by: Roberta Dolan
It was January 3, 2001. With heart pounding and cold, clammy hands I took the biggest step of my life. I walked into the office of the woman who would become my therapist for the next six years. I walked in with the pretense of saying I was the adult child of an alcoholic. When asked “So, what brought you here tonight?” the words that came out were, “I think my father was sexually inappropriate with me.” There was an air of nonchalance about me, a need to make it clear that he was an alcoholic and an effort to minimize what he had done. Although I wasn’t sure there was a need to explore this any further, I felt safe enough to make a second appointment. The drive home from that first session is as vivid in my mind today as the day it happened. All the way home, in the privacy of my car, I laughed and I cried saying over and over, “I did it, I told someone, I said it out loud!”
At the time I was in my mid forties. A few months prior to that first visit I had two glimpses into my past; one in the form of a dream and one a vague memory of an inappropriate kiss. In a conversation with my husband about our struggles with intimacy I shared my slight suspicion that something wasn’t right with my father. It was my husband’s insight and encouragement that prompted me to making the phone call to a therapist. What neither of us knew was that a nightmare was about to be unveiled.
For nearly forty years I buried the secret deep within. To anyone that knew me my life was nearly perfect; successful career in education, good marriage and three beautiful children. It appeared wonderful and for the most part it was wonderful. I loved my role as educator, wife and mother. I just didn’t love myself. There was something “wrong” with me but I didn’t know what it was. What was wrong wasn’t with me; it was what had happened to me between the ages of four and fourteen. Ten years of a father sexually abusing me and a mother who enabled and assisted in his abuse. The secret sat inside of me like a burning ember.
On January 3, 2001 that burning ember became a raging fire. Once you say it out loud you can’t take it back. Your secret is exposed and the only way to extinguish the blaze is through hard work, releasing the pain and anger and refueling with peace and joy. My journey to healing the scars of sexual abuse was grueling. Once I committed to facing my demons the memories came flooding back. There were countless periods of darkness where I questioned my desire to go on. As the truth unfolded I was faced with the decision to sever my relationship with my biological family. Anger, depression, rage, tears, nightmares and thoughts of suicide replaced the complacent, somewhat storybook life I had led. So the question is asked, “Why open that door? Why reveal the well kept secret of sexual abuse? Weren’t you better off when you didn’t remember what happened?” My answer to that last question is an emphatic NO! And this is why:
Whether you have repressed the memories of abuse or you are intentionally keeping the secret locked inside the scars of abuse are festering. There are obvious effects such as eating disorders, drug or alcohol dependency, impaired relationships, depression, anxiety, promiscuity or an inability to be intimate. There are also the thousands of victims like myself, leading a seemingly normal life, who struggle internally with low self-esteem, a prevailing unhappiness, lack of motivation, self doubt, the list can go on. Overt or covert, they are all conditions that rob you of the joy of life and in some cases ruin your life. By facing your abuse, saying it out loud, doing the work towards healing you are finally putting an end to the abuse. You are no longer living the life of a victim. You become a survivor who is healed and whole. Yes, it is scary and it takes work but take it from one who has walked this journey, It is worth it!
A second reason to end the silence and say it out loud is not for your benefit but for others. As my journey progressed and I was feeling confident and becoming whole, I began to share my experience. Initially it was scary. Who would believe that I repressed the memories for so many years? Who would believe that this seemingly healthy person was a tattered mess inside? But the results of sharing my story were astounding. Many times my openness gave other victims the courage to share that they too had been sexually abused. There is great comfort in knowing that you are not alone. It opened the door for me to share my success with therapy, offering strategies for others at the brink of taking the healing journey. It gave the message of hope; if I could heal so could they.
My final thought on ending the silence sits close to my heart. As a little girl I never dared to tell anyone what my parents were doing to me. To this day victims live in silence out of fear and shame. If this is going to change, society must change. Sexual abuse is still a “dirty word.” For those who are old enough remember when we could not use the word ‘cancer’ or ‘AIDS?’ It took the brave souls who were willing to speak out about cancer and AIDS to educate society and open the door for victims to receive support without shame. Children take their cues from adults. If we as adults can talk openly, shamelessly, about sexual abuse it is much more likely that children will have the courage to tell that they have been abused. Ending the silence is the step we need to take to end the abuse. If only I was able to tell an adult when I was a little girl…well, I am telling you now. Please help by taking the risk to end the silence and Say It Out Loud!