September 5, 2012

A Beyond Survivor's Story: Spoken Secret - Part 3

Hi all,

I hope you have been following J. Eve's story so far. Here is Part 3. Enjoy!


I created a checklist of factors that can lessen one’s odds of being messed up in the aftermath of abuse—I received checks in three. The family believes you. Check. The abuser admits to it. Check. The abuser apologizes and tries to make amends. Check. I thought I was fortunate for all those checkmarks that signified I had family support to heal. These factors were not enough, however, because they alone couldn’t heal me or the rest of my family, and those checks had all occurred during one week of communication. After the disclosure, confrontation, and apology, I was left with the consequences. Recovery is ongoing.

At first, I wasn’t sure how the abuse had impacted me. My mother’s initial hysterical reaction made me wonder why I had no tears. Was I really OK? I wondered whether life would just go on like nothing had happened. For the most part, it did. Nobody in my family ever brought it up—as if all that needed to be said had been said, as if the entire reality of what had happened could be safely sealed into the past without touching our forward-looking lives. Nobody asked me how I felt or if I wanted to talk about it.

Truthfully, I wasn’t ready to talk right away. I still didn’t have words or emotions for what I’d experienced. The memories came back slowly. Asking my abuser questions about what had happened helped me put the missing pieces back together. Despite his willingness to answer my questions, however, these exchanges were always electronic and maintained the culture of family denial. I slid notes under his door, we emailed from across the house, but when face-to-face, we pretended the abuse had never happened.

I learned that not talking about it and wishing it away wouldn’t change the past or the collateral damage that persisted. I had many close, honest relationships, but the abuse presented a challenge for me. I didn’t know how to share my situation with others. It was on my mind and I wanted to talk about it, but I knew I wasn’t supposed to bring it up within my family, and I didn’t know how to communicate these intense feelings with my friends. What would they think of my family? Would they be judgmental? Was this my secret to tell?

I had clearly received the unspoken memo that my family did not want to talk about it. They felt guilty that they’d failed to protect their little girl, ashamed that their perfect family image was forever stained, and they remained clueless as to how they needed to support me. As unimaginable as it seemed to bring the abuse up in conversation, I was reminded of it every single day—when my roommate asked me to take a survey for her class about my first sexual experiences, when my self-defense teacher talked about child abuse, even dissociating during sex, which was directly caused by the abuse. There was no way to tell my family I was hurting and wanted to talk about it, or that it was affecting my sex life. I followed their lead and didn’t bring it up.

Once I went away to college in 2008, I found the space I needed to start processing the abuse. My coursework overlapped with my introspection, and I decided to write about the disclosure and my family’s reaction for my final English paper. It was therapeutic to compile my journal entries documenting those tense moments around the dinner table when everyone in my family was thinking, yet not speaking, about what had happened, along with my written attempts to initiate our family’s healing process.

I sent emails to mend familial relationships and to prevent permanent damage to our family. I provided lists of resources and books for my parents so they could process what had happened and give it the attention it deserved. I needed them to learn how to support me. I wrote back and forth to my brothers. Playing the role of peacemaker, I reminded them that we wanted to be close siblings.

I refused to be the reason my family fell apart. I too wanted to maintain and be a part of the image of a close family. Until recently, I still felt it was my responsibility to make sure the entire family healed, and I insisted my abuser return to therapy since he’d only ever attended one or two sessions.

After documenting my struggle for my class, I figured that simply clicking “attach” and “send” in an email was a feasible way to share my mixed-up emotions with my family. Still, I was apologetic as I shared the essay—I felt guilty for sending information that might upset them. I didn’t want to alarm them or disturb the fragile equilibrium of our relationships that were contingent upon me being untroubled by the events of the past. I made sure to tell them everything was fine.

Each family member reacted differently. My father maintained his initial attitude, reminding me that life goes on. My brother said he was glad I was getting in touch with a wider variety of emotions, as simply forgiving my abuser didn’t seem healthy. Though I’m certain they learned a lot, my paper didn’t change the culture of silence between us. In the end, I was the one who benefited from this exercise. It helped me find my voice and express to my family what I was dealing with.

I wonder how I would have coped had I been able to talk openly about my feelings with my family prior to leaving for college. Maybe I wouldn’t have felt compelled to share my story with others and seek outside support and validation. Not getting the support I needed, however, I found a community where I could express myself. I had a story that needed to be told and a voice to tell it, so I became an outspoken survivor in spite of my family’s attempt to silence this shameful family secret—this was and is my story to tell.
Check in next week for the final chapter in J. Eve's story.

In 2010, Lisa Shultz and Andrea Costantine published the anthology, Speaking Your Truth: Courageous Stories from Inspiring Women. Their goal with this book and its subsequent volumes and spin offs is to provide a beacon of light, hope, and connection for women as they navigate their lives while overcoming challenges and difficulties along the way. They had 49 contributing authors in Volume One who shared their stories of family matters, love and abuse, faith and spirituality, health and healing, and finding their path."

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