Maria's Story of Finding Her Voice
I hadn’t remembered for thirty-two years. The memory sat safely locked in the recesses of my subconscious until a dream exposed the truth. I was forty-two years old and saddled with chronic physical pain when I recalled that my brother had molested me when I was ten.
I felt that at some level I’d always known. But how could I have known this all my life? If I knew this had happened, I wouldn’t have behaved as normally as I had over the years. But this memory was so vivid and clear I knew it was true.
Yet I was still having a hard time believing it. I wrote to my brother and asked if he remembered it. He did. Then he apologized. I felt so lucky to have my memory validated. First, because then I knew I wasn’t going crazy. Second, so others couldn’t question it.
I continued to communicate with my brother by email. I had to process this strange new reality about my family. About me. None of this was easy. I was jerked and jarred through the wildest emotional roller coaster ride of my life.
Each time I wrote to my brother, I feared sending him into deep depression. But I knew I needed to purge this long-held secret from my body if I were to reduce my physical pain and ease my troubled psyche. This was difficult for him, too, but he was remarkably gracious and understanding. He even said he thought our conversations were helping him. In fact, after nine months, he ultimately revealed that before he molested me, he had been molested at summer camp. Now it all made sense.
It’s a cycle that must be broken. But first I had to put myself back together. My healing journey over the next twelve years involved intense bodywork, wrenching psychotherapy sessions, and endless hours of cathartic writing. I felt the need to document it as a comprehensible story in order to make sense of what had happened.
Throughout those years of treatment and healing, I spent countless hours thinking about how to thwart this pain and suffering. I strongly believe telling our stories is a major step toward healing and increased prevention.
I wanted to tell my story publicly, but I grappled with the questions: What would it do to my brother? What would it do to my family?
Then I had a moment of clarity. What’s it doing to me? What’s it doing to all those other victims, turned survivors? What if my voice can help avert future pain and suffering?
I concluded I couldn’t remain silent. Doing so would only help maintain this taboo. I could help other survivors not feel so alone; maybe even give them courage to tell their stories.
The stigma of sexual abuse and incest is an immense burden to carry alone. Unfortunately, many survivors shove down the trauma – consciously or subconsciously. Both the initial trauma and the stigma fester and wreak havoc on the body and mind. Innate survival reactions present as post-traumatic stress disorder – PTSD. In effect the stigma compounds the trauma.
When I finally told my story publicly, I felt an enormous weight lift from my body. My reptilian brain’s protective responses calmed down. And the more I talk about it, the easier it becomes.
By speaking out, I want to help stop the shame and the vicious cycle of the abused going on to abuse. Let’s expose the truth and find help for those who need it so we can heal the traumatized and avoid the perpetuation of these crimes in the future.
The abuse is real. It’s out there. Don’t make it a secret. When society is afraid to confront this taboo, and pushes it aside, it tacitly allows it to continue. By talking and writing about it, I believe we can be the catalyst to transform society into one that openly accepts the problem and actively works to eliminate it.
I still don’t know what could have changed the outcome of my experience. There’s suggestive evidence on a note I’d written to my mother when I was ten that something was awry. In uncharacteristic scathing language I said how much I hated her and that I wished she were dead. In the corner of the paper my dad had written, “When Mom wouldn’t sleep with daughter.” The presumably frightened and confused child that I was didn’t know how to – or couldn’t – formulate the words that I needed to express. My psychologist mother didn’t even recognize my cryptic cry for help and want for a safe place. I wonder whether part of the reason I went on to suppress my memory was because of the societal stigma and silence that surrounds incest and sexual abuse.
Adults have the power to intervene and prevent it from happening or continuing. They can report suspicious behavior of potential perpetrators, or known actions by actual predators. They must be attuned to changes in behavior in children (such as my angry outlash), and believe the victims who report it. We must stop the cycle.
It’s been twelve year since I remembered. I’ve healed enough now that I’m determined to help stop the silence, stop the secrets, stop the pain. I’m done hiding. I’m done being ashamed. I’m done trying to protect everyone else. It’s time to speak, to lessen the stigma, to save innocent children. I’ve found my voice. I’ve found my strength. I’m here to help Stop It Now.