“In a room where
people unanimously maintain
a conspiracy of silence,
one word of truth
sounds like a pistol shot.”
Recently, Mary and I were at a women’s retreat telling our story and doing a workshop.We had more than one woman take us aside and say she was fine and that she’d moved on. And besides, she wouldn’t want to break up the family by saying the truth about what had happened to her. And not just at that event, either. It’s the same thing over and over again. They’re FINE. I mean, maybe they think about it from time to time, but it’s not having any impact on their lives. It was a long time ago. Let sleeping dogs lie- it’s just not worth making everyone upset.
My goodness, do we make ourselves the guilty parties in our own abuse.
If it’s true, that you’re fine- that’s great. What Mary and I see time and time again, though, is that once we start to talk about the ways in which our abuse affected and infected our lives people start to revisit the notion that their trauma no longer has a grip on them.
How are you sleeping? What’s your relationship with food like? How is your sex life? What is your relationship with alcohol? Drugs? Do you feel the need to control everything? Are you a perfectionist? Are you in constant hustle mode- trying to be all things to all people? Are you hyper-vigilant with your kids? Are you raising them to be fearful?
When people say that to us- about not wanting to break up their families by speaking the truth, we say the same thing every time- “Oh honey, if this thing happened in your home, a place where you should feel safe and loved, your family is already broken.”
If sexual abuse is happening within your family, if the cycle of abuse and trauma is playing out on a loop from hell in your family- well, your family is fundamentally broken to begin with. It’s like saying I don’t want to inflict chemo on myself because it’s toxic and my body is a temple… Honey, you have cancer. Pick your poison.
We hear it from women whose trauma still very much informs their lives in a myriad of ways. They have their own nuclear families, they have children of their own, but they are still pledging fealty to a family of origin that was either abusive, complicit or so values that pretty, sparkly outside version of themselves that they are content to sacrifice one of their children at the altar of appearance, reputation, standing.
If the people in your life, your family, get angry with you for telling the truth about your abuse that is painful and awful and great information. People really will let you know what their priorities are, one way or another.
“The first messenger, that gave notice of Lucullus‘ coming was so far from pleasing Tigranes that, he had his head cut off for his pains; and no man dared to bring further information. Without any intelligence at all, Tigranes sat while war was already blazing around him, giving ear only to those who flattered him”.
You know what the other title of that work is? “Parallel Lives.”
Is that what you’re doing, sweet friend? Are you living two lives? The one in the here and now, where you make no waves, pretend the smiling faces in the family portrait on the wall aren’t a lie? Do you show up at your family home at Thanksgiving, pie in hand, and pretend you aren’t walking into a crime scene? Do you spend the holiday frantically keeping your kids in sight, passing the potatoes, drinking too much wine in an attempt to ignore the living, breathing dragon coiled in the corner of the room that you’ve all collectively agreed to pretend is pretend?
Is the other life you are leading mired in the past? You know, the past that is always present, always lurking. The flashbacks triggered by seemingly innocuous things- a snug turtleneck, a brand of soap, the smell of liquor on someone’s breath.
Aren’t you TIRED?
“Gracious madam, I that do bring the news
made not the match.”
No rational, healthy, non-complicit person blames a victim for telling the truth about what happened rather than the perpetrator for committing the crime to begin with. Period. And if you are still unsure, ask yourself this question: “If my child were abused, if there was someone in my family or my community who had preyed on my child and is likely preying on other children, would I want to know? Would I want to help and comfort my child? Would I want to protect other children? Would I want to not be in a position of welcoming my child’s abuser into my home? Making them a sandwich?”
None of this is your fault. Not what happened, not the aftermath. It’s not your job to suffer in silence so no one has to look at the ugly, inconvenient truth. It’s not your job to smile and wave through your pain. And blaming you for speaking your truth is like prosecuting the person calling 911 to report a murder rather than the person who fired the gun.
I have said it before and I will keep on saying it, forever and ever amen- it is not your job to ensure that no one in your life is ever uncomfortable. It’s just not. And if the cost of other people’s comfort is your safety or well being? That price is too high and it is not yours to pay.
You didn’t drench the house in gasoline, you didn’t light the match, and you didn’t toss it.
You’re just calling the fire department.