When I first was diagnosed with breast cancer, people came out of the woodwork to help me. I was bombarded with meals, spa gift certificates, cards, thoughtful gifts and countless kind gestures. It was easy to feel embraced by this loving support and it helped me get through the ordeal of my cancer treatments. I found further comfort through a breast cancer support group, a wonderful group called Sister’s Circle. Never having had a sister, I relished the camaraderie and the mutual bond we shared – this group of women who lifted each other up felt like family to me.
Walking in my first Race for the Cure, surrounded by hundreds of breast cancer survivors and even more supporters, again made me feel like part of a family. The experience of walking with this many women, sisters in our struggle with breast cancer, was empowering to me. I felt like I belonged.
When my healing journey took a plunge off the Pink Ribbon trail and catapulted me onto a darker, more socially unacceptable path, I felt lost. My uncovering of repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse, which occurred within my family, suddenly threw me into a different kind of support network – a much smaller and more secretive one. My support group became my husband, my therapist and a few trusted friends. Instead of walking among a sea of pink, I was lurking around the Internet on sexual abuse survivor sites where most people, myself included, posted anonymously. There were no meals sent, no gift baskets or Hallmark cards saying, “I’m so sorry about the incest.”
I felt alienated and alone. Even my breast cancer support group didn’t feel right for me anymore because the issues I was struggling with were not really related to breast cancer. I did share some of what I was going through but because of my shame about it and my fear that I would be unnecessarily disturbing my “sisters” who were already dealing with enough heavy stuff, I stopped going. When I spoke about my own sexual abuse, people would become uncomfortable. And I get it. It’s not a comfortable topic. It’s a conversation stopper for sure. The days of my sharing with friends and neighbors about how I was coping with the chemo or how I was feeling were replaced with heart wrenching and mind blowing one-on-one therapy sessions with my psychotherapist and my scribbling out my secret thoughts and feelings in a well-hid journal.
Someone once told me, “incest isn’t taboo, talking about it is.”
So, here I am, over 15 years since I’ve uncovered my dirty little secret – and I am still trying to figure out how to talk about it – should I even talk about it and why do I still want to? After years of immersing myself in healing my mind, body and spirit and for the most part feeling recovered and whole, I still have a strong urge to speak my truth, while feeling an equally strong urge to just be quiet, don’t talk about it. I struggle with the idea that if I were truly healed, I wouldn’t still be talking about “it.” And I still don’t feel free to talk about it. And maybe that’s the dilemma here for me, that even though I have healed and resolved much of the trauma in my past, I feel an overwhelming pressure to still keep the secret, not just for the sake of my family, but also for society. And it’s this pressure to keep quiet about it that stokes the fire of my anger and indignation that rises up from my chest and into my throat, wanting to get the words out, to freely speak my truth.
And so I do, very cautiously and quietly at first, here on my little WordPress blog. I am dipping my feet into the waters of truth telling. And even though I’m getting my voice out here in a very small way, it feels good not to have to hide anymore.
My hope is that someday I will really feel free to speak my truth because I know that burying it did not serve me well in the past. My breast cancer was a symptom of swallowing my words, cutting myself off from my heart so I didn’t have to feel the pain of the betrayal and violation. Denying the truth, burying the trauma and pretending that everything was OK played a part in my dis-ease. I kept shoving it all down until there was no more room- until it all burst through my body and expressed itself in the form of a tumor crying out to me, “Liz! Look here! Look here into your own heart. Find me. Speak your truth. Heal your past. Love yourself.”
And that’s what I’m doing. I am speaking my truth. I was sexually abused as a child and it happened in my own family. It damaged me to the core, but it did not touch my spirit. I am healing and I am speaking out.