“I have felt the sharp sting of abuse. sexual, physical, mental. And it’s felt like shame for so many years and to speak the words into this world makes me want to howl and hide. But I say them out loud anyway so my sisters know… they do not stand alone…”
As an abused child, I learned to keep secrets.
The heart of an abused child is laden with them. We carry the abuse as our fault, somehow we are to blame, somehow we deserve it. Our voice is taken from us; silent and powerless, we protect the ones who should have protected us. This is how we keep our secrets safe.
Often, even when we expose the abuse, we are dismissed. We come to believe it is us against the world. We are on our own, there is nobody we can trust.
We become the keeper of secrets.
I reflect upon this as waves cavort with the shoreline and salt air adheres to my skin; upon how the heart of an abused child looks much like the heart of an abused woman.
This, I came to understand when, as a woman, I was abused.
And kept it a secret.
The keeper of secrets.
Broken shells scatter around my feet and in them the disorder of the last year reflects back at me. The gift of time and distance has offered me perspective, I find myself often in moments such as this; outside my body, detached from the experience yet desperate to put order to the chaos. To feel whole again, to mend, to grasp at some sort of closure.
I’m positive this is why women stay in abusive situations for so long. Because we believe for the happy ending promised in the fairy tales of our childhood. We are nurturers, healers, fixers, empaths; it goes against our very nature to abandon that which is so very broken, until invariably, it breaks us.
Hindsight leaves me to wonder how an intelligent, educated woman like myself allowed this to happen, allowed myself to be verbally and emotionally abused for so long by someone I trusted. But here lies the key. I trusted him. Respected him. Admired him. Not only did I, but so did my husband, my children, my friends. He was welcomed into my home, into my family, into my life.
Into my secrets.
And then, he took my secrets and turned them into his power.
You fucking whore. You fucking slut. You are nothing but a fucking whore who fucks around. You make me sick you fucking slut.
Messages like this continued for months, enabled by my silence. There is no physical proof with this kind of abuse. It is oh so easy to be the keeper of secrets, to pretend it isn’t happening, to delete the messages and pick your kids up from school and make dinner and kiss your husband goodnight as if your heart hasn’t been ripped from your chest and obliterated by words that will forever be seared on the back of your eyelids.
I consider why I didn’t reveal the abuse the first time it happened, and can only concede that his abuse was tied to my shame. The two were inseparable. To tell of his abuse would be to admit I believed his words were justified.
After all, he knew of my past, my pain, the choices I had made out of the places I had suffered. And he threw these things back at me, made sure I was smeared with the filth of them, made sure I knew how worthless that made me.
I was no longer a grown woman, but once again a child, betrayed by someone I trusted, someone who should have protected me. Confused, scared, ashamed, I believed it to be my fault. I had made it happen, I allowed someone too close. I had been too vulnerable, too trusting, too naive. I deserved it.
As if any woman deserves to be abused. As if any woman deserves to be shamed. As if there is any justification for destroying another human, ever.
He apologized, of course. He never meant to hurt me, he knew he was wrong, knew that’s not who I was, promised it would never happen again. I forgave him, of course. For not only had I been raised by generations of women who exemplified the female doormat, but had also been subjected to years of religious teaching on how we should love others. If someone slaps you on the right cheek? Offer him your left. How many times do I forgive the one who hurts me? Seventy times seven. My heart cracks wide open for the women under this teaching who stay in abusive relationships, who are told, if you love him better, he’ll come to understand love and will no longer hurt you.