Speaking the truth, stripping secrets of their power
I have been intrigued with the variety of confession sites that have surged into popularity in the blogosphere lately. I'm not sure that I even realized why they resonated with me until recently. And in one of those epiphanies where everything is suddenly obvious, I knew: It's my abhorrence of secrets.
Eh, I would have told you, I just prefer honesty. I value the truth for truth's sake, I would've insisted. And that is---to some extent---true.
But yesterday I read this post by Dawn and realized that I'd been kidding myself. It goes much deeper than that.
Dawn takes an anonymous commenter to task for telling her that the truth hurts. She offers as an object lesson the tale of her childhood sexual abuse, subsequent warping of her perceptions, and the simple truth that until she starting speaking, she thought it was normal.
The entire thing bears reading, but it's her no-apologies ending that brings it home:
So, "Truth hurts people" commenter, I respectfully disagree. Truth doesn't hurt people, secrets hurt people. The secrets we keep from our loved ones to spare them pain. The secrets we keep from ourselves. The secrets we keep for fear that we won't be liked, or loved, or admired. Maybe the truths expressed at TWC are the first time someone is saying their truth out loud. You don't have to like it. Hell, you don't have to read it, and you don't even have to agree that there should be a place like this to express yourself.
But keep the shaming to yourself. This is what keeps abused people silent. And I, for one, won't shut up to please you.
Dawn's post brought back to my mind this post by Yvonne where she discusses how she never told:
Why is this moment significant in my life? Because on that day, I had walked into that house an innocent, trusting little girl with not a care in the world, and I left a scared, mistrusting girl who felt dirty and bad. I had been violated by someone that I looked up to. If that wasn't bad enough, I had been manipulated into keeping a secret to protect someone who didn't deserve protection. It was on that day that I learned to keep quiet about things that hurt me because I didn't want to become a burden or make people sad. I didn't anyone to know that I had touched a half naked man in such a gross way.
I wish I had told someone, because then maybe someone would have been able to tell me that "it wasn't my fault."
And then, too, I remembered Grace's recent post where she confesses to "speaking in code" about her journey, one which includes physical and sexual abuse which she refuses to hide:
i couldn't say this at the closing keynote. it's too much and too big and i would have cried and maybe some of you would have cried with me, but some would have rolled their eyes and i didn't want that. i grew up with that disdain and i will not stand for that now.
I know too many women who live now or lived for years with shameful secrets that never should've been theirs to bear. When I think about the overwhelming number of worries in being a parent---the myriad ways in which my children, my babies, can be hurt and I will be powerless to save them---I come back to the same penultimate fear each and every time.
More than anything, I fear my daughter being molested and manipulated into not telling.
It happened to Dawn. It happened to Yvonne. It happened to Grace. And it happened to me.
I cannot protect my children from everything. I can teach my children that there is never a secret worth keeping if it makes them feel bad. A birthday present is a good secret. A surprise outing is a good secret. An adult should never ask a child to keep a secret. I have taught my kids this since toddlerhood. I want them to know that sometimes adults are wrong, and that no one is allowed to take their right to speak.
It has been, and continues to be, a bone of contention between my ex-husband and myself. He doesn't see the harm in secrets. He thinks the kids can differentiate as needed, and there is nothing inherently harmful in it. That's because it never happened to him, and he cannot imagine the harm in having the kids keep an inconsequential secret now and then. My insistence on openness and honesty seems borderline obsessive to him. It's simply that I know firsthand how short the pathway between "inconsequential" and "life-shattering" can be when you're a child.
I pray my children will never find themselves in a situation where they will grapple with the repercussions of telling. But I cannot be an effective mother to either of them if I am ruled by fear. The way I choose to assuage this anxiety is to raise them to know how to protect themselves, yes, and---more than that---to know they can always speak the truth.
Secrets can be poison, but only when we're afraid to let them out. I applaud every survivor who has found and shared her voice. Such bravery helps me discover mine, and to give back to my children what never should've been taken from me.
[image courtesy of Aspen Country]