when they hear your story,
upon hearing your story,
and this is how you know.
Nearly every day I wake up to someone’s story in my inbox. People email me their stories, or pieces of their stories, all the time. Last weekend was unusual though, in that I received multiple stories on both days. Saturday morning there were three stories in my inboxes- two at the blog’s email, one at Say It, Survivor’s email. Then yesterday I got four stories throughout the day on Sunday.
Almost every single person apologized. Nearly all of them said they were sorry for having shared their truth with me.
The reason is simple and pretty universal among survivors of sexual abuse. Almost without exception, we are given the message to be quiet. Either we are flat-out told not to speak of what happened to us- we are threatened, coerced or cajoled into keeping our abuse a secret or we are given the message in less direct but equally impactful ways.
Society reinforces that all the time- every time we hush our voices when speaking of sexual abuse, every time someone says rape is a ‘fate worse than death,’ or we talk about sexual abuse being a ‘life sentence,’ every time we’re made to feel guilty for making others uncomfortable, every time we have to comfort the person we are telling rather than be comforted, it reinforces the toxic lie we are fed that our stories are unspeakable.
I’ve been asked how it is that I can read these stories, stories of pain and suffering, violence, betrayal and violation, and not be triggered by them. The truth is, I have no idea. I know that’s not the norm for survivors. I don’t really need to know why. I’m grateful because it allows me to do what I do.
My people- the people who love me- worry about me walking back toward the darkness when I’ve just come out of it. They’re concerned for me and wonder why I choose to carry heavy things that are not mine.
That one’s easy. I carry things that are not mine because that, my friends, is why we are here. We are here to lighten one another’s loads. We are here to bear witness for one another. We are here to SEE one another, fully, clearly- and love one another. We are here to be SEEN, scars and all, and be loved.
Yesterday, I was emailing back and forth with a reader- she was telling me where she’s at. We were talking about the value of giving voice to our stories. She wrote:
“Honestly, I don’t know that telling someone the whole truth is going to be helpful. My therapist has actually said that she’s never told anyone (meaning her supervisor etc) the details of my story because it could be traumatizing for them.”
I lost my mind a little when I read that. It made me incredibly angry.
Even if that is true- and I’d argue that if you cannot hear details of someone’s trauma perhaps being a therapist is not your calling- why any therapist would say that to a patient is beyond me. That is literally telling someone their story is unspeakable. That, my friends, is how you make someone’s abuser a truth-teller.
Once you have done that, all the other lies that child was told- all the “your faults” and “not enoughs” and other shame messages seem that much more plausible. If their abuser was right about that one thing, what else was he or she right about?
Just because one person is not equipped to bear witness to your story does not mean you should not tell it. Just because someone feels unable to HEAR it does not mean you should not SAY it. Find someone who can. It is not your job to ensure that no one in your life is ever uncomfortable- it’s just NOT.
It is a big part of why Mary and I began the Say It, Survivor Blog– to give survivors an anonymous forum to share their stories and cradle them within a community that understands and can support them while they do it.
I keep saying it over and over- if you do not own your story it will own you. Your story is being told either way. It is either being told because you are standing in your whole truth, having integrated whatever you think your unspeakable story is as A fact your life- or it becomes THE fact of your life, and is told through unhealthy and harmful ways- addiction, low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, perfectionism, promiscuity… those things are all your story being told- it’s just your story as told by your abuser. You are not the author.
The reason your story feels so overwhelming is simple- we are not meant to carry these things alone. It’s too much, it’s too heavy to bear by yourself. Find a safe place, a safe forum. If you don’t have anyone in your life that fits the bill, email it to me. I will read it. I will carry a corner.
I promise you, friends- every single time I tell my story it becomes lighter. Every single, “Me too,” is balm for my soul- not because I am happy that someone else has been through it, but because I feel heard and seen. I feel less alone.
It’s not just true for survivors of sexual abuse- it is true for all of us. When my marriage imploded I did not tell anyone for almost a year. It almost killed me. I starved myself, I drank too much, barely slept at all. I was lugging around this giant, dark, impossibly heavy thing by myself- and when I couldn’t carry it anymore, it sat on my chest, suffocating me.
One of the dangers of keeping our stories tucked inside is what we do with them. We make up stories about our stories. Have you guys read Rising Strong by the incomparable Brené Brown? It’s a game changer. Anyway, one of the things she explores is our nature, as human beings, to find meaning in our stories. We are “meaning-making” creatures. She also talks about confabulations- which are lies told honestly.
