Over the past couple of years, I’ve been working to heal to a point where I’m comfortable sharing my story. Writing my first memoir helped that tremendously; now that my story has been written and subsequently read by complete strangers, it’s gotten easier, somehow, to verbally share my story in face-to-face interactions. While I don’t go into detail about my story, it’s gotten easier to say that I’ve been abused since I was a toddler, sexually assaulted the first time by a classmate at fifteen, raped the first time at seventeen, and fought to escape another rape at eighteen. Through all of that, from ages thirteen to seventeen, I was exposed to a teacher who facilitated a progressively-hostile sexual harassment situation; the same teacher who took advantage of my admiration of him as a mentor to groom me to be his next victim.
Of course, that summary is often enough to cause people’s eyes to bug out a bit, or they’ll rapidly shake their heads. Frequently, I’ve gotten the response, “I’m not saying I don’t believe you, it’s just hard to comprehend. It’s so much.”
It’s hard for me to believe, too.
I still run into the question, though, of why I want to share my story with people—with them specifically. They may have relationships where they don’t know every detail of the other person’s life, they don’t know the other person’s “deepest, darkest secrets.” However, the thing about survivors is that we don’t want these things—the horrors we’ve survived—to be secrets. In fact, they aren’t even our secrets to keep; the things we survived are our life’s story. The secrets belong to those who harmed us.
If we’re on our healing journey, it’s almost as guaranteed as needing oxygen to breathe that we’ll need space to feel various emotions (actually, that’s true for every person, if perhaps magnified for survivors). Anger that we had to survive so much. Sorrow about the things we lost, or missed, because of what we survived. Joy when we think of how far we’ve come and overwhelmed when we think of how far we still have to go (not just ourselves, but our society, too). Fear in new situations. And all of those emotions plus some in rapid-fire anytime we’re triggered.
If we haven’t started our healing journey yet but we know there’s something “not quite right” in our pasts, those emotions likely carry an additional layer of complexity born of our confusion. If we haven’t been able to assign a term to what we’ve survived quite yet, we’re confused as we try to understand what’s hurting us from the inside out. And if we’re triggered before we understand we have triggers, and that those triggers are related to trauma, we may have needs we can’t express but are desperate to have met.
No matter where we are on our journeys, we still want to belong. Who we are (whoever that may be), exactly as we are. We, too, want to be a part of something bigger than ourselves, even if it takes us a while to be ready to acknowledge that.
That’s all I’ve ever wanted, and since I started healing, sharing what I’m healing from has been essential to me starting a new personal relationship. And that’s because it’s a huge part of who I currently am. If you want to know me, my healing is a part of me—and I don’t know how to have half-relationships, where only parts of me are known. And I definitely don’t know how to have a relationship where I hide the thing I’m proudest of: surviving. Or the thing I’m most passionate about: helping other survivors heal while working to prevent additional traumas from occurring.
When I share my story, I’m not asking you to validate my trauma. I don’t need your reaction to know that what I survived was horrible or cruel, that I didn’t deserve it. When I share my story, I’m sharing it so you can know me.
Others might tell you about their favorite hobbies or films, what concerts they enjoy or where they vacation. I tell you about my trauma, and that’s because the first twenty years of my life were almost exclusively filled with trauma. Then, when I was twenty-four, something happened that forced me to face all of it, and I’m only twenty-six now. I’m alive, and I haven’t lived beyond daily trauma long enough to have much else to talk about. Right now, I have moments of hobbies and dreams beyond survival, but most of my time is spent healing and learning how to stop the generational cycle of abuse in everyday moments.
When I share my story, I’m not telling you so you know where I’ve been. I don’t need you to know the facts, like my life is a history lesson or cultural examination; our relationship can be more than that, and that’s what I want. When I share my story, I’m sharing it so you can know what I’m doing.
Other people you’ve met might also have trauma, and they might not talk about it; I’m sure they have their reasons. I talk about it, though, because I grew up in an environment where trauma wasn’t talked about, where I was raised by survivors who didn’t know what to call themselves—all they knew was how they felt. Now, I’m raising children in a house where we talk about trauma and feelings and privilege and social inequality and equity, because I want my children to be people who know not everyone lives like we do. Some people have more, and others have less.
When I share my story, I’m sharing the most vulnerable parts of me. The parts that people haven’t believed and the parts that people haven’t cared about.
When I tell you my story, I’m sharing the most vulnerable parts of myself and giving you an opportunity to show me that you are worthy of my trust.
And maybe, if you can extend that compassion towards me and hear my story and welcome my vulnerability, you’ll help me heal a little more, too, simply by giving me somewhere it’s safe for me to be vulnerable.