A farewell to arms
when they hear your story,
upon hearing your story,
and this is how you know.
Nearly every day I wake up to someone’s story in my inbox. People email me their stories, or pieces of their stories, all the time. Last weekend was unusual though, in that I received multiple stories on both days. Saturday morning there were three stories in my inboxes- two at the blog’s email, one at Say It, Survivor’s email. Then yesterday I got four stories throughout the day on Sunday.
Almost every single person apologized. Nearly all of them said they were sorry for having shared their truth with me.
The reason is simple and pretty universal among survivors of sexual abuse. Almost without exception, we are given the message to be quiet. Either we are flat-out told not to speak of what happened to us- we are threatened, coerced or cajoled into keeping our abuse a secret or we are given the message in less direct but equally impactful ways.
Society reinforces that all the time- every time we hush our voices when speaking of sexual abuse, every time someone says rape is a ‘fate worse than death,’ or we talk about sexual abuse being a ‘life sentence,’ every time we’re made to feel guilty for making others uncomfortable, every time we have to comfort the person we are telling rather than be comforted, it reinforces the toxic lie we are fed that our stories are unspeakable.
I’ve been asked how it is that I can read these stories, stories of pain and suffering, violence, betrayal and violation, and not be triggered by them. The truth is, I have no idea. I know that’s not the norm for survivors. I don’t really need to know why. I’m grateful because it allows me to do what I do.
My people- the people who love me- worry about me walking back toward the darkness when I’ve just come out of it. They’re concerned for me and wonder why I choose to carry heavy things that are not mine.
That one’s easy. I carry things that are not mine because that, my friends, is why we are here. We are here to lighten one another’s loads. We are here to bear witness for one another. We are here to SEE one another, fully, clearly- and love one another. We are here to be SEEN, scars and all, and be loved.
Yesterday, I was emailing back and forth with a reader- she was telling me where she’s at. We were talking about the value of giving voice to our stories. She wrote:
“Honestly, I don’t know that telling someone the whole truth is going to be helpful. My therapist has actually said that she’s never told anyone (meaning her supervisor etc) the details of my story because it could be traumatizing for them.”
I lost my mind a little when I read that. It made me incredibly angry.
Even if that is true- and I’d argue that if you cannot hear details of someone’s trauma perhaps being a therapist is not your calling- why any therapist would say that to a patient is beyond me. That is literally telling someone their story is unspeakable. That, my friends, is how you make someone’s abuser a truth-teller.
Once you have done that, all the other lies that child was told- all the “your faults” and “not enoughs” and other shame messages seem that much more plausible. If their abuser was right about that one thing, what else was he or she right about?
Just because one person is not equipped to bear witness to your story does not mean you should not tell it. Just because someone feels unable to HEAR it does not mean you should not SAY it. Find someone who can. It is not your job to ensure that no one in your life is ever uncomfortable- it’s just NOT.
It is a big part of why Mary and I began the Say It, Survivor Blog– to give survivors an anonymous forum to share their stories and cradle them within a community that understands and can support them while they do it.
I keep saying it over and over- if you do not own your story it will own you. Your story is being told either way. It is either being told because you are standing in your whole truth, having integrated whatever you think your unspeakable story is as A fact your life- or it becomes THE fact of your life, and is told through unhealthy and harmful ways- addiction, low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, perfectionism, promiscuity… those things are all your story being told- it’s just your story as told by your abuser. You are not the author.
The reason your story feels so overwhelming is simple- we are not meant to carry these things alone. It’s too much, it’s too heavy to bear by yourself. Find a safe place, a safe forum. If you don’t have anyone in your life that fits the bill, email it to me. I will read it. I will carry a corner.
I promise you, friends- every single time I tell my story it becomes lighter. Every single, “Me too,” is balm for my soul- not because I am happy that someone else has been through it, but because I feel heard and seen. I feel less alone.
It’s not just true for survivors of sexual abuse- it is true for all of us. When my marriage imploded I did not tell anyone for almost a year. It almost killed me. I starved myself, I drank too much, barely slept at all. I was lugging around this giant, dark, impossibly heavy thing by myself- and when I couldn’t carry it anymore, it sat on my chest, suffocating me.
One of the dangers of keeping our stories tucked inside is what we do with them. We make up stories about our stories. Have you guys read Rising Strong by the incomparable Brené Brown? It’s a game changer. Anyway, one of the things she explores is our nature, as human beings, to find meaning in our stories. We are “meaning-making” creatures. She also talks about confabulations- which are lies told honestly.
I think about that a lot in terms of the aftermath of my abuse. I told myself I was worthless, ugly, disposable. Disgusting. I said those things honestly, because I believed them. The lies we keep inside, the ones we tell ourselves about ourselves, can be deadly. It’s why fresh air and sunshine are so necessary for what we believe to be our truths. When we speak those negative confabulations aloud we give the people who love us the chance to challenge them.
When my husband cheated on me I felt so much shame. I told myself it was because I was fat, not enough, unlovable. In the absence of another narrative or having those assertions challenged, they became my truth- and they ate me alive.
If you can, speak your truth to someone you trust, who loves you. Someone who can say, gently, “No, friend. That is NOT WHO YOU ARE. You are ENOUGH. You are LOVED.” Someone who can pry the sharp edges of your truth from your hand and help you to stop cutting yourself with it.
If you aren’t ready to do that, just write. Unapologetically. Write in your journal, write a letter, send me an email.
You do not owe anyone the tidy, edited version of yourself. You were not put here to be small and convenient- to round the edges of your truth so no one’s neatly stitched comfort gets snagged on it and unravels.
You are not what happened to you- that darkness is not yours to carry alone. Your truth is only a life sentence if you impose it on yourself. Our untold stories, our untreated traumas- they get weaponized- we turn them inward or outward, but a knife is a knife, is a knife- whether we cut ourselves or someone else.
Drop your weapons. Tell your story.
“To survive, you must tell stories.”