I think about that a lot in terms of the aftermath of my abuse. I told myself I was worthless, ugly, disposable. Disgusting. I said those things honestly, because I believed them. The lies we keep inside, the ones we tell ourselves about ourselves, can be deadly. It’s why fresh air and sunshine are so necessary for what we believe to be our truths. When we speak those negative confabulations aloud we give the people who love us the chance to challenge them.
When my husband cheated on me I felt so much shame. I told myself it was because I was fat, not enough, unlovable. In the absence of another narrative or having those assertions challenged, they became my truth- and they ate me alive.
If you can, speak your truth to someone you trust, who loves you. Someone who can say, gently, “No, friend. That is NOT WHO YOU ARE. You are ENOUGH. You are LOVED.” Someone who can pry the sharp edges of your truth from your hand and help you to stop cutting yourself with it.
If you aren’t ready to do that, just write. Unapologetically. Write in your journal, write a letter, send me an email.
You do not owe anyone the tidy, edited version of yourself. You were not put here to be small and convenient- to round the edges of your truth so no one’s neatly stitched comfort gets snagged on it and unravels.
You are not what happened to you- that darkness is not yours to carry alone. Your truth is only a life sentence if you impose it on yourself. Our untold stories, our untreated traumas- they get weaponized- we turn them inward or outward, but a knife is a knife, is a knife- whether we cut ourselves or someone else.
Drop your weapons. Tell your story.
“To survive, you must tell stories.”
Becky maggio says
BRAVO!!!!!!!! I have come a long way in the past year thru therapy but THIS!! These words say it all. I shall print it and read it every single day❣ So true, so powerful and SO needed. Thank you… Be blessed?
Wow. So powerful. I can relate to this so much. I actually do hold back SO much all the time. And the only person I talk about it with is my therapist, but I don’t want to be too big a burden for her. And that is why I don’t tell my husband. It is too much. I just read this, and I know I’m going to need to read it again. Again, so powerful.
I think your therapist would not find you a burden. She chose her line of work and wants to be there to help you, I bet.
All week I’ve been thinking I’ve made a terrible mistake. I’ve thrown up more times and more meals than I can count this week. My heart won’t beat right, and breathing is somewhat optional.
Here’s why the timing of this is so appropriate.
Last week my therapist suggested inviting my husband to my therapy session this evening.
I thought it a terrible idea. I still do! And I don’t think he expected me to act on it — he was putting it out there for consideration.
But, I’m impulsive. I charge headfirst into decisions. And, so.. he’s supposed to come this evening, and I’m dying a thousand deaths over the idea.
Because, yeah. Even my husband of 29 years — the idea of letting him inside, see the real me, know the horrible truth of who is inside me —
Only I also know he’ll stubbornly refuse to see those things, that he’ll still love me, and I’ll still feel false.
You’re saying the same things my therapist says — that sharing the load isn’t wrong, isn’t putting a burden of pain on someone else, that people who love you want to help carry the load, but it’s always felt wrong, and it’s always felt important to carry it alone, to be strong enough.
Well, we’ll see how tonight goes.
But my heart goes out to your reader: no therapist should ever say that to someone. Your story shouldn’t be minimized, but neither should it be made unspeakable. So terrible it cannot be uttered. You’re right about that. Even if it’s how we feel about our stories (and I do) — it doesn’t need validating by someone who is supposed to be a professional. That’s malpractice of the first order. But not all therapists are created equal. Not all therapists are guaranteed to be good. And even the good ones make mistakes.
In Others' Words says
I am just incredibly proud of you.
moth2flame, I will be so intentionally holding space for you this afternoon and evening. You are so brave. I love my husband of 23 years, but I am also so afraid to show him the hardest parts of me. I totally get your anxiety right now. You can get through it. You deserve total healing. Sending love and holding space. ?
Thank you Beth. That’s so kind.
I am terrified. I don’t know if I’ll be able to utter a word. I don’t even know what word I’d want to utter anyway.
I’d asked the therapist to not let there be miles and miles of silence — he’s brutal in outwaiting my silences and not rescuing me from them. And also if there’s something I’m not saying, he doesn’t volunteer it, right, if I’m not ready to with my husband there.
He said he’d have my back.
And asked me to consider why I’d invited him.
When it was his idea, anyway!! (but I bet he’ll say no, you acted on it, you own the idea. And rightly so, I suppose).
So I came up with….
To be closer. To be less hiding from him.
And maybe, somehow, something really help me feel as loved as I know I am. Really, truly know it in some fundamental way that I’m not capable of.
