[very serious trigger warning: descriptions of child sexual abuse, incest, pedophilia, suicide]
I’ve been wanting to write a post on this very difficult subject. It’s a secret— something that I have only told a handful of people before, and when I did, I was disgusted with myself. But it needs to be said.
It is many years after the abuse now. It’s been a few years since I last told someone this. I’ve been trying to work up the nerve for months, but every time I open up the post window and type, “Reason #110”, I freeze up.
It is too horrible a secret— too awful a thing to imagine, much less admit in a public space for strangers and family and friends to see. I’ve worried that it might make me, as a kind of advocate for these issues, seem less trustworthy and safe. But I thought about how alone other people— other survivors who have been in this same place— must feel. The shame of this secret is too great for those kinds of survivors to keep living unless they keep it buried down, hidden deep behind layers and layers so that other people can’t ever know it. But by hiding this secret, it destroys us inside and out. It comes out in other ways— we hurt ourselves, or we hurt those around us. We shut ourselves off from other people so that they might not get too close and discover it. It’s a very lonely kind of secret.
So I thought about this and I decided that if it makes some survivors feel less safe with me, that is okay. Because there are those survivors out there who need this understanding very badly. And finding it…it could be impossible, because we are all so afraid to say it. So someone has to. If some of you out there feel that I am less safe because of this, I understand, and I definitely don’t resent you for it. But I realize now that these people, just like me, need to be able to share this secret. Because it doesn’t hurt anyone else, and it’s not our fault that we are like this— it’s our abusers who us made us this way. We didn’t ask to be like this.
Maybe we hide this secret because we have never had intimate relationships or friendships that show us how safe and loving people can be. There are some of us who have never had that luxury, not even once. And even those of us who have been lucky enough to have a couple of very close, loving people in our worlds— we still live our lives in disbelief, in denial and shock that we could ever be loved, truly and deeply. We go around fearful that it’s all one big lie— that those people who love us are just faking it out of pity. We think that the one good person in our lives is a fluke or an outlier, not an indicator of a general trend in humans as kind and caring beings.
Maybe we hide it because we were raised with an understanding that the world is often not generous, but instead judgmental and assuming. We know that if strangers heard this secret, if communities knew it, they would shun us, maybe even react violently. There’s no time for the reasons when you are dealing with damaged, possibly dangerous people. This is the logic that we’ve cast as the lynchpin of the world and human societies. “Judge first, hurt next, ignore always, and damn the consequences because what I want and need comes first.”
This is abuser logic. It’s the kind of thinking that we are trained to believe in, that I have been trained to follow. But I refuse to let this control my life anymore. I refuse to believe in a world where the majority of people are evil, selfish, and malicious. I refuse to believe in a world where people ignore and hate and assume the worst of others. I can’t contribute to that kind of destructive place anymore. And most importantly, it’s not what I’ve seen— there is so much good in this world, and it stands out many times more when you have been where I’ve been.
By telling this secret, I refuse the world of abusers. I am making my own world— one where people like me can feel safe enough to say these things without judgment, but rather, with the support and love they so desperately need.
You’ve probably already figured out what my secret is. My secret is that, during the period of time from when I was eight to thirteen years old, during the time when I was abused by my brother, he showed me child pornography. He did this as part of the grooming, as a means of training me and normalizing myself and other children as sexual objects to be abused. He would try to get me to masturbate in front of him, and there were times when, because he kept pressuring me, or because I was afraid, or both, I did.
As a child, it makes sense to be attracted to people of the same age. But when these things are forced onto you as the formative essence of your sexuality, when you are still exposed to this even as a teenager and in adolescence, it becomes something else. The worst kind of abuse is the abuse that lasts even after the primary events are over, and this abuse did.
For many years after it stopped, I still looked at these images, and I even sought out this material. I had fantasies about children and other people much younger than me for a long time. The very honest truth is that I was a pedophile. I knew that it was wrong, but this kind of messed up sexuality was all that I knew. I didn’t stop until I was nineteen, when loving people in my life began to show me that something else was not impossible, that I could live beyond this. There are times when I still have these moments, but they are very rare. It was terrifying living my life afraid of children, afraid of what I could do to them because someone hurt me. It is still scary. I don’t know if I could ever trust myself to have and raise my own children because of this. Maybe in a very long time.
What is important is that I never hurt anyone or actively tried to. I understand now that if I ever hurt someone the way I was, it would be too horrible to live with. I swore never to try ending my life again, but hurting someone else like this is the single exception to that rule. It would mean the end of everything I have built my life on in an attempt to not become a monster. It would mean that everything I was taught and forced to believe was true. So it’s not a throwaway promise; it’s one that I hinge my existence and survival on— to never hurt anyone in this way.
Again, I understand if my promise is not enough for you, and you need to stop reading this blog because the thought that someone who once had abusive thoughts could be writing this. But I have made my decision, because there are people out there who need to feel less alone. I am putting this secret out there, for the many thousands of people who, for reasons of shame, or self destruction, or safety, cannot.
I’m letting this secret go, so I can finally move on with my life.