Last week was hard for me. Like so many others, I was triggered by the subject matter splashed all over the media. I’ve shared my story with a select few people. It’s painful and scary and for many years, I felt like I couldn’t. But if there is one take away I acquired from last week, it is that I can speak my truth. That I should speak my truth, because it leads to further healing and further empowerment. So, I join the seemingly endless numbers of women mustering the strength and summoning every ounce of bravery and courage we have, to finally speak up; and as terrifying as it is, our stories can be told…my story can be told.
It is hard to remember and relive, hard to articulately verbalize. For a while now, I’ve wrestled with whether I can or whether I should share my story. Subjecting myself to potential ridicule and disbelief is a persistent underlying fear. Once I invite the skeletons out of the closet to dance, I cannot shove them back in. But as others have bravely bared their souls and exposed their truths, I’ve felt increasingly compelled to share mine. It is terrifying. It shouldn’t be, but it is. To crack open my soul and propel this depth of vulnerability into the universe is crazy scary; but after a lifetime of suppressing my story, I found my voice.
I can’t deny that the past week has affected me deeply and scratched at the wound I so gently and methodically healed. Every new headline brings another painful recollection a little closer to the surface. I am so grateful for those who are demanding that our voices finally be heard. I always felt like I was alone in my experience. Isolated. And now sadly, I realize that I am part of a much larger affiliation, that although my story is my own, there is a common thread that connects me with others who have negotiated this same path. It is emotionally overwhelming, this realization that there are so many of us. Voices hushed. Shoved in the closet. Brushed under the rug. Hidden in the darkness.
Truthfully, I never felt like I had a story to share. It happened to me during a time when sexually deviant behavior was a taboo subject. It simply wasn’t discussed, at least not in my family; and when I finally broke my silence, the response was not supportive. I was shut down, questioned, and ultimately quieted. Ridiculously, I felt a responsibility to protect the man who molested me because he was family; and because those closest to me didn’t support me or offer guidance, I second guessed my role and retreated under a blanket of shame. How dare I expose something that would surely cause embarrassment to my family and most certainly ruin the life of my perpetrator? I carried the weight and all the confusing, conflicting emotions that accompanied it on my own and suffered in silence. I was 9 years old. I was too young to live in that reality, but I did. Over time, the ugliness of what happened to me gradually warped and consumed my mind. It skewed my perspective on life, on love and on basic human interactions. He went on with his life, he remarried, he had children and grandchildren and lived his life absent of the paralyzing fear and anxiety I felt walking out of my front door. Every. Day. I moved through most of my life as a raw exposed nerve. He lived comfortably until the day he died, without fear.
I learned to live with the anger and pain because I didn’t know any different. I knew what happened to me was wrong, but I didn’t understand why no one else thought it was wrong. Why wasn’t anyone fighting for me? Protecting me? Anger and confusion would wash over me in waves and I continued this holding pattern for a long time; fluctuating between fleeting moments of happiness, then plunging into endless depths of depression and self-loathing. I acted out. I self-harmed. I navigated to very dark corners in my mind trying to reconcile what happened to me, to make sense of something that did not make sense. The rage that constantly bubbled just below the surface was hard to contain. I hated that I was forever linked to him, bonded to him, in such a perverse way.
The first time I tentatively uttered the words “I was molested” out loud, it felt foreign. I was so accustomed to dancing around and skirting the reality of my circumstance, speaking the truth out loud was strange. I actually researched articles on molestation and sexual assault to make sure that was indeed an accurate explanation of what happened to me. Up to that point, I never received confirmation or authentication of my abuse. I had no guide, no parameters or definition of my experience. I simply lived with this horrific awareness that overshadowed everything in my life. Everything was internalized so it felt weird to say it out loud. I did not feel strong or powerful. My self-doubt was a constant companion challenging me to minimize my story, to share apologetically and refrain from blowing it out of proportion. To act appropriately, wrap my experience with a pretty bow and place it in a box to be taken out only in suitable settings. My early attempts at sharing my story with others was awkward and uncomfortable, and eventually, time created layers of palatability. My recollection of what happened was recounted in a more acceptable manner so as not to offend anyone or create judgement and skepticism towards me.
Ultimately, I lost myself. I lost who I was. It was replaced by empty, black hopelessness. It was easier for me to detach and remain numb, than to spend one more minute living boxed in the life I felt forced to create. I wanted a release and an escape from my rage. I wanted to scream until I had no voice left and to throw things until everything was as broken as I felt inside. I hit rock bottom about eight years ago. My pent-up rage and self-abuse reached a limit that finally frightened me, and I had inched as close to the edge as I was willing to go. My internal dialogue tired of my roller coaster between self-love and self-loathing and the whisper turned into a shriek to STOP. I listened. It dawned on me that it was my life that was in utter shambles and wasting away. His was not. Even when my father finally confronted his brother, and he acknowledged his role, his perversion, it did not yield the peace I yearned for. What happened to me was admitted, accepted, then swept back under the rug, and everything went back to “normal”. He remained protected until the day he died.
I committed to finding some sort of peace for the 9-year-old little girl trapped inside me. I owed her that much. I owed myself the chance to live without constant internal turmoil. So, with professional assistance, I methodically began to peel away the layers time created to expose my truth. It was raw and ugly. I spent more than a few sessions huddled in my therapist’s chair, trapped in horrific memories long forgotten; but I faced them. I became authentic. Real. For the first time in my life, I was living outside the box. Petrifying. Liberating.
It hasn’t been easy. There were consequences and substantial collateral damage to me and the relationships around me. My marriage deteriorated beyond repair; and my relationships with those who silenced me suffered tremendously as I struggled to understand and make sense of the rationalizations I received. I could no longer make my abuse palatable and “pretty” because it wasn’t. It isn’t. What happened to me is disgusting and vile, and keeping it shrouded in secrecy hindered my healing, so I stopped hiding it. I stopped shying away from the conversation and challenged those who didn’t protect me to accept their complicity. I learned to stop accepting responsibility that was not mine to assume. I no longer reassured those who silenced me that it was OK, or that I understood. I don’t understand, and they have their own skeletons to dance with.
I’ve scratched and clawed to regain every little fragment of me that I lost. I broke free of the box I was confined to, but like any traumatic experience, there are lingering wounds. Repeated physical and psychological abuse leaves an imprint on a young impressionable soul. Consequently, there are scars. I do not fight or internalize them anymore. They are part of who I am, and I let them in and accept them for what they are. They made me. They molded me into the person I am today, and I am finally able to embrace the beauty that my scars created. I am a different person, a different shape. The pieces may be stained and misshapen from years of pain and anger, but they are also strong…whole. Sharing my story brings liberation. Acceptance of who I am. Healing. There is no underlying motive. No malice. No seeking retaliation or retribution. I’m sharing simply because…I can, and if someone reads this and maybe feels a little less isolated and a little braver, please know…you are not alone. You are loved, and you are not alone.