To not be that stupid hurt girl who is all alone.
In Others' Words says
She was hurt, yes. She was never stupid. And she sure is hell is not alone. Never. You are NEVER alone. sweet friend.
Thought of you all last night. Hope things went ok last night and you have peace today, moth2flame, you survivor, you.
Thank you again, Beth. Things went well last night, although I’m not sure I’m “okay” yet — mostly shell shocked and even when something like that goes well, it was still incredibly hard. Haven’t quite caught my bearings even yet today.
We’re going to do that every other week. So I have a week in between alone with the therapist to process, and that’s nice, I think that’s a good idea. When he suggested it for me to think about, I knew I liked the idea immediately, but I was afraid it would make my husband feel left out or excluded, but he was fine with it.
My husband said all the right things, and I knew he would. He even said he notices when I come home more stirred up than other times, just usually afraid to ask because he doesn’t want to make it worse. I always thought I hid it better than that.
And, Laura, you get to load up multiple “I told you so’s” — because, yes, he’s always sensed I hold everyone (including him) at a certain amount of arm’s length. I’d have never guessed he thought that, either.
And he referenced, very gently, (and I said he was being overly kind in his description because he was), the years I had a lot of anger, and I pointed out that if depression keeps me from spreading anger at others, then I prefer the depression. I don’t think either one of them bought that one as a good answer.
I told him he’s the soul I most trust in the entire world, which is true, and maybe the only one, and even there, even with all that implicit trust and knowledge he would never hurt me, and that he loves me — even with all that, there’s fear. There’s fear in this process that he will see the ugly that I see. There’s fear that she will end up hurt and alone again. Fear and shame. They make up 9/10s of my soul, and I don’t know if there’s room for anything else.
And yes, Laura — I know I’m not alone, I know you are there standing in the gap, this and your other website exist to bring us together, shine light, help us know we’re not alone — but just like his love doesn’t reach some fundamental place inside me, in there I’m still alone and in the dark, and I’m so afraid I always will be.
But he truly wants to be there, seemed happy to be there, which I don’t understand at all. I feel like I’m making him be somewhere he shouldn’t want to be, and that it’s wrong to do so, but at the end of the session the therapist did a check-in with us both how it was for each of us, and his answer was a resounding and without hesitation “Great!” (Mine was that I wanted to throw up, which seems quite the contrast.)
[Laura, if you don’t want all this in your comments, feel free to not post it.]
I am so proud of you! I remember trying to gather the courage to tell my husband things that I’d held back…. that’s so hard, but you did it! 🙂
No, you’re not making him be somewhere he shouldn’t want to be. I don’t know if you have kids or not, but if you do and one of them was hurting, going through something traumatic, you’d want to be right there with them. Same with your husband… the man you describe is a man who is deeply in love with you and wants to walk beside you through the hardest parts of your life. He wants to care for and protect you — that’s the way he’s wired. He wants to be there so you’re not alone and in the dark. His love will reach to those spots as you let him in. But it takes time. It’s hard. But you’re doing the hard work. The brave work.
Every other week together (with one on one in between) sounds like a great plan. It’s what we did at first. We’ve recently dropped it back to both of us every other week — with having the option of just one of us if that’s what’s needed.
Hang in there — be kind and patient with yourself. This is hard work. But looking at your posts… and remembering where you were just a year ago, I can say — You are stronger and braver than you think you are… than you feel like you are. I’m amazed by you!
Oh – and I don’t believe for a second that your husband is more than what you deserve. 🙂
That is SO BRAVE! I hope you see what’s really inside you reflected in his eyes. You are a strong, beautiful soul. I always feel weird saying this to someone I don’t know, but I’m so proud of you! Be kind to yourself regardless of how the appointment goes in your mind. You deserve a pat on the back from yourself.
I don’t know about brave, I was and still am completely terror-stricken.
..reflected in his eyes… Yeah, I did. He tears up pretty easily, too, and he was there last night, also, and his wanting to help me is so deep and true.
He managed to surprise me a couple times, but mostly he was exactly what I predicted — kind, loving, insightful, sincere. He’s so much better than I deserve.
Way to go. WARRIOR. I say, be super, super gentle with yourself. Whatever gives you peace. Some people, hypothetical people, find warm covers and a nonsense book (nothing heavy) with a cold diet coke nearby soothing. (me). Whatever your safe place is, hope you get to visit it as your process this amazing work.
