Why I’m terrified to share my story, but am doing it anyway

I’ve been feeling down for the last few weeks—well, make that down on myself, because I haven’t been able to write. I’ve been trying to figure out what’s up and it seems like there are three distinct things occupying all my brain space and blocking me up:

  1. I need a break from my Mom and I’m really sad about it because I don’t want to hurt her feelings. I recently realized that, despite (or maybe because of?) our closeness, my mom and I engage in some unhealthy patterns and I need to create boundaries and close out anything that is emotionally unsafe for me right now, even if it hurts her feelings.
  2. I found out after starting this blog that my long-term disability application is still pending, so right now I have no idea how I’m going to pay my mortgage next month.
  3. I need to talk about all the things that I’m afraid will happen if I really put my heart into this before I actually am able to put my heart into it at all.

So, here I go with the list of things that I’m afraid will happen when I tell my story:

  1. I’m afraid of hurting my family. In my family, as in all dysfunctional families, things such as verbal/emotional/sexual abuse, neglect, substance/alcohol abuse, and co-dependence are cyclical. These things are passed down from generation to generation like my great-grandma Veda’s silverware. So, in order to tell my story, I have to tell theirs, too.
  2. Since I haven’t solidified a source of income, this is a really scary moment for me. I’ve taken this time to heal with the impression that if I wasn’t ready to return to work by the time my short-term disability benefits ran out, I would qualify for long term disability through the insurance I had purchased through my job. Since I can’t predict what will happen when I share this information publicly, there is no way I can say for sure if sharing the details of my story will come back to hurt me in an unexpected way, such as negatively impacting my disability approval.
  3. I’m afraid of what people that knew me professionally will think. Will they still respect me? Be put off by me? Will the misconceptions many have about mental health issues color their viewpoint? Will they see me as weak or strong? As a child I was taught without words that I was weak and disgusting and no one would ever want to really know me. Because I have felt this way so long, insecurity dominates the countless scenarios my mind foresees after I publish.

I had a great talk with my wife about this the other night. We became experts at thinking of all the bad things that could happen to me or us if I share my story. Then, at some point I said out loud what I was thinking: these are the same things that cause people who’ve been abused to remain silent. If these stories were easy to tell or hear, then fewer people would feel alone in this world. If fewer people felt alone, I am certain many more would survive childhood traumas, to heal sooner and thrive.

In a way, all these things I fear might happen also motivate me to be brave. I know the pain I have felt throughout my life thinking I was alone. There have been so many moments in my life when I’ve felt I would not be able to live through another day carrying these secrets alone.

The summer of 2015 was the first time I encountered anything resembling what had happened to me as a child in a public forum. I watched from a distance while people I knew commented on Facebook about how much of a monster Josh Duggar was for fondling his sisters and other girls while they slept. It was the first time I thought: I think I want to finally say these things out loud. Maybe I could share my story, too.

Most of the other information I could find about sibling sexual abuse was buried in anonymous internet confessions or scholarly articles. I began to research this topic in earnest, as if I was writing my Master’s thesis all over again. Since that time, I’ve found many resources that have helped me to make progress in healing.

I think I want to write about my experience and share what I’ve learned because I wish I could have found this information sooner. I wish my parents had access to it when we were all young. I wish most people suffering could find people to connect with or to help them gain the strength to speak out.

One in three (or four, depending on the study) girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before they turn 18[1] and sibling abuse is thought to be the most common type of domestic abuse[2]. The main reason I think abuse like mine continues to be so prevalent is because parents and caregivers don’t know what to look for to protect their children. Or they don’t have resources. Or kids don’t believe there is a way out or they’re scared that if they tell anyone they will hurt the only people they know and love. Our brains are wired to trust and love our families.

I also think no one wants to believe that the people they know and care about–possibly even love deeply–could also hurt them or hurt other people they love so horribly. I still don’t want to believe it and I know that it’s true. It’s so much easier to turn a blind eye and drink another cocktail than to rock that boat.

The thing that I think we don’t want to face is this: sometimes the “monsters” are just broken people that haven’t found the courage to face their own pain and heal. It is far more common for children to be abused like this by people they know. We teach our children to be afraid of the unknown, when the reality is that it is who they know and love that could hurt them the most.

The cycle of pain and dysfunction continues because they cannot face their own pain and do not work to eliminate the negative patterns in their lives. It is shocking, but I think there is this inexplicable \ thing (similar to Stockholm Syndrome) that happens in families with multi-generational dysfunction and abuse like mine; it somehow binds all the dysfunctional people together very tightly. Like it’s us against the world in our mutual pain.

I am speaking out because I know from experience that these secrets are too heavy for our children to carry alone. I hope that my story can help save lives.

[1] Bass, Ellen and Laura Davis, Introduction, pg. 1, The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse, Fourth Edition, 2008.

[2] Research shows that violence between siblings is quite common. In fact, it is probably even more common than child abuse (by parents) or spouse abuse [1]. The most violent members of American families are the children.