Talk About It: 20 Percent Of Your Friends Are Carrying Around This Secret
My neighbors molested me for the first six years of my life.
I didn’t remember anything until I was 14 years old and memories that felt like they didn’t belong to me started flooding my brain without warning.
It took me another eight years to speak openly about what happened, and the first time I spoke publicly about the events of my childhood was less than two years ago.
I’ve learned two main things since that day: 1) talking about it helps me more than I could have ever imagined, and 2) people often have no idea how to talk to me about it.
I am writing this in hopes to combine the two things I’ve learned in order to create something I believe with my whole heart: Talking about your problems is the answer.
I know that every victim of sexual abuse is different, and no situation is ever the same. Everyone deals with things, handles and processes things differently, especially when they involve something as sensitive and personal as childhood molestation.
I am only one account of what unfortunately happens to so many people today. In fact, it’s estimated that one in six boys and one in four girls will be molested by the time they are 18. That means that around 20 percent of your social circle is carrying around a heavy weight on his or her back that so desperately needs to be released.
These statistics also only take into account the cases that have been reported. My case was not reported, and many of the individuals I’ve connected with throughout this journey are living with unreported cases, as well.
I used to be terrified to talk about what happened to me. My teeth would chatter; my body would shake and a lump in my throat would block any words from exiting my quivering lips. Any time words such as molestation, sexual abuse or pedophile were mentioned in classes or on the news, I would look around with suspecting eyes, certain that everyone knew my secret.
I would sink a little lower in my chair, avert my eyes to the floor and allow my heart to be filled with shame and guilt all over again. Each time this subject was discussed, I felt the weight on my own back get a little heavier.
My relationships suffered, and I honestly convinced myself that I would never be able to get married because I couldn’t live a lie for the rest of my life and felt nobody would be able to love me if they knew.
I struggled with constant trust issues and always guarded my heart with no plans to let anyone get too close. I sought out people that needed to be “fixed,” people appearing more broken than I was, in hopes that they wouldn’t notice my jagged edges and gaping holes.
I continued to push my secret down and bury it deeper and hide behind masks, until one day it became more than I could take. I spoke my silence, and it changed everything.
The day I spoke publicly about what happened to me when I was younger is a day I will never forget. I felt the weight of the world being released from my shoulders as I was showered with so much love and support from everyone around me.
I never thought something that used to bring me to my knees could have the power to lift me higher than I have ever been before.
Ever since that day, I have made a promise to myself to never stop speaking my silence. I have made a promise to myself that I will never feel ashamed, guilty or uncomfortable when I talk about my past. I made a promise to myself that my outcome would not be determined by the cards I have been dealt, but rather, the way I have chosen to play those cards.
I also made a promise to help as many people speak their silence or support someone choosing to speak his or her silence as I can.
One of the most humbling parts about sharing my story wasn’t about releasing my own weight off my shoulders, but in having 11 people speak their silence to me in just seven days after I chose to open up about what happened. The number continues to grow every single time I choose to speak up again.
I understand that sexual abuse isn’t often a subject discussed at the dinner table, and sometimes it’s just plain awkward to talk about. Some of my most well-spoken and levelheaded friends turned into complete blubbering messes when I told them.
I’ve received just about every response under the sun, but I’ve learned that I’m not sharing my story for the response; I am sharing my story for the release.
What someone chooses to do with my information is up to him or her. At the same time, there’s nothing more comforting than feeling loved and supported in spite of what happened, and maybe this piece will help prepare someone to help his or her loved one release the weight off his or her back.
As I said before, I am not the poster child for everyone who has been molested. My “perfect response” might be the complete opposite as someone else; however, if I could give any advice it would be this: If you know someone who is a victim, talk to him or her about it.
It’s awkward and confusing and painful, but it needs to be discussed. This person is choosing you, trusting you and reaching out to you in an attempt to lighten his or her load. I've had friends cry, get angry, flustered and emotional; some of them looked completely blank and numb.
No reaction has ever been the same, but I can tell you one thing: The people who chose to ask questions, tell me they were there for me and loved me, and were proud of me for opening up, were the people I chose to continue opening up to.
In fact, I am at a point now where I actually enjoy when people talk to me about it because it’s a subject so many others avoid.
Without being pushy or nosy, tell your loved ones you are there for them and will always listen if they need someone to talk to. Pay attention to body language; hug them if you are a hugger; hold their hand if they need a squeeze, but above all else, please remember that this person is the same person you have always known.
This information does not change him or her, and it does not require an apology from you. He or she trusts you for a reason, and, if anything, it should only solidify the strength of your connection with this person.
If you are struggling with this issue, please believe me when I tell you that you are not alone. You are not making anything up, and you are not crazy.
I cannot tell you how many times my mind has convinced me that none of this is real, I am lying or it was a dream. This is not something that defines you; it is merely something that happened to you.
Accepting the previous sentence was one of the best things I could ever do for myself. You are not defined by the events of your past; you are not a victim to your memories; you don’t need to be “saved” or “fixed” or changed in any way.
You are who you are; you were tested with the trials you’ve encountered, and it sucks, and it isn’t fair, and it will NEVER make sense. Don’t try to make sense of it.
Don’t fix your eyes on the rearview mirror or allow chains of your past to hold you back. Release the weight, whether it be by speaking, writing, sharing, crying, screaming or simply taking a deep breath and telling yourself that you are not alone.
Read my words: You. Are. Not. Alone.
You are never alone. You are not at fault. You are not responsible. You cannot change what happened.
You CAN change how you are allowing it to affect you.
To read more about my journey in speaking my silence, click here, and if you are looking to get involved with the foundation that completely changed my life, visit www.speakyoursilence.org.
You. Are. Not. Alone.
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