Shh. Can you keep a secret? Really, really keep a secret? From everyone? No exceptions? Think before you answer. For most people, it’s not an easy thing to do. Consider it for a moment or two. Then answer.
I can. I know for certain, because I did. For years and years and years, I was silent, keeping horrible secrets, living a lie. Yep, I have a proven track record. In fact, I’m so good at keeping secrets, I can’t talk about the things I have hidden away even when I want to. Which seems to be a problem now…
I learned at a very early age not to talk about the things that happened at home. Not to talk about home, period. Certainly not to talk about the things that happened to me. I can remember my father telling me that my mother would kill herself if she knew (about him sexually abusing me) and it would be all my fault, so I couldn’t even talk about the things that happened in my home while I was in my home! Of course, everyone knew anyway, but not talking about it allowed my mother in particular to pretend that she didn’t know what was going on. There were times my father molested me right in front of her…holding me on his lap while my mother read a book, sitting in a chair beside him in the same room. But “don’t talk, don’t tell” was firmly in place by the time I was old enough to begin to grasp that what was happening to me was bad. And I played by the rules. I learned them and learned them well. They imprison me to this day.
Part of the reason I didn’t talk is because I knew I was bad from an early age. Made sense; if I wasn’t bad, such painful and frightening things wouldn’t happen to me. Eventually, I realized the things that were happening were bad too. And that made me feel even more ashamed. It was my fault. I was bad and I attracted bad things. I made the bad things happen, right? And since it was my fault and I was so ashamed, I kept silent.
It’s not like I really understood what was going on. It was terribly confusing and crazy-making. In fact, I was in high school before I accidentally discovered the word “incest” in the dictionary. I was stunned to realize there was actually an official word for what was happening to me! But I did comprehend early on that what was happening to me was shameful. And that I was shameful. I was not like anyone else I grew up with. I was different in a very, very, very bad way. I had secrets.
The secrets weren’t just about the abuse. I kept secrets from the world about my parent’s horrible fights, about how dirty our house was, about how they hit me. We were very isolated as a family. There were times when a visitor (usually a relative) would come to our house and my mother would hide, desperately begging me to tell them that she was gone or unavailable. You just didn’t talk to other people about those kinds of things. But I kept secrets from my parents too. I didn’t tell them when I was sick…until I was so sick I couldn’t keep it a secret any more. I knew it didn’t matter. I can’t count the times I was warned that I had better be “sick enough” to warrant a trip to the doctor. So I worked very hard to make sure I was sick enough before I said anything. I rarely had friends over…heck, I didn’t have many friends. But our house, particularly before I entered junior high school (when I was old enough to clean it myself), was embarrassing. There were paths through the paper, clothes, toys, magazines, trash, that allowed us to walk from room to room. The floor was literally stacked full of stuff. Not neatly stacked. Like a hurricane hit. Stuff all mixed together, piled to above ankle height. You couldn’t step over it because the piles all ran together. So the only place you could walk was in the paths. At first, I didn’t know this was different than the way other people lived, even though my grandparent’s house wasn’t like this. But after visiting a few friend’s houses, at some point early on it began to dawn on me that this was also something to be ashamed of. There were many, many, many things to be ashamed of. But I was most ashamed of myself. Because somehow, it was always all my fault.
I kept those (and many other) secrets my entire life. Part of the reason I’m blogging now is because I’m trying to come out of hiding in some small way. So I can be a real person. I’ve been a lie for so long, I’m not sure I CAN be a real person. But I’m trying to find my way. Secrets block the path. Telling them is hard. Almost impossible. But I’m trying. Because I really am tired of living a lie. I’m very tired of not being able to talk about so much of my life because it’s taboo. Tired of pretending everything is fine. I’m extremely tired of not being able to be genuine. Talking is hard, even when no one is listening. Still feels like everything is hidden. But it’s a step. A step away from all the secrets. Shh…