“In a room where
people unanimously maintain
a conspiracy of silence,
one word of truth
sounds like a pistol shot.”

Czeslaw Milosz


Recently, Mary and I were at a women’s retreat telling our story and doing a workshop. We had more than one woman take us aside and say she was “fine” and that she’d moved on.  And besides, she wouldn’t want to break up the family by saying the truth about what had happened to her.  And not just at that event, either.  It’s the same thing over and over again. They’re FINE. MAYBE they think about it from time to time, but it’s not having any impact on their lives.  It was a long time ago.  Let sleeping dogs lie- it’s not worth making everyone upset.

My goodness, do we make ourselves the guilty parties in our own abuse.

If it’s true, that you’re fine- that is GREAT. What Mary and I see time and time again, though, is that once we start to talk about the ways in which our abuse affected and infected our lives people start to revisit the notion that their trauma no longer has a grip on them.

How are you sleeping? What’s your relationship with food like? How is your sex life? What is your relationship with alcohol? Drugs?  Do you feel the need to control everything? Are you a perfectionist? Are you in constant hustle mode- trying to be all things to all people?  Are you hyper-vigilant with your kids?  Are you raising them to be fearful?

When people say that to us- about not wanting to break up their families by speaking the truth, we say the same thing every time- “Oh honey, your family is already broken.”

If sexual abuse is happening within your family, if the cycle of abuse and trauma is playing out on a loop from hell in your family- well, your family is fundamentally broken to begin with.  It’s like saying I don’t want to inflict chemo on myself because it’s toxic and my body is a temple… Honey, you have CANCER.  Pick your poison.

We hear it from women whose trauma still very much informs their lives in a myriad of ways.  They have their own nuclear families, they have children of their own, but they are still pledging fealty to a family of origin that was either abusive, complicit or so values that pretty, sparkly outside version of themselves that they are content to sacrifice one of their children at the altar of appearance, reputation, standing.

If the people in your life, your FAMILY, get angry with you for telling the truth about your abuse that is painful and awful and GREAT INFORMATION.  People really will let you know what their priorities are, one way or another.

I did a little research.  The first mention of “killing the messenger” in literature seems to be in  Plutarch‘s Lives:

“The first messenger, that gave notice of Lucullus‘ coming was so far from pleasing Tigranes that, he had his head cut off for his pains; and no man dared to bring further information. Without any intelligence at all, Tigranes sat while war was already blazing around him, giving ear only to those who flattered him”.

You know what the other title of that work is?  “Parallel Lives.”

Is that what you’re doing, sweet friend? Are you living two lives?  The one in the here and now, where you make no waves, pretend the smiling faces in the family portrait on the wall aren’t a lie?  Do you show up at your family home at Thanksgiving, pie in hand, and pretend you aren’t walking into a crime scene?  Do you spend the holiday frantically keeping your kids in sight, passing the potatoes, drinking too much wine in an attempt to ignore the living, breathing dragon coiled in the corner of the room that you’ve all collectively agreed to pretend is pretend?

Is the other life you are leading mired in the past?  You know, the past that is always present, always lurking.  The flashbacks triggered by seemingly innocuous things- a snug turtleneck, a brand of soap, the smell of liquor on someone’s breath.

Aren’t you TIRED?

In Shakespeare in Henry IV, Part 2 and in Antony and Cleopatra,  Cleopatra threatens to tear out the messenger’s eyes as when told Antony has married another, eliciting the response:

“Gracious madam, I that do bring the news

made not the match.”

No rational, healthy, non-complicit person blames a victim for telling the truth about what happened rather than the perpetrator for committing the crime to begin with.  Period.  And if you are still unsure, ask yourself this question:  “If my child were abused, if there was someone in my family or my community who had preyed on my child and is likely preying on other children, would I want to know?  Would I want to help and comfort my child?  Would I want to protect other children?  Would I want to not be in a position of welcoming my child’s abuser into my home? Making them a sandwich?”

None of this is your fault.  Not what happened, not the aftermath.  It’s not your job to suffer in silence so no one has to look at the ugly, inconvenient truth.  It’s not your job to smile and wave through your pain.  And blaming you for speaking your truth is like prosecuting the person calling 911 to report a murder rather than the person who fired the gun.

I have said it before and I will keep on saying it, forever and ever amen- it is not your job to ensure that no one in your life is ever uncomfortable.  It’s just not. And if the cost of other people’s comfort is your safety or well being?  That price is too high and it is not yours to pay.

You didn’t drench the house in gasoline, you didn’t light the match, and you didn’t toss it.

You’re just calling the fire department.



16 Comments on “Messenger

  1. It’s not that simple, though.

    I know, you didn’t say it was simple, or easy.

    And I’ve heard you, all the times you’ve said pretending affects my family, too, and now that my husband is coming to every other therapy session, I’m getting the painful truth of that. (Not intentionally painful — he couldn’t be kinder, sweeter, more wanting to be helpful).

    And that hurts, too. Hurts because I still want to be behind walls, protected, guarded — put the pretty front on things, and he’s reaching out, wanting to be included, and I don’t know if I can.

    Over the last two weeks, I had a nephew and niece graduate — one college, one high school, so they were a bit spaced apart. We didn’t go. (I know, you’d be glad we didn’t go).

    I see pictures of the events – with other family there, posing with my niece, my nephew. Smiling faces.

