September 22, 2011
This is a picture of me when I was seven years old. At first glance, this is a child who is happy and innocent, but what you see is a master secret keeper. A convincing liar. Only one part of the whole story. You see, the same year that this photo was taken, my grandfather was sexually abusing me. No one else knew. It would be decades before I told anyone other than my husband.
Living a secret life is a skill set that most abuse survivors develop early on. It’s also a skill set that can keep you unhealthy and isolated. Shame and fear become the brick and mortar of your secret self, keeping unhealthy habits and dangerous behaviors walled in and unreachable.
You learn to be a chameleon, able to change into whatever role that the world you’re in requires of you. In the real world – the world of work, school, family, faith, and community – you present yourself one way. In an alternate world, you cultivate secret emotions, secret actions, and secret behaviors.
Even with your secret self, it’s important to understand that there is a balance to all this. Indeed, there are times when revealing your true feelings and real self might not be respected or appropriate. Those are the times when you make the decision to leave parts of yourself unknown to others, and that’s an entirely healthy thing to do in many circumstances.
But I want to return to those secrets that fester because of shame and fear. These are the ones that keep dysfunction and self-sabotage alive. These are the ones that prevent you from reaching out for help for fear of rejection or negative consequences.
One of the biggest shock for most survivors is the discovery that their struggles – be it with rage, sexual issues, intimacy and trust, addiction, or self injury (to name a few) – are not unique. You see, when you’re a victim of abuse, you have to figure out a way to deal with your reality. What started out as a means of survival often takes a toxic turn as we age and the secrets can become infected and self-destructive.
One of the great avenues that people of faith have is to include God in the abuse recovery process. We have been given an open invitation to share our load without fear of rejection. One of the most comforting passages of Scripture – at least to me – is when Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28, New Testament Bible). This is an ongoing invitation without a limited number of times we can go to him, and without an expiration date.
Including God in your recovery doesn’t mean you ignore the help of mature, wise friends or the expert guidance of a therapist. It means you have many options to help lance the infected wounds of your secret self and find healthier ways to manage the issues that have come about because of abuse.
This week, take some to time write (or draw or collage) about your secrets and your secret self. Destroy it after you’re done, if you need to, but get it out of your inner sanctum and start to deal with it on the outside rather than the inside. Sometimes an act as simple as that can be a powerful step in your journey beyond abuse. Consider reading it as a prayer to God and asking for help to carry that heavy load. Also consider discussing these secrets with a mental health professional or a trusted, mature friend. Be careful about who you share this with, because the last thing you need is a person who might not handle you or your secrets well.
Getting healthy is risky, at times. If nothing else, share those risks with a piece of paper or a computer screen. The next step – seeking God or human help – will be a bit easier if you do.
Written by Sallie Culbreth, Founder
Committed to Freedom – Abuse Recovery Solutions – providing people with holistic empowerment and spiritual tools to move beyond abuse and sexual trauma. This communication is provided for education and inspiration and does not constitute mental health treatment. This communication does not constitute legal or professional advice, nor is it indicative of a private therapeutic relationship. Individuals desiring help for abuse related issues or other psychological concerns should seek out a mental health professional.