Not long ago, I broke silence with my parents about my sexual abuse. I’d been preparing for the moment of disclosure consciously for a little less than a month, but it was a move that my subconscious had been preparing for my whole life.
On many levels, the aspect of myself that I’ve been most afraid of encountering has been that little girl abandoned twenty years ago into a nightmare of silence and pain. To see her meant that whatever illusions I was clinging to about my childhood would have to be revealed for what they were. I couldn’t tell whether she or I was more afraid of losing those illusions.
But this summer, I reached a point where I no longer wanted to be silent. It was a familiar feeling similar experience to when I came out as bi—the moment of knowing that it would cost more to stay in the closet than to risk the pain of rejection from those I loved.
My Underworld Goddess, for that’s how I’ve come to see this 5-year-old me, lost her fearsomeness. I knew she held a world of pain that I would have to feel in order to reunite with her, but it no longer seemed like a punishment she was waiting to inflict on me for having left her buried for so long. There was relief, as if she’d been waiting for me to decide that she was worth more than the preservation of the “rules of engagement” I’d picked up within my church and family that “things like that” don’t get discussed.
The aftermath of breaking silence has taken me by surprise…but then again I’m not really surprised at all. I wasn’t prepared for my own loneliness. I would have thought that breaking silence would have made me feel less abandoned. And to that thought, my Underworld Goddess gives a bitters smile of knowledge beyond a child’s years.
Of course I feel abandoned. The real question was never whether my mom knew about my abuse or not. The real question is, How does a five year old child get slapped with that kind of secret pain and no one sees?
I could answer that question academically, speaking about power dynamics, authoritarian/patriarchal cultures, unspoken rules of a cult, confirmation biases, etc. etc. etc., but it doesn’t really answer the question.
I doubt there is an answer that would help a five year old understand how something that shattered her world couldn’t even cause a blip on the radar of others.
I’m terrified of being abandoned again. I say “again” because I have been terrified of being abandoned so many times before. It’s one of those fears that hasn’t always made sense, striking while I’m surrounded by dear friends or in the arms of my partner. However illogical it is doesn’t matter, for it’s primal, a lesson I had ingrained in me so well that I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to unlearn it.
“Once they get what they want, they won’t love you anymore.” “Once you speak the truth, they won’t love you anymore.”
Did someone ever say those words explicitly to me? Not that I can remember. But children are experts on picking up on what’s left unsaid, especially in abuse.
I say “again” also because I realize that in all of the abandonment I have experienced, it was the moment of abandoning myself that hurt the most. I don’t think I could have broken silence before now without it actually hurting my healing more than helping it. But there’s a part of me that realizes how absurdly long it took me to stand up for myself—to face my Underworld Goddess. Now that I’ve done what she asked me to do, I wonder, “What next?”
I get no answer, and that is where my greatest pain lies. My fear of abandonment comes to rest at its root. Twenty years of grief have finally been set free, but the child of grief is nowhere to be found. I have accumulated a host of archetypes within myself to whom I can turn for support in almost any given moment…except in this moment, when all I can say to myself is, “please don’t leave me here alone.”