    Faces that haunt my nightmares.

    Isn’t it kind of bad to be a crappy aunt to them, when they did nothing at all, other than happening to have been born into a family where the previous generation was so very messed up?

    But I guess they can live without an aunt — they have aunts on their mother’s side that are close.

    So I ducked out on graduations, but Christmas and the holidays will come, and I won’t feel like I can.

    It’s just one weekend, right, what’s the big deal, what’s the harm?

    Only there is harm.

    But not letting them visit — takes a boldness I don’t have.

    And, I would argue.. isn’t it better to swallow the harm for one weekend, than … never mind. I know your opinion, you said it very clearly in this piece.


    • Sister, this description reads so real to me. To look at my family of origin on Facebook, I feel like the messed up one. They look so happy and loving and in sync. What’s wrong with me?
      I struggle with the holidays every year. Two years ago I literally made myself sick and couldn’t travel. Last year, my daughter had to finish college applications, so I stayed back. So so so much guilt.
      This year, my husband’s mom is near us giving us one less reason to head back. We are not. I feel guilty, but I can’t chase their love and approval anymore. My mom didn’t send a birthday card and deletes me from email threads my aunts send. Clearly she is done with me. So as holidays approach, I feel you. I hope you can search your heart and do what is best for you and your now family. You deserve that so much.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Extremely powerful message…hope those that need it most, read it and are moved to take better care of themselves. ❤


  3. Pingback: Messenger – yankeegirltales

  4. Whoa. This one challenges me to the core. This might be one I have to re-read further down the road. So much truth, but hard truth. Thank you. ❤️

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I read this and then i had to come back and read it again. You’re right but is hard to change after a lifetime of living a different way. But it is time.


  6. I’m a 41Yo man. Raised by my parents and brother in rural Michigan. I thought my childhood was by all means very “Norman Rockwell.”
    When I was 18 my mother asked me about my sexuality. She wanted to know about my “true self identity ” as my college RA called it in a card sent to me over Christmas break. My college RA was the first person I told about my homosexuality. Mom said “are you gay”? This was my coming out Party. I admitted it.
    She immediately told me my father wasn’t my biological father. Confused I asked what this had to do with my sexuality? She replied “I don’t want you to think your father made you gay.”
    My mom recently visited for my wedding. I married my best friend who has been by my side for 12 years.
    My family is accepting of my life, and my mom and I have always been great friends. My mom was here a week to help me prepare for our wedding. My new family and roommates during this week were all attacked over the smallest issues by my mom. She was miserable. The night of my wedding she stayed in the kitchen cleaning. Later she said she was hurt I didn’t get her for a picture.
    That’s when I realized what a miserable woman she was. My mom was giving me a guilt trip. Forget the fact that this is my wedding. She needed to make me feel shamed.

    I thought long and hard the day she left. Her behavior has been this way for years and years. Mostly taken out on her sister, my aunt. My aunt is heavy set, has a great man who loves her. This I believe makes mom mad. I can see her face as if saying “HOW CAN YOU BE SO HAPPY ? WHEN YOUR SO FAT?”
    After reading this blog my window opened. Revealing the “UGLY”.
    I was taken from my biological father at infancy. Given my step fathers last name and nothing was ever said about that man ever again. This man was either my molester, or my mother’s rapist. This is where I pull back and watch the past play over in my mind. Who’s hurting now?

    Lost in LA


    • Eric, thank you for sharing a piece of your story with me- I’m sorry you’re in so much pain. If you need resources please let me know and I can steer you in the right direction.


    • Eric,

      I have a son who is homosexual and told us not long before his 19th birthday. We have never once, not for a minute, made him feel bad or ashamed for who he is. We love him and are proud of him.

      My current therapist also happens to be homosexual and works a lot with the LGBT community, but is also excellent at trauma (why I was referred to him.) He tells me that the shame I hide, the me I hide, the past I struggle with — is my own form of being in a closet. And to ask my son — one, how terrifying it was to come out, but also two, how much better to be in the sunlight.

      If that’s true, if there’s a corollary — and I suspect there may be — then I honor your courage and bravery, and I’m sorry your story was mistreated by your family. Which, sadly, is all too common.

      Congratulations on your wedding, and I wish you every joy and happiness going forward with your spouse. You deserve that.

      And I’m sorry your mom is a miserable person, and the struggle of coming to realize that is a tough one. Recognizing that you will never be able to change her is heart rending. I know. I’ve cut ties with mine for almost 2 years now, but I’m not sure it gets any easier. Just resigned to it is what it is, and I can’t make the woman who gave birth to me care about me or love me; that’s never going to happen. And I can’t carve out a reasonable relationship without making myself crazy.

      Anyway, focus on your future if you can, knowing you are a good person and not tainted by her miserableness. And, you’re not alone.


  7. Just coming to terms with my own story. It didn’t sink in until someone said, “how would you feel if your husband did that with your son?” Suddenly the focus was crystal clear. And my retreat, my truth telling, my boundary setting has not been accepted. My god this is hard. This post helps. So very much.


    • It is so hard- the only thing harder than telling your truth is living with not telling your truth. And your boundaries and truth telling don’t need to be accepted by others, they’re to be respected. They don’t have to like it. And if someone will not hear you, will not honor where you are at? That is bad news and GREAT INFORMATION. People really do show you who they are, whether they mean to or not.

      Hang on, sister. Both hands.


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