Telling about Abuse is Hard

After I recovered memories of being abused when I was small, I needed to tell other people, but at the same time, it was the hardest thing. It was several months before I was ready to tell my women’s group. Here’s how it went (an excerpt from my memoir The River of Forgetting):

I greeted each of the women at the door with a hug. The six of us seated ourselves on the two sofas and assorted chairs in the living room. I grew tense as I listened to other people’s news and waited for the circle to get around to me. The things on my mind felt murky and I was very hesitant to voice them.

“I’ve been having some disturbing memories from when I was three or four.” I fell silent and glanced up to see each woman looking intently at me.

My mouth was trying to form grown-up words to say, “I was sexually abused,” “molested,” “fondled.” I found I did not know how to choose the words; they weren’t in my everyday vocabulary. And those words were woefully inadequate to begin to describe my experience of the memory and its fallout.

At the same time, I felt like a little girl inside—distressed and completely inarticulate. This part of me had no words at all for what had happened. She was overwhelmed at the prospect of telling and wondered if she would be believed. I sat there with shame and confusion rising in my body until they reached my heart, my throat, my mouth, and my brain.

This thing that had happened to me felt dirty and secret. I was sure that the shame covered my skin, smearing me with ugly bruised colors. If I told the secret, then people would see me as ugly and dirty, too. I would lose my standing as an adult and become a child-victim—pitied, scorned, weak, and shunned. I would lose the protections I had worked so hard to build and retain. I took a breath and started again.

“I think I was molested. It’s really unclear what happened, I really don’t know. I think it was my father. I’m working on it in therapy.”

At this time when I intensely needed affirmation, needed people to tell me, “I believe you. You’re not crazy, whatever it is that is coming up,” I did not yet have the vocabulary or the confidence to ask for help. Nor did my friends know how to respond. Some women shifted in their chairs, while others were stock-still. Someone said, “That sounds hard,” but no one else said anything. I felt lonely and unsatisfied.

Eventually, I found friends to talk to, as well as my therapist, but for a variety of reasons, it’s still not easy.  Society has taboos on talk of abuse, some people even blame the victim, and then there are the undeserved shame and confusion that come with the memories. That’s a reason why forums like can be so helpful in letting us know we are not alone.

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