I told my story of abuse because keeping it a secret was choking the life out of me. It wasn’t enough for me to tell a therapist behind closed doors. Although it brought about healing to do so, I still walked around believing I was damaged, rotten to the core and inherently bad. Beliefs left over from childhood trauma.
I knew intellectually that the neglect and abuse I experienced was not my doing, but that of my parents; their mistake not mine. Hence their shame, not mine. And yet, I walked around with their shame as if it were my own.
You can’t believe you are bad and also live authentically. Authentic is genuine. When you believe you are bad, you tend to live your live pretending, in an effort to hide the contempt you feel for yourself. You overcompensate with people pleasing, perfectionism and overachieving to mask your feelings of not being good enough. You become so good in one or all of these roles that you forget this inner battle for short periods of time. All the while, it is subconsciously influencing how you live your life.
Telling my story was not planned, it just happened. When it did, it was right! A ton of weight lifted immediately, and I felt a freedom that I had not experienced before. Freedom to be me, Carrie, exactly where I was, without shame or a need to pretend. Carrie, who had, thus far, done a pretty decent job navigating through the fallout of early childhood trauma while showing up for life each day. And year after year even when it seemed my efforts were not getting me to where I wanted to go. Recognizing this was growth.
I often wondered why, in spite of the work I was doing, I was not launching further into the life I wanted for myself. It is so clear now. We cannot launch from a foundation of lies. We truly launch from the place of truth. Some of us try to bypass the process of growth and jump forward hoping to land where we wish to be, but there is never a shortcut, only the illusion of one.
When we deny our experience, we get stuck there, and that becomes the story of who we are. Telling the story of our experience turns the page, and the rest is unwritten.
Judith Herman writes in Trauma And Recovery, “It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear and speak no evil. The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain. The victim demands action, engagement, and remembering.”
Herman is not referring to a verbal request here; she is referencing the two choices all witnesses of abuse are faced with. There are many reasons for a person choosing one roll over the other.
Not everyone will support you, or believe you. It is okay, they don’t have to. They have their reasons and their process, it is not always for us to understand. It is easy to get hung up on wanting everyone to understand your motives and back you up, but it can be a huge distraction and will keep you from moving forward if you let it. There are people, who will be there to encourage and support you in your healing, surround yourself with them.
We have a basic need for connection, well-being, honesty, play (joy), autonomy, and meaning. Breaking the silence to tell my story of abuse met all of those needs for me. When these needs were not being met, I was in a state of varying degrees of distress and stuck in survival mode. When our needs are met in balance, we feel stable, of sound mind and we thrive.
Telling our story of abuse does not erase it, but it is part of the work that is needed to heal. How we tell it, will be unique to each of us.
Photo: Flickr/ Christine Vaufrey