Monday, June 26, 2006

Express Yourself (in honor of Gay Pride last weekend)

I have been thinking about secrets. Lately it seems they are nothing but destructive. Not in the- they come back to get us eventually- kind of way, although that is bad too. More like, when we keep other people's secrets, and it is bad for us. We do not give anyone the chance to help us, even if it is just to give us perspective. I know from experience that your perspective can really be out of whack if you never discuss your personal problems with someone outside the situation. I do know why I did not talk about the abuse, though- shame. I thought that the abuse reflected something about me- that I was worthless, unlovable, and worst of all, there was something horribly wrong with me. Something wrong with me that I did not understand, that I could not fix, that meant I deserved to be treated that way. If I told people about the abuse, they would realize how horrible I was. I had to hide it, blend in the best I could, and suppress that horrible thing inside me.

This was a challenge, since I did not know what it was that was wrong with me. I tried my hardest to overcome something about myself that I could not even identify. This was, obviously, very difficult. Impossible, actually. Moreover, I felt like a sham, that I was pretending to be someone that I was not. That is how the blog helped me. When I write about my life, I realize that these are things that happened to me, not because of me. These experiences are not me. I realize who I am, and who I am is not defined by what other people did to me.

It is not as if secrecy and shame exist independent of each other. Abusers instill and encourage shame in their victims, so they will keep their secrets. Keeping something secret makes you feel ashamed. After all, if something is a secret, it must be shameful. The act of keeping a secret makes you feel dishonest and ashamed of yourself, even if you think you are "protecting" someone else. You do think you should keep secrets to protect people- your family and yourself from public humiliation and judgment. Sadly, there is not a lot of support out there for abused children. There were people who knew what was happening in my family who did not do anything. I felt betrayed. What I did not know, though, was that just talking about it helps, even if the person you are telling does not or cannot help in any other way. Like when you talk to your friends. It helps a lot. Just telling my story, regardless of the reaction, has helped me separate what happened to me from who I am, what is my responsibility, and what is not my responsibility. That is not to say that it feels good to tell people such painful things if they react with indifference or insensitivity. It is important to find people who are safe to talk to, and I did not know how to do that for most of my life, so I did not really try. I was lucky enough to find a therapist in my recent history that reacted to my story with outrage and anger. She helped me feel outraged and angry, to start protecting myself, not from other people's reactions, but from the abuse and lies.

The longer you keep other people's secrets about the bad things they have done to you, the more the shame grows, the more powerful it becomes. Not only do you feel ashamed about what was done to you, but also you know that your silence could be hurting other people. The fear and shame is so great that you cover up for the abuser even when you start to suspect that you are doing the wrong thing. You play along, as I participated in relationships with my parents that were cover-ups for what had really happened, based on lies, and my brother's and my suffering. It was hard for me to walk away from my parents, harder for me to admit to myself the truth about them, to stop defending them and lying for them, than to just blame it all on myself. For some reason, it seemed easier to hate myself than to hate them. However, every day, it gets easier. And better. Because I do not hate myself, I am not ashamed, and my life is not a lie. My life is my own.

It is hot here in Seattle. I am cooking in my tiny apartment right now, and not in the yummy brown rice and vegetables kind of way. I will be moving soon- not far away, just to another apartment in my neighborhood. My rent is going up, and I am not going to take it. No, I'm not gonna take it. I was feeling unhappy about the disruption to my life, and general pain-in-the-ass-ness of it all, but now I think it will be a good change. A chance to move, and move on.

No comments: