I remember the first time I dared to breathe a word of what had happened to me. I shared it with my husband. It was a few months after we were married. I didn’t sit him down and “have a talk” or make a formal presentation. In fact, I didn’t plan it. Hadn’t even thought about it … because I just wanted it to …. GO. AWAY. But one night we were lying in bed dozing off to sleep, and in the dark, still room I felt an overwhelming sense of crushing guilt, fear, dread and despair. It was the same way I had felt every night my abuser was in the same house before I shared a home with my husband. Although this happened many years ago, I can still feel those emotions rise up in my chest as I type these words.
I tried comforting myself by thinking through the fact that I was now safe. But then I realized the extent to which I not only had a terrible secret hiding within myself … I had not been honest with my new husband. My thoughts spun me around and told me I was living a lie. Right? That must make me a terrible person. What if I really AM the bad one after all? Then the tears began to quietly wet my pillow and more guilt overtook me.
My husband heard no sobs, but he sensed I had become statue still and barely breathing. When he reached over to touch my shoulder and ask if I was o.k. … I was petrified of what to do next. Panic filled me. But honesty took over, mixed with a sense of “maybe I’m wrong”. Maybe it wasn’t what I thought it was. Maybe someone would hear and say it wasn’t so and I would not have this shadow of shame permanently affixed to me.
It came out in halting, unsure wisps of whispered words:
“I need to tell you ….”
“I need to tell you that ….”
“I need to ….”
“I …. was touched.”
“He …. He touched me.”
And it was out there. Hanging in the dark. Haunting me out loud rather than in my head. But only momentarily, because what I found was immediate support, compassion, acceptance and safety in one very kind and understanding person knowing, caring and believing. One person validating that I was not misinterpreting or misunderstanding the violations of what should have been mine and mine alone – my body.
Little did I realize that lying there in the darkness, I began my journey out of the shadows. Though it was to be many years before I started dealing with my truth through counseling, I will never forget the relief in knowing that someone else knew. Somehow it became real and that was the first step in finding hope that would turn into the courage to pursue healing.
Healing from sexual abuse is a journey of baby steps. Have you ever seen a wobbly, little baby take the first step completely alone … without the coaxing of a loved one, arms open wide to guide and “catch” if the step goes awry? No. And this is very often how it goes when we test the safety of our truth-out-loud.
Fortunately, I had a safe person who heard me. I realize that may not be or have been everyone’s experience. But that is precisely why Out of the Shadows is so important, so that everyone has a safe place to turn their baby steps into tidal waves of change.