We can hold each other in the light, or remain stumbling in the darkness. It hardly seems like a choice at all. A good therapist should be competent to sit with you, hold sacred space, without trying to change how you experience your own story. That is the least we could do for each other. This is a powerful piece, thank you for writing.
Erica Herd says
“You were not put here to be small and convenient- to round the edges of your truth so no one’s neatly stitched comfort gets snagged on it and unravels.” This really resonated with me. Thank you for writing this.
Beautifully written. <3
This. “Your story is being told either way. It is either being told because you are standing in your whole truth, having integrated whatever you think your unspeakable story is as A fact your life- or it becomes THE fact of your life, and is told through unhealthy and harmful ways- addiction, low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, perfectionism, promiscuity… those things are all your story being told- it’s just your story as told by your abuser. You are not the author.”
This is profound. This is exactly what happens. Secrets are the enemy. There is no shame on the abused – it’s all on the abuser. ALL.
I will share this post… thank you for writing it so eloquently.
I had a therapist once who told me, when I asked her why she thought I never told anyone about the pedophile in our family, “Maybe you liked it.”
What the heck kind of therapits it THAT?
I never spoke to her again, even though my shrink was in the very same office and I saw her every time I went to see him. I only wish I had walked out of her office as soon as that horrible retort came ouf of her obviously uneducated mouth.
Ha! I typed ‘therapits’ instead of therapist. Well that fits better anyway.
In Others' Words says
That is someone with zero insight into trauma and who has no business being in practice. I am so sorry that happened to you.
Wow, that is so horrible that any therapist (or any human) would say that.
Just because a therapist is in practice doesn’t mean, sadly, that they are good. I hope you found a much better one and got the support you deserved.
And did you find your answer, eventually? Or still searching? (If you want to say, of course.)
Yes, I know why. Took me a long time to figure it out on my own. No therapist any more. Just the shrink with medication management. I am sure I told no one because I was considered the family brat by my mother. Had I told her she’d either not belive me, or sweet it under the rug. Too much trouble to deal with for me. And then my Dad – he would have maybe not believed me, but if he did – he’d have beat the snot out of that man, gotten himself arrested for doing so, lose his job, etc. We lived in another state, the Pedophile lived in the south and was a member of the good old boy network. Still is. I am still an outsider here. BUT – even though I have told some people since then, only one of those people, who heard it 2nd hand, belives me. But that’s okay too. There is no statue of limitations in this state. And as soon as I get myself collected, after being raging mad since my neice’s passing and me not being able to go to her funeral because I didn’t have the strength to call him myself and invite him to STAY AWAY from my family, I will be pressing charges. I don’t care if that man is now 81 years old. Pedophiles never quite being who they are. I’m sure the list of little girls he’s assaulted has grown quite long. I know of at least one, not much younger than me. And then there’s another who I suspect had the same thing happen to her. She just doesn’t talk about it. Not yet. We’ll see. I can wait a while longer. No big rush.
In Others' Words says
Please keep me posted on how you are doing and what happens as you move forward. If you ever feel ready to tell your story anonymously, please consider sending it to us for the Say It, Survivor Blog.
Good for you.
That’s a rare state that doesn’t have any statute of limitations. I know some states are talking about moving that way because of how often memories are repressed until later.
What a shame that people like that leave broken children in their wake. (I don’t mean you are broken — only that any girl he used that way is harmed.)
And all too often they are never held accountable. Never looked directly in the eye and say, “You did this. You did this horrible thing and you harmed me.”
I envy you that if you do get to sit across a courtroom from him, although I don’t envy all the feelings you’ll be going through if you do. So envy is the wrong word. I hope you find what you need from that act, if you pursue it. And if you decide not to, that you’ve found what you need otherwise.
In Others' Words says
One of Say It, Survivor’s long-term goals is to have one consistent national policy on statutes of limitations on CSA- preferably that there not be any. No safe haven for predators.
Sorry for all the typos – my fingers cannot keep up with my brain.
Thank you all so much. And yes, I am broken, but now working hard to put myself back together at long last. I am much stronger now than I’ve ever been before in my life. I hope to get stronger. I will no longer put up with abuse of any kind from anyone. And there has been lots of other kinds of abuse over the years. If that means writing some people “out of my will”, then so be it. I need no more pain in my life and deserve to finally feel happy. No more abuse from anyone – including family members if need be. I am strong. I am WonderWoman! Well, not really, but I do try to convince myself.
You are wonder woman! At least in my book. 🙂
I’m broken too. But less broken than I was.
I think they have it right, here. Sharing, it helps. Seeing/meeting people like you, who bring fierceness to the table and the healing process, it inspires.
