It's so confusing. Someone does something to you and tells you not to tell anyone. And you comply.
Now I don't remember if that ever happened to me, but I'm sure someone at some point said "don't tell anyone because..." or "if you say something...will happen..." or "...or else..."
But then...you grow up with people telling you the complete opposite. "If anyone ever does anything to you, you have to say something". "Sometimes, it's okay to tell secrets, especially if someone is hurting you". "Don't keep it to yourself...talk about it".
So who do you believe?
Children are intimidated into believing the worst. That no one will believe them. That they wanted it. That something bad will happen to the people they care about. That they're crazy. It's no wonder why the "say something" band wagon never wins.
I don't know if there were any threats (I don't think there were from what little I remember). I can't say that there was any shame involved (although I feel the shame now, I'm sure I didn't mind the attention back then, even if it came in a strange way). So while I'm still working out what happened, at whose hands, when, and why (I'm sure I'll never know why), I'm also trying to figure out how this person (or people) manipulated me into keeping silent.
But things started to change. I was so troubled when things started coming to light (I was about 14 or 15), that I told anyone that would listen (even a few that I forced to listen). Here's a list of people in whom I confided:
- I told a few friends, who, in their limited capacities, provided whatever support they could. Then one person told someone else. Then that person told someone else. That fucking hurt. It was supposed to be in confidence. Plus, 99-percent of them are nowhere to be found. I realize that friends drift apart, but I feel like they stole something from me.
- I told a teacher, in writing. I told him I never wanted to speak about it, because it was too hard. He was very kind, caring, and understanding. He respected my feelings. He offered help (in writing),said that this was something that he couldn't help me with, and urged me to speak to a counsellor. I told him I had to think about it, and he worked out a deal for me. He told me it was in my best interests to tell my parents. I refused.
- I told a counsellor (referred by my teacher), which I did, but only once. I never wanted to go back to her. She was nice, but I couldn't see myself opening up to her. Now that I think about it, I remember very little about going to see her. I can't remember anything of our conversation. All that I can recall is that her office was in the hospital close to my house, that her office was bright and colourful, that I felt very uncomfortable in the chair I sat in, and that she promised to help me in any way she could. But, I can't remember anything of what I told her in those two hours (my teacher signed me out of school, and he promised to do so once a month so I could see her so as not to arouse suspicion with my parents). I remember her name, but I knew I could never go back there.
- I told my brother, sister, and mother. I pretty much expected their reaction. My brother wanted to kill the "son-of-a-bitch" that did this to me. My sister cried for days, and wanted me to get counselling. My mother didn't want to hear it. I don't think she even understood what she was being told. My mother screamed, cried, then begged me not to tell anyone. She begged me to keep it to myself. Not for any other reason except that she couldn't handle it. Our culture is very "we-we-we". We never talk about our problems with the outside world. Sure, lots of people say that, but it IS true in our culture because people in our community are very judgmental. If they knew, they'd blame my parents for it. My mother, I realized after a long time, felt guilty. She and my father worked incessantly. My father worked shift work. My mother worked in a sweat shop. I was a latch-key kid. I took care of myself. I think she blamed herself for what happened, even though there were a lot of missing pieces in my story. A LOT. I harboured a lot of resentment towards them for a long time afterwards. It took years for me to get over it, because maybe I blamed them (as well as the person/people that did this to me) for not seeing any signs, for not intervening, for not asking, for not stopping it. We still don't talk about it. But I don't blame them anymore. I realize that just like me, they were victimized too. I struggled to handle my situation, to make sense of it, and they did too, the best they could. Which is why I believe it's important for family members to be just as equipped as the child/person it happens to. To find a way to take the disclosure, and deal with it in an appropriate manner, especially when there are cultural sensitivities. And for the record, I made a solemn promise to my mother not to tell my father. He was, at that time, really very subdued, but also kind of like a ticking time bomb, ready to go off at any minute.
- I told the people where I think one of the incidents happened (because I know it happened more than once). I never told them the full story, just a few details of something I was "researching" for a "friend". I remember something about my elementary school in grade one. I had a very deep attachment to that school. I remember when we moved away, I cried for days. I pretended to be sick at my new school because I didn't want to go, because I missed my friends, teachers, and whatever else it was that made me want to stay there. The administration gave me the run around. After several attempts to contact them back, they refused to listen to me. Any attachment I had for that place vanished.
- I told a doctor. It was consuming me so badly, that I needed to get some help. As helpful as she seemed to be, I didn't think I could go back to that counsellor again because I felt that I somehow let her down by not going back to see her. I couldn't stomach the embarrassment of having to go back and hang my head in shame again. I saw a commercial on TV that suggesting talking to a family doctor. My family doctor was a woman, and I felt really uncomfortable, because she was from a similar culture, and she knew my family. I went to the male doctor at the same walk-in clinic. I asked him not to write down anything I said in my file. He agreed. After I finished telling him "I think this happened", he looked at me and asked what I wanted him to do. I told him about the commercial I saw. His response? "And?" I thanked him for his time, and for wasting mine, and walked out. I never went back to see him ever again.
- I told a police officer. A friend of mine was caught shooting her mouth off in high school that she had a gun and was going to "off" herself. What an idiot. Someone called the cops on her. She screamed at me on the phone, thinking it was me. The investigating officer called me, asking me for information about her character. He seemed very genuine, and found it interesting that someone so young (I was 17) could ask such "intelligent" questions. I sussed him out, tested him, and finally told him. I had such high hopes. He said I could ask him anything, call him for anything if I ever needed him. I remember calling him from a payphone in my high school's hallway, asking if he would help me find this person. He said there was nothing he could do. Nothing he could do because it happened so long ago. But that he was very sorry. I never met him in person, but I remember his voice. I remember the way he said he was sorry.
Professionals, self-help books, talk shows, police. They all say it's important to disclose. It's important to stop being a victim. Talking is an important step in the healing process. Really? I don't know about anyone else, but in my case, opening up has made things a lot more difficult for me. It's made me doubt myself, my memory (what little of it I have), and my sanity. It's made me want to retreat to myself. It's made me realize how difficult the process is, and how important it is to keep things to myself. I'd love to tell my partner, or my close friends why I act the way I do sometimes. Why I want to just be left alone. Why I don't want to make love. Why I don't feel like hugging. Why I get a little anti-social. Why I look like I'm carrying a four tonne weight on each shoulder. But knowing what my journey's been like so far, this is something I'm going to have to deal with myself. It's hard. It's painful. I know everyone means well, but I just know that can't talk anymore.