“Shame cannot survive being spoken.
It cannot survive empathy.”
Dr. Brene Brown
I’ve been messaging with a survivor lately. She’s been having a hard time, had some questions. I ‘listened’ over our Facebook chat, I made a few suggestions. It can be tricky when I don’t know someone to know what to advise. While there are common threads, there is no one universal experience. We suffer differently, we heal differently. There is no one panacea. It’s almost always AND and not OR, when it comes to paths to healing.
I don’t know how much help I was. It never feels like enough.
She’s in therapy, which is good. She’s processing her story, which is HARD. She’s living with the fallout, which is painful. She’s carrying some dark and heavy things and trying to make sense of her story, just like the rest of us. Trying to figure out what it means for her, and who she is on the other side of it. Who she will be.
Last week during one of our chats I told her that I am completely shameless about my abuse. I truly do not feel one ounce of shame about what happened to me. That it was gone from me. She asked me how that happens, and in that moment I couldn’t really tell her.
She messaged me the other day. She told me she shared her story with a friend, who also turned out to be a survivor. Neither of them had any idea about each other. That happens so often it’d make your head spin.
Anyway, when she shared what her friend said in reply I was elevated to tears. Her friend’s response was,
“I’ll carry this with you.”
That’s when I realized I’d been mistaken. I DO know how we can lay down the shame, I DO know how we ALL begin to heal. It’s THAT. It is sharing our story, and having the people in our lives say, “I’ll carry this with you.” “I’ll take a corner.” “You do not have to carry this burden by yourself for one more day.”
Shame is a man-made thing, its toxic seeds need to be planted, tended. The good news is, things intentionally planted can be torn out by the roots.
I became shameless when I shared my story. When I wrote The Fault in my Scars, and heard from friends who’d known me for decades, and they said, “Me too.” When I had person after person respond with compassion. When He Wrote it Down was published, it was the same thing on a larger scale. That’s when the last traces of shame disappeared. Because I had so many people carrying it with me, the burden was entirely lifted.
I hear time and time again from people, after they look at our Survivor Gallery, how helpless they feel. How they wish there was something they could do. Well, here you go:
Because I no longer believe in expecting people to psychically intuit what I need, I will put the dots very close together. Based on my own personal experience as a survivor, and having talked to hundreds upon hundreds of other survivors:
You don’t need to fix anything, just listen.
You don’t need to ask questions- if it’s an important detail, we’ll tell you, if we don’t it may be because we can’t. Yet.
Please, fortheloveofallthatisholy, do not quantify our experience. I have had more than one person ask if it was “RAPE rape.” Do not do that thing. That is a thing you should not do.
It’s okay to have an emotional reaction, but please do not put us in the position of having to comfort you. That reinforces the lie we’ve all been sold that our story is unspeakable. And those aforementioned seeds? It waters them.
Please do not treat us as though we are tragedies and our stories are precious. That’s backwards. Our stories may be tragic, but we are precious. It is unbearable when people treat you differently after you tell your story, as though you are a tragic figure, some fragile thing. If we were fragile, I promise you- WE WOULD NOT BE HERE.
Believe. Sometimes our stories are fragmented. We can’t remember some basic things, but have complete, detailed memories of others. We’re not sure when things began, how old we were. What happened first. It doesn’t matter. It’s life, not a screenplay. It doesn’t need to be linear or organized. Trauma is seldom tidy. Just believe, and understand that memory is sometimes ephemeral, and sometimes it has unyielding claws. It’s BOTH. It’s AND.
Most survivors tend to apologize for having burdened someone with their story. We know it’s heavy. We know it’s a lot. If we share our story with you, it is because we believe you to be a safe place for us. It is an act of bravery for us and it shows we have faith in you.
Be deserving of that faith. Honor that bravery.
Thank us for sharing it with you, and then pick up a corner and walk a while with us.
*** If you are a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and would like to share your story anonymously, please consider submitting it to the Say It, Survivor Blog. Not everyone is at a place where they can share the story with the people in their lives. If that is true for you, send us your story. We will bear witness for you, friend.
when they hear your story.
upon hearing your story.
this is how