Thank you moth2flame – you’re much too kind. I have only recently gotten to this point after having an epiphany of sorts. After the pedo started sending messages to my children to give to me via his daugher, my 1st cousin, who now calls me a liar and a whore. But that’s okay. I know, he knows and most importantly, GOD KNOWS what he did. He’s telling people that I’m just mad at him. No, buddy, I am not mad, I am furious! Livid! And very tired of you walking around with your nose up in the air as if you are somebody worth respect. You are not, old man, but you will be going to jail before too long. But first – a little vacation. Then we get in the ring to fight. I know who’s going to be in my corner, plus a lot of collaborating witnesses. But who wil be in your corner besides the devil himself? Yup. I am now ready for you to go to jail. Past ready. And it will happen no matter who says what. You are done.
I’ll keep ya’ll informed. Time for all of us’ns to come out of that deep dark closet and into the beautiful light of God almighty. HE loves us when no one else does. But they will when they finally figure it out. <3 to all of us!
Well, moth2flame, I’ve really done it now. I’ve gone and told my brother-in-laws wife off at long last. It’s been 40 years in the making, but she finally stepped in a huge pile of the other day while acting like a donkey (of sorts) as usual. She made the mistake of opening her wretched mouth to me about something that was truly none of her business, tried her best to blast me and go herself blasted instead. The best part is, she really never saw it coming and had no comeback once it was over. Guess she was far too busy picking her jaw up off the floor to think about any smart donkey comebacks this time.
On the way home from that encounter, my significant other, or maybe he is, made the mistake of repeatedly and drunkenly telling me how to drive. After about 5 minutes of this bad behavior from him, my right foot suddenly flew off the gas and planted itself in the brake pedal. The car came to a screeching halt on this only recently “scraped and paved” dirt road between here and there and pretty much out in the middle of nowhere. Poor guy didn’t know what happened, but drunk as he was, he thought it was a great idea to get out of the car and attempt to come around to the drivers side and attempt to drive (better than I had been, he said) my car home. HA!
Little did I know that my right foot would suddenly and inexplicably jump back off that brake pedal as soon as he opened the car door and his mouth at the very same time. That evil foot jumped back onto the gas pedal and pressed down hard while the left hand worked it’s magic in locking all the doors. As the car sped off in the direction of home, the head did its turning thing and managed to catch a glimpse of his highness standing in the middle of the road, hands on hips, head and eyes looking all around. Being certain that I’d go just to the stop sign about a mile ahead, turn around and then go back for him, his feet remained planted in that waste of money, barely paved, but clearly scraped former dirt road, now full of pot holes and wash out ripples. And there he stood as I drove on down the road, amazed at my own actions that night, even. Who knew this former door mat of a human being would EVER confront, as well as lambaste, this queen evil and bad behavior after 40 years or so of silence where she was concerned. And I’ll tell you what – it felt GOOD! REAL good. Yes it did. Almost as good as the night I told my evil sister off on the phone, but not quite.
Heard later that he’d walked up to the nearest biker bar and tried to call home. But E.T. had yet to arrive when that phone message was left. Then he called again, thinking that I’d jump back in the car, drive that 30 minutes once again and retrieve his sorry donkey. NO way Jose’! The new and all powerful Wonder Woman was not ever going to do that. And so I told him to catch a ride. Which he did. And stupidly paid the guy who brought him home $30 to do so. That’s a dollar a mile. I never got paid that much for dragging his donkey around any time at all. I feel so cheated! However, he did arrive home and in one piece, only a little worse for wear than he had been when he made the most brilliant error of his life; when he stepped out of that car. Who knew Wonder Woman would take over and haul freight, leaving him behind in the dust. What fun!
But then I had to wonder what was going to happen when he did arrive home. Of that I was not certain, but did have a few ideas, none of which were good at all. I had experience there, dont’chaknow. He did, however, act like a human upon his return rather than a donkey, but even so, he was somewhat irate. He chalked it all up to my anger and disdain at his (notice how I switched that) sister-in-law, who has always been a wicked donkey, but not one who has ever had her ears peeled back like that by anyone other than her own dear mother. Never did he consider the fact that his behavior did nothing but put the icing in that cake. But it did. If it makes him happy to remain forever blameless and non-complicit in his karma that night, so be it. I know the truth. And it was so delicious! Must have been STRAWBERRY CAKE!
P.S. God’s got plenty of super glue – HIS own kind. I know it’ll work for all of us. Let’s go people!