Shame is a heavy burden. Staying quiet and invisible adds to that weight. There have been too many times when I didn’t speak my truth, either for lack of courage, thinking my story wasn’t worth being told, or the fear of, “My God, what will people think of me?” Despite voicing my memories almost thirty years ago, come my book’s publication date of June 11, there my life will be: flapping around like laundry on a line in front of everyone’s eyes.
Sexual abuse is ridiculously prevalent. With so many injured children and so many perpetrators wounded in some way that leads them to inflict injury, one wonders, how can we help both children and perpetrators alike? Perpetuating secrets encourages maintaining silence, keeping mum, and ignoring a big problem because we aren’t sure how to help. But if we don’t talk about these things, how will we ever create change?
What could I do but step into that pool of courageous survivors who have told their stories and add my own? Gathering the courage and strength to do that has been a result of a long, committed journey to my mental health. I discovered that the guidance I needed couldn’t always come from kind conversations with my spouse or friends, even though these relationships are deeply valuable. Instead, I became a strong advocate for counseling and psychotherapy. Without having become committed to my mental health over the past four decades, I believe I would have killed myself, or taken a risk that would have done that for me. Instead, I uncovered the strength and motivation to write my memoir.
Surviving sexual abuse is an ongoing experience, not a one-time occurrence. Memories surface over decades, not overnight. Although speaking up and writing a book have helped me cope, maintenance of my mental health survival skills has been crucial. Along the way, I also discovered other helpful ways to become stronger: Parker Palmer’s Courage to Lead and Courage to Teach gatherings; Kay Adam’s Journal Therapy Studies; and Mark Matousek’s Seeker’s Forum. Mark was also my writing coach from 2011 to 2012, and, as a teacher and coach, he helped me build the foundation for writing my book. I’d send Mark a piece of writing and he’d counter with “What’s the story under that story?” or “Where’s the real story in this piece?” He encouraged me to dive deeper, and, like a swimmer, I slowly got stronger with taking on those depths. But remember, I had already learned to always have a lifeguard––a therapist––close by to help me navigate my memoir journey and to keep me motivated to be strong and courageous.
The confidence I gained to look deeply at my life was built slowly and carefully, one step at a time, one question at a time, one answer at a time, one story at a time. Upon completing my book and experiencing my healing more fully, as I soon go on a book tour I remain hopeful my recovery will reach far beyond my own personal experience.
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