afraid of?
After I wrote it all out, I acknowledged for the first time that what happened to me was a big deal. It absolutely could explain the years of night terrors, paralyzing anxiety, self-destructive behavior and general misery I had suffered. I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t considered it before.
I think a lot of people downplay what happened to them because they don’t want a life where their past is the constant focus. They don’t want to continually rehash what can’t be changed and dig up the dead. It seems to serve no purpose because what’s done is done. What makes it more complicated is that often our abusers are members of our family and if we tell our secrets, we have to tell theirs. I wrote a post a few months ago where I referred to one of my abusers as a family friend. That’s a lie. He was a member of my family. Even I, an avowed heart teller of truth, couldn’t bring myself to tell my family’s secrets.
But just because we downplay it doesn’t mean it has no power over us. Some people know exactly what the ramifications of their abuse are but others bury it so deep that it could be affecting them more than they realize. Maybe you’ve been working on making your life better for a long time and you’re not making the progress you’d like. Maybe you’ve been looking for answers in all the wrong places. Knowledge is power. If you understood how abuse can weave its way into your life in ways that you didn’t know were possible, you could make lasting progress and find some peace.
Do you have nightmares? Can you not stand to be touched in certain places on your body? Do you react defensively when you feel cornered, either emotionally or physically? Do you suffer from anxiety? Depression? Substance Abuse? Unexplained physical ailments? Are you always wondering what’s wrong with you or why you can’t be like everyone else? Have you had difficulty maintaining relationships? Do you keep making bad decision after bad decision? Do you feel broken, unlovable, despondent, numb?
The secret we’ve kept is filled with lies. Not just lies we were told but lies we believed about ourselves as a result of what happened to us. Those lies get so compounded that eventually, we stop questioning them. We just believe them. We believe we’re to blame, we believe we’re unclean, we believe we’re unworthy, we believe we’re broken, unlovable, shameful, untrustworthy. We believe that’s our true nature. And since we don’t want people to know what we really are, we hide, we lie and we numb and armor ourselves.
But here’s the thing – whether we want it to or not, what happened to us shaped us and if we don’t confront how we feel about ourselves as a result, it will continue to shape us. When we give the secret all the power, it owns us. It makes the decisions. It tells us how to feel about ourselves and it marks our place in the world. If we don’t understand the far reaching effects of abuse, we’re destined to keep making the same mistakes over and over.
If any of this feels true to you, I want you to try something. I want you to find a picture of yourself from the time period the abuse occurred and I want you study it. I want you to ask that younger self if he/she deserves answers. I want you to ask her if she wants more for you than what you’ve settled for.
I just know that there is someone out there like me who thought she was so small and unimportant that what happened to her wasn’t significant enough to honor as real, as devastating, as shattering. And I know that someone reading this might have an “aha” moment and the pieces of the puzzle will start to fit together. You’re not alone and you don’t have to be a secret keeper anymore.
Now, take the next step. Write about your experience for your eyes and no one else’s. Tell the child you were back then how you feel now. Then, reach out to people who can relate to what you’ve gone through. It may very well be the hardest thing you ever do but it’s the first step to reclaiming all parts of yourself and remembering that you’re already whole. You are, trust me. You just don’t remember.
I’ve included links at the bottom to resources for survivors and to bloggers who are walking the path to healing. I encourage people to leave links to helpful sites and to their own blogs in comments.
This message is not just for survivors of childhood sexual, physical and emotional abuse but for people who have been victimized as adults as well. Even if you haven’t been directly affected by abuse, someone you know might need to be reached by this so please share this post.
Resources and Survivor Blogs:
After Silence – 1-800-656-HOPE – http://www.aftersilence.org/
Butterfly Dreams Abuse Recovery – http://www.butterflydreamsabuserecovery.com/
Child Molestation Research and Prevention Institute – http://www.childmolestationprevention.org/
Gift From Within – http://www.giftfromwithin.org/
HealWriteNow – http://healwritenow.com/
isurvive.org – http://www.isurvive.org/
Joyful Heart Foundation – http://www.joyfulheartfoundation.org/
Making Daughters Safe Again – http://mdsa-online.org/
Male Survivor – http://www.malesurvivor.org/
Mothers Against Sexual Abuse – http://www.againstsexualabuse.org/
Overcoming Sexual Abuse – http://overcomingsexualabuse.com/
Safe Horizon – http://www.safehorizon.org/
The Lamplighter Movement – http://www.thelamplighters.org/llblog01/
The Northwest Network (for survivors of abuse who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender) – http://nwnetwork.org/
Together We Heal – http://togetherweheal.wordpress.com/
Trigger Points Anthology – https://www.facebook.com/TriggerPointsAnthology
W.T.F. Words, Thoughts, Feelings – http://tdawneightyone.wordpress.com/
National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE