by Carolyn Hughes Have you ever wondered why abuse victims stay silent? Or why families keep secrets that are passed down through generations? Here’s my story of how two major events in my own childhood were never discussed and why I eventually chose to break the silence. Many children live through trauma in their early years but are supported and encouraged to overcome the impact. Usually this will involve talking about what happened and working through the emotions that naturally arise. Unfortunately there are situations where this is actively discouraged and the events are concealed. And instead of being allowed to heal from the past, the child is burdened with a sinister secret. When my mother abandoned me at the age of 3, it was completely unexpected. I could remember spending time with her and feeling loved by her, so when she left it was natural that I would want to know why. It was made clear to me from the onset that my questions would never be answered and that there was no point in asking. In the weeks, months and even years that followed, her disappearance was never discussed. Consequently, like most children who are involved in a situation created by adults, but who are ignored in the process, I blamed myself. I grew up believing that my mom had left me because I’d done something wrong and because she didn’t love me. Keeping quiet was my survival strategy of managing the shame. My feelings of guilt and rejection were reinforced further by my abusive father. To the outside world he was viewed not only as a charming and respectable man, but a caring and understanding parent. Behind this façade, nothing could be further from the truth. He was terrifying and manipulative and capable of controlling anyone he chose. For most of my childhood and into adulthood, he made my life a living hell. The pure fear of what he could do to me or those I loved kept me silent.
The Cost of Silence
Suppressing the truth comes at a price. For me, it was a 20-year battle with depression and alcoholism. Focusing on my symptoms and medicating myself with pills and alcohol enabled me to continue to hide my past and avoid dealing with the psychological issues that had built up over time. Yet the truth was that I couldn’t change what I didn’t acknowledge, so when alcoholism and depression completely overwhelmed me I had no choice but to confront the past. An alcohol-induced suicide attempt indicated the seriousness of my condition. My life had spiraled into complete chaos and I was physically, mentally and spiritually broken.
Freedom from Secrets
Hitting rock bottom was my catalyst for making changes – the first of which was to break the silence. Initially this was done in the supportive environment of residential drug rehab where I felt physically and emotionally safe. It wasn’t easy and at times it felt like I was reliving the hurt all over again. I didn’t just allow myself to speak out about specific events; I also found the courage to be truthful about my lack of self-worth and feelings of hopelessness. But slowly, the negativity I had carried with me for years was replaced with relief. Sharing those beliefs that I had held secret for so long opened up the door to recovery in every area of my life. The most important lesson I learned from breaking the silence was that I had never been to blame for the actions of either of my parents. It took a while for me to grasp this truth but when I did it was like walking into the light for the very first time. Even though I couldn’t change what had happened, I could see things so much more clearly. Crucially, I could envisage a brighter future where I was mentally well and sober. To this day, I don’t know why my mother abandoned me and my father died before I could challenge him about the abuse. It no longer matters. By breaking the silence, I have broken away from the past and can enjoy who I am today without fear of shame. So if you are hiding, numbing or repressing your feelings, be encouraged and make a decision to break the silence in your life too.