OUR LITTLE SECRET
Think of your deepest, darkest secret. That one thing that makes your stomach churn and your palms sweaty when you imagine sharing it out loud. It’s that one secret you intend to carry to your grave if it doesn’t kill you first.
Too many are thinking of sexual abuse.
For a long time, that was my secret, too.
Growing up in a small Midwest town, everyone seemed to believe I had a perfect life and perfect family. I was homecoming queen, student council president, three-sport captain--a poster child of my community. My life seemed ideal. But behind my bright hazel eyes, my super-achiever persona was masking a girl who was carrying the silent pain of childhood sexual abuse and afraid to tell.
For as far back as I can remember, my very own stepfather was sexually abusing me. I was confused, ashamed, and afraid to tell.
He silenced me in so many ways, telling me no one would believe me and if anyone did find out about “our little secret,” my mom would hate me, leave him, and I would never see her again. I believed it was my responsibility to keep our family together; I had to protect my mom; I had to do whatever my step-dad wanted. I felt as if I had no choice…no voice. I felt scared, confused, ashamed, and trapped. My silence, like the silence of so many survivors of abuse, helped hide the truth that sexual abuse is affecting millions of people just like you and me.
I believe childhood sexual abuse is one of the best-kept secrets in our world today, and I believe that breaking the silence is the key to healing-- but it isn’t easy. If you have been abused, sharing your secret may very well be your biggest fear.
I know how you feel. It took ten years for me to find the courage to tell my mom that my step-father had been sexually abusing me for nearly all of my childhood. And unlike many girls and boys around the world who are told to Hush by the person they trusted enough to share their secret with, my mom believed me and reported the abuse to the authorities.
Seven days later my stepfather committed suicide.
I felt lost, ashamed, dirty, and broken. I not only needed rescuing, but I needed hope. I needed to know that I was not alone, that my story mattered, and that the shame I felt wasn’t mine to carry.
But throughout much of my life, I wore that shame like an uncomfortable undergarment. It seemed I always knew it was there--closely covering my body, almost suffocating me at times, and affecting the way I felt from day to day. My shame not only stemmed from a childhood marred by the painful secret of sexual abuse, but from the betrayal of my stepfather who abused me, the false belief that it was all my fault, and the unhealthy ways I tried to cope.
Shame is often rooted in lies we believe about ourselves and, for an abuse survivor, it is especially entrenched in the lie that we are somehow to blame for the pain we have experienced. As a result, we are left feeling dirty, unloved and afraid of what people would think about us if they knew our secret.
And just as I tried to keep the secret of childhood sexual abuse hidden for years, I also tried to cover up the shame I felt. My outerwear consisted of coping mechanisms such as perfectionism and people pleasing--anything that would hide my shame from others and instead show them the person I thought they would love and accept.
Finding the courage to tell my secret released me from the shame of my past so I could embrace the future; it put me on a journey of healing where I discovered the freedom I’d been longing for. In sharing my story, I also realized I wasn’t alone. So many others began telling me their stories too, sparking healing in lives all around me!
I now understand the power in finding one’s voice. I no longer live with my childhood secret, instead, I share my story to empower others to share theirs, heal, reach out to others, and to prevent the cycle of abuse and injustice. The pain that I thought would end me actually had the potential to fuel my purpose in the world.
Ending something like sexual abuse, rape, and exploitation will not just be about my voice—it is going to take each and every one of us choosing to not remain silent. In my book Hush: Moving from Silence to Healing After Childhood Sexual Abuse I write:
“If no one sheds light on what is being done in the darkness, it will never stop, and survivors will never know the truth that will set them free from the lies that keep them in bondage. Every time we bring abuse into the light, we help prevent more abuse while we help its victims heal. Victims need their own voice to break free from their silent pain. But they also need your voice. They need my voice. Together, our voices become one voice, one that rings loud and clear as it speaks words of love and truth, of validation, acceptance, and comfort. Our voice will penetrate the darkness to expose sexual abuse for exactly what it is. Our voice will lead wounded hearts to a safe, open place of healing. And as we speak out, our voice will reduce the risk of abuse for the next child, and the next, and the next.”
— NICOLE BRADDOCK BROMLEY
Everyone’s story matters. There are people around you who are going through something similar to what you have experienced, but are silently hurting and afraid. They need someone--they need me and they need you--to speak out, to reach out, to encourage, to give hope, and to remind them that they are not alone. You may feel you don’t have much to give, but what you do have may be exactly what someone else is desperately searching for.
So, be courageous. Find your voice. Share your story. Listen to someone else’s. You could change a life. You might change the world.
founder of OneVOICE
Nicole Braddock Bromley