When I was in high school, I was sexually abused both by a popular classmate and also by an adult in my community. I knew it was wrong. I knew I should tell someone. But I didn’t want the negative attention that I knew would follow my accusations. I imagined the worst: no one believing me, trauma for innocent family members of my abusers, my own family being traumatized, students sneering at me in the hallway, “There’s that girl.”
So, I never told anyone.
I made it through that dark period of my life by cramming all those thoughts and feelings deep inside and showing the world an effervescent version of myself that wasn’t necessarily a lie, but certainly wasn’t the whole truth. College came and went. I got a degree. Became a professional. Made a name for myself in my career. I recognized I had some disordered thinking about physical relationships with men, likely rooted in my abuse, but I processed it on my own. Or I tried to.
It was suddenly decades later, and I had still never told anyone.
One afternoon, I learned that a turn of events had potential to bring one of my abusers back into my life. It took three days for that knowledge to manifest into a whopper of a panic attack as I relived all of my experiences for the first time since they occurred. The thoughts and feelings I’d stuffed inside all emerged in a torrent of panic, anxiety, and terror. I was alone at the time, and I didn’t know what to do. Neither my family nor my friends knew what had happened to me in the past. Asking for help would mean revealing long-hidden information. I felt trapped.
But I was SICK of feeling trapped.
Before I knew what I was doing, I was dialing a friend’s number. When he answered, I apologized for the unexpected forthcoming account, and then I started talking. It all came out, tumbles of words and emotion, all made more explosive from their decades of confinement. I ended it all with, “I don’t know where I go from here, but I need some help.” I’ll never forget his reply.
“I believe you. I support you. I will help you.”
He did, too—that day and long into the future. I was neither healed nor whole in that moment, but I felt a brightening. Having long-feared the outcomes of someone knowing my secret, I was surprised at how unburdened I felt, how enveloped by caring support. It brought unexpected feelings of peace and relief. In the ensuing years, I gained the courage to tell some family members, and I started attending counseling sessions to help me cope. I’ve grown remarkably, all because I confided in a friend.
This part of the story is where a reader might expect an author to say she thought, “Why did I not tell someone long ago?” I never thought that. I know why I didn’t tell anyone, and so do you. I wish teenage me had had the courage to reveal the truth, but she didn’t. Neither did twenties me nor thirties me. But when the time was right, it was right.
My story is not one of abuse; instead, it is a story of triumph through support. It is never too late to begin writing the first chapter of your triumph story. When the time is right, you will talk to someone you trust. You probably even know who that person is already. You’ll find yourself selecting his number on your phone, apologizing for the imminent disclosure (which you needn’t do, by the way), and beginning to unburden yourself.
He will believe you. He will support you. He will help you. What a story it will be.