Family Secrets

These are not my stories.

But they are part of me.

And they may be deleted.

My grandmother, usually full of heated rhetoric against whatever minority Rush Limbough is lambasting, started to tell stories of her youth.  A rare event, and my cousin and I listened closely.  She always understates things related to herself.

She told story after story of narrowly escaping men who “tried to have their way” with her as blandly as when she talked about how the beans grew that year.  Muted tales of stalkers, of predators, and of her sister’s ex-boyfriend.  In each story, this tiny woman, maybe 5 feet tall, fought them off.  We were left to imagine why.  (She is not who I inherited my love of story-telling from.)

For example, the ex-boyfriend had taken her for a drive in the country, she escaped and she started to walk back to the city. 

I asked if her sister had said anything about her ex.  Nothing. 

Did my grandmother ever tell this to her own daughters?  I asked them.  Apparently not.

Her own daughters have similar stories to tell.  Although they were younger and had less sense of self.  More guilt and shame.

The first one (that I know of) to be attacked this way, by such a respectable man in the community, told no one.  And then her sister was next, known because she whispered the story at night.  One worked up the courage to warn the youngest sister who wouldn’t listen.  The man’s reputation was solid.

None of us grandchildren were told about such things from our family.  And the first of us was attacked at 5 years old.  By a former elder in our church.  Who led young people’s meetings.  And no one but the surgeon knew. 

Then another who was 9.  By a sibling.

That is all I know.  I’m afraid there are more.  But no one talks about it!

%^&!  ^*#@.  Could this have been prevented?  Maybe not, but at least the weight of shame and guilt that has swamped the survivors could have been lifted.  They still struggle with aftershocks of things that happened 40, 20 and 10 years ago.

I just thought that the eating disorders, anxiety and OCD were so common in my family because we were mentally defective.  I didn’t realize they were coping mechanisms.

I want this legacy to end with my kids generation.  And, of course, I can’t protect them from everything, but I can protect them from the silence that kills.  I’m not sure how, but I want to create an atmosphere of safety and trust.  The kind that frees people from shame.

Maybe freeing myself from shame is the only way?

3 thoughts on “Family Secrets

  1. Ahab says:

    What it must be like, carrying that trauma around for years, unable to vocalize it because doing so wasn’t considered acceptable. I think your analysis was correct — the pain manifested as eating disorders and psychological problems because it had no other outlet.

    Please, for the sake of your children, warn them about bad people and let them know that they can talk to you about anything. When people can speak the truth, they are free.

    (P.S. — I recommend reading about the ACE study, which explores the correlations between trauma and health problems.)

  2. I second what Ahab said; and what you said about freeing yourself from shame. And please don’t delete this post if you can avoid doing so. This topic is so important. I’ve learned a few “dirty” secrets that also hit close to home. It’s our silence that allows this abuse to keep going.

  3. Jen says:

    Wow. What a powerful insight.
    And I agree with CD – if you can help it, please don’t delete this.

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