What you’re about to read is a piece of my story that I’ve kept to myself for a very long time. George Orwell said, “If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself.” I hid this secret from myself for a very long time. Once it was no longer a secret I kept from myself, I gradually realized that I couldn’t keep it at all.
I believe that there’s great power in telling our secrets and sharing the parts of our stories that are not dreamlike and perfect. Keeping this secret is no longer serving me, and I know with every fiber of my being that telling this secret is the only way to be rid of it.
It all started with a book.
Back in 2015, I checked a book called Thinking About Women: Sociological Perspectives on Sex and Gender out from the library. It was essentially a textbook on feminism, and I was enjoying it. In it, there was a section on the effects of trauma on children, specifically young girls.
I had to stop reading mid-way through the section. I started to see myself in it.
I sat mesmerized, deep in thought before I went back to reading. I had to see the rest of it. I had to know more.
A part of my mind that I had so carefully kept hidden suddenly had a light pointed at it.
I started to look back at the timeline of my experience. The pieces fell into place.
I was seven. I was in second grade. We had just moved to a new house in another part of town, and my sister had recently been diagnosed with a lifelong metabolic disease. A three year old with a disease meant a lot of doctor’s appointments my parents didn’t want to to drag me to. So, I was left with a sitter. A family member. Really, another child.
That’s when something happened to me.
Like any seven year old, I didn’t really understand what was happening, but I knew that it was something I shouldn’t tell anyone about. Not my parents. Not my friends. Not anyone. I learned much later most kids don’t.
When I think about it now, I see it from a third person perspective, like you might imagine God sees your life happening.
After it stopped, the next year my school recommended I attend anger management classes. I had a habit of stomping my feet. It probably seemed like I was acting out because my sister got so much more attention than me.
All I remember from my days in anger management is a moment where we decided as a group to scream into a pillow when we felt angry.
By fourth grade, I needed a bra.
In fifth grade, I got my period. I was ten.
At some point I started eating my meals in a specific way. I had to eat one food at a time. Mixing two or even three things together was absolutely out of the question. Later I learned this is called serial eating. My family thought it was quirky and cute. We laughed about it. I did this well into my adult life.
In sixth grade, I couldn’t go to sleep at night if I didn’t do a few very specific things before bed. I’d lie there tense, sure that something terrible would happen to my family if I didn’t get out of bed and go through the motions. One day, I realized how incredibly weird this was, and that if anyone at school ever found out I’d be made fun of endlessly. I decided that day that I would not do those things anymore. And I didn’t. Only thinking about this later did I realize this was anxiety presenting itself.
I know that I was an easy-going kid before something happened to me. There are many family stories of a confident and funny little girl named Jessica. I don’t remember being that child. I remember being a child riddled with anxiety and fear that only got worse as I got older.
As I grew into my first adult relationship, we had arguments. We were young and full of fire. I could not bear to be touched in these moments. He wanted to hug me to convey to me that he loved me despite whatever it was we were arguing about. The more he tried to hold me, the more violent I became. I would do anything to get away from him in those moments. I became the worst possible version of myself.
Third person perspective. Anger. Early puberty. An eating disorder. Anxiety. An aversion to being touched when I am upset. Relationship problems. These are all known and documented effects of a major, early trauma. I thought I was just crazy; that I just had a screw or ten loose.
Until I read that book, that was my truth.
As time went on, I avoided thinking about what had happened to me. I avoided the person who did it to me the best I could, which was hard to do because you know who shows up to family gatherings? Family. Even the family that has done something to you.
We had an unspoken agreement to never acknowledge what they had done to me. We did not speak more than pleasantries, and I did my best to act like it had not happened and that I was 100% okay.
I thought I could bury my secret and leave it forever. But the thing about secrets is that the more we try to hide them, deny them, and pretend they don’t exist, the more they own us.
After another horrifying argument with my person, I had to tell him. Now that I knew what had happened to me, he had to know too.
He sat next to me on our bed as I tried to tell him. I wanted to, but I couldn’t. I started to cry. I couldn’t breathe. He waited, and he waited. Finally, after what felt like hours I was able to choke out, “Something happened to me.”
From there, I couldn’t say more. I was too upset. He asked me yes or no questions, and I nodded or shook my head to answer them. He cried. I cried. It was exhausting.
The next day, he looked at me like someone had deliberately strangled my puppy. I didn’t want or need his pity. I needed his support.
For a while, I was relieved to have told someone. Especially him, since he was and still is my person. I thought that was enough. I admitted it to him, and I admitted it myself. It was no longer just my secret.
It isn’t that simple though.
I am often consumed by anger for what at the time feels like no reason. If I stop to honestly reflect when I’m calm later, I know it’s because I haven’t fully dealt with this. I want to enjoy time spent with my family. I don’t want to feel alone. I want a do-over. I want to go back in time; to know who I might have turned into if something hadn’t happened to me. I mourn the loss of that little girl, that potential self, that potential life.
Three people in this world have known my secret (four if you count the person that did this): my person, my sister, and my therapist. I thought that if I was no longer the sole keeper of this secret it would not own me any longer. But it does.
Each time I’ve told my secret, I’ve found it to be incredibly freeing. But the pain of largely keeping this secret has become too hard to ignore. I’m done avoiding, I’m done hiding, and I’m done keeping secrets.
To the people closest to me who never knew: please don’t let this consume you. Every day distances me a little more from my pain. To the family members I’ve been estranged from: I’m sorry I haven’t been around. I plan on changing that. To the person that did this, if you’re reading: I forgive you, but know that forgiveness is merely the end of resentment. I am done being angry. At the end of the day, you have to live with yourself, knowing what you have done, and that’s an onus I wouldn’t wish on anyone. To the people who have been supportive through this struggle: thank you for letting your humanity show. You are truly amazing.