I held onto my secrets for years. Decades, actually. And there are many reasons why. Reasons that anyone who has endured it — lived it — will understand. But only those who have endured it — lived it — will.
I’m writing this for everyone else.
This needs to be shared with you because for every raw and exposed confession in the #MeToo movement, for every individual who had finally summoned the courage to speak their truth, there were many with their fingers pointed back — at their best in confusion and at their worst, in anger — daring or demanding to know why they waited so long to come forward. Many sanctimoniously dismissed the claim because there simply couldn’t be a reason they could fathom why we held it in all this time.
Here’s why we wait.
We wait because when it happened to us our first reaction was a disassociated shock. Not at all unlike the type of trauma one would endure participating in a war they didn’t expect or want to fight. We didn’t understand what was happening to us. When it did happen, it happened because we were cornered or trapped or forced or coerced. We were perhaps naively trusting or completely blindsided. No matter how it happened, we did not want it to happen. Much less continue to happen, as was the case in my first #Me Too experience (link here). [And yes. It was only the first. If you want to know more you can find it here.]
If you remember nothing else from what I’m about to share with you, remember this:
When it did happen and after our shock was subdued, we experienced any number of reactions: Shame. Anger. Rage. Embarrassment. Fear. Confusion. The last one most especially if you were a child. It takes awhile for a perpetrator to convince you that what is happening is normal, but they are brilliantly skilled at it.
After those initial reactions, our gut instinct and sometimes our biggest desire is to pretend it never happened. Because we didn’t want it to happen. If we pretend hard enough and resume our normal life and never tell a soul, then that means it didn’t happen, right?
There were other reasons for our silence. Our shame and embarrassment would eventually manifest into guilt. In no small way, no matter our circumstances, we feel somehow that we were responsible. We examine it from every angle to see what we did wrong or how we could have prevented it.
There is also pressure, spoken or unspoken, implied or demanded, to remain quiet. Or to not disappoint someone. It may be your parents, your neighbor, your boss, your uncle, your stepdad, your babysitter. For me, it was my parents. I wanted to protect from them from the truth. First, because it would shatter them. Second, because in my 12-year-old mind, my sexual abuse was intrinsically intertwined and diametrically opposed to being a good girl. I was a good girl. And this didn’t happen to good girls.
This pressure — spoken or unspoken, implied or demanded — most often will turns into overwhelming guilt for somehow being complicit in your own trauma.
For those who were brave and strong enough to come forward right away — regardless of the many times they have seen this fail or backfire on someone else they knew about or read about or watched on television — these extraordinary individuals have managed to find the strength to seek justice.
They are our heroes.
Sadly, we watched them fade away from the headlines. Very few victorious in their battle. Most shamed and blamed for their role in inviting in the perpetrator. Others were fired, had their silence bought or were simply swept under the rug.
With so few great examples of restitution for being brave enough to come forward, we did our best to put it behind us and move on. We buried it in the basement of our souls. We ignored its angry, pleading, tearful demands when it crept up on us out of nowhere. We shoved the uninvited beast back into the darkness. We mistakenly believed that if we didn’t feed it, didn’t give it the light of day, it would die.
We were wrong. It doesn’t die.
It keeps resurfacing, interfering with life and cannibalizing innocent relationships with others who don’t know our truth. We may invite a few trusted individuals in and share our secrets with them in an attempt at relief or honesty. And they will try to understand. But this is like any monumental life event, good or bad: unless you experience it, you don’t understand. Like the birth of a child. Like the death of a loved one.
You think you know, but you cannot possibly know.
Some will try to love you back to the person you were before it happened. And you may hope with every fiber of your being that they can. That they somehow hold the magic touch that will mend your broken bits and let you trust fully again. But they can’t.
The work of healing is solely yours.
This awareness arrives to each of us in its own time. We are reluctant to relive it. To pull out the wound with the black mold that has grown around our trauma and dissect it. It is such a daunting task that some choose never to face it at all.
There is one thing, however, that gives us the courage to face it: someone who bravely shares their story.
They awaken within us the emotion we buried. We know their pain and see ourselves in their stories. They make us feel understood and less alone in our suffering. We see our truth in theirs. And that brings a wash of relief so powerful that it sandblasts its way to our hearts and gives us hope. Hope that we too can be brave and strong; heard and understood.
So, why now?
Because of her and her and her and her. Because of him and him and him and him. Because of all of them. Because their voice gave us the strength to use ours. Because alone we felt weak but together we are strong. Because we know our truth. Because we will stand for truth together. Because it’s time. Because #me too.
Early on in my personal spiritual journey, I went through a phase of watching and reading stories of NDE’s or near death experiences. It was an integral part of shedding my ingrained catholic beliefs of heaven and hell and life ending at death.
This led me to the work of Dr. Michael Newton (Journey of Souls: Case Studies of Life Between Lives), which quite literally blew my mind and made me eager to experience my own past life regression; which I later did with the fabulous Nancy Hajek right here in Nashville.
In the forward to Frank Ostaskeski’s beautiful book, The Five Invitations* is this quote by Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D.:
Chances are until you have experienced that one great loss, this will read to you as more ominous than catalytic. Like grief itself, these types of statements can’t fully be absorbed and understood until you experience them yourself.
We can get attached to who we think we are. We can be downright stubborn about it. Our identity seamlessly and completely intertwined with what we do. What we do becomes what we are. But what if what we do is taken away from us in the blink of an eye? Who are we then?
In the words of Chinese Philosopher Lao Tzu: