It took me a long time to tell my story. It lived within me, in the fibers of my heart, will, and emotions. I startled easily. I ran from place to place, always fretting that there were people in the world bent on nabbing me. I lived wholly in light of that tangible fear. That’s what childhood rape does to you. It not only steals your bravery, it robs you of words.
Does that make sense? Have you been there? Have you kept that untold story silent? Has it eaten you up?
Or maybe this happened. You took a deep breath, then let out your story. Only the disclosure didn’t go the way you hoped. When you finally told your story, with trepidation, what happened next determined how you felt and processed your story from that point onward. For so long you lived imprisoned to that untold story, convinced of your dirtiness, that you deserved it, that you are the only human on the earth to have ever experienced such betrayal and trauma.
You had this insider hope that maybe your fear of others’ responses was hogwash, so you risk it all, sharing the story.
Maybe these scenarios happened:
When you let it out the first time, if someone hushes you, you stay hushed.
When you shiver and shake and blurt out a few words of the trauma, if someone tells you you’re a liar, you wonder if you are.
When you can no longer contain the angst of the story and it inadvertently spills out onto someone, someone you trust (or so you thought), if that person mocks you, you retreat, then mock yourself.
When the damage of keeping the story silent has nearly destroyed you and you whisper it in hopes of relief, if the hearer of the story asks questions about why you didn’t tell earlier, or what were you wearing, or why didn’t you run, you second-guess yourself, heaping more shame upon your heart.
Even so, try to let it out
So many times survivors don’t encounter empathy or a listening ear when they first tell. They hear ignorance, resistance, judgment, pushback, and flat out accusation. Is it any wonder we lock stories deep inside?
Here’s the truth: you get to have your story. You get to tell it however you want. And people, being people, may not respond well. They may be awful to you. Their response may crush you, may cement all those hollering voices inside. But I beg you, please, find another person, and tell the story again.
Or maybe it’s too hard to do that, so maybe just write it down. Every detail. Get it out of you onto the page into the light of day.
Healing seldom happens in the darkened corners of your mind. Healing happens in good community, when others can dignify your trauma, listen intently, pray for hope, and walk alongside. You may be terrified, and I so get that. But healing begins with owning your story, letting it out, and finding courage as the words slip from the hidden into the great, wide open.
Family members may push back. Friends may question. Well meaning onlookers may offer their cliche responses (God doesn’t give you more than you can bear; what a great testimony you have now; what doesn’t kill you obviously made you stronger).
But this is your story.
And because you bear the image of the One who created you, you get to tell it. You can own it. You can question, grieve, lament. You have permission to forgive in your own timing instead of being forced to by well meaning folks. You can push back when others question you, educating others on the nature of sexual abuse and predators.
Oh dear one, I want to apologize for insensitive comments thrown as weapons your way. I pray for you as I write this, longing to see you move toward freedom, despite the obstacles that have been thrown your way. You are precious, valued, and amazing. Your story is powerful. Your life absolutely matters.
I’ve encountered all the ways you mention that people can refuse to hear my story. I’ve had someone initially seem to care, only to change her mind and decide that I didn’t deserve her compassion.
But the thing that I struggle with most is when people who did believe me dismiss the stories that others tell. Maybe I fear that they wouldn’t have believed me if my abusers had reached them first or if my abuser had successfully created a persona with a great reputation as he victimized children in the shadows.
How can someone believe me, but also state: “It’s so easy for a woman to ‘cry rape’ and ruin a man’s reputation.” It is not at all easy. It is costly. The possibility of justice is so slim it’s not worth it most of the time.
Yes, that is so true. Human nature tends toward believing the first story!