When I was a little girl, I was taught to keep our secrets. I was trained to not talk to anyone. If I shared with anyone what was happening, I was told that I would get into trouble, or I would be made to live with my dad. Living with the secrets caused me to isolate, and keep to myself. I was labeled as painfully shy, and was sent to the guidance counselor on a regular basis.
A smile stayed on my face, to hide how I was really feeling. A smile keeps people from asking questions. A smile adds enough light to cover up the darkness. If a child is smiling, they must be happy. No one knew why I wouldn’t talk or engage in conversations, they just figured I was quiet.
And that is where the mistakes are made. Smiles can be worn as masks. Being quiet does not always mean a child is shy. But, how do we as adults know the difference? When do teachers have time to question if the smile the child is wearing is real or if it is hiding something? How do we know if a child is just quiet, or if they are being made to hide things? There are no good answers to any of these questions. There were adults in my life, who wanted to know what was going on, but I wouldn’t let them in. I was too afraid.
I was trained to keep quiet and to not let on that anything was happening. When I was alway from home, I was happy. I was safe, but I was still under strict orders not to tell. For the moments I was out of the house, away from the dysfunction, part of me knew that was where I belonged. There was never anything in me that made me think that I should let another adult in on our secrets. Even my gram, who I told everything to. I never thought that someone might be able to stop what was happening.
I look back at this time, and I wonder why. Why would I protect the people who were not protecting me? Why would I believe the lies they told me? I believed them because I did not know there was another way. I believed that I was the one who was doing wrong. If my own mother wouldn’t help me, who would? It was that one act that made me believe that I was unworthy of protection from anyone, and had me questioning if I really needed to be protected in the first place.
When I encounter six year olds, I wonder how I could have been so resilient, how I could have survived the things that I lived through. And then I get the realization, that maybe they know too. I know other children live the life I lived. I know there are other children who go to bed at night with the weight of other people’s burdens covering them tighter than their covers. When I see children, I know the secrets they are capable of carrying. I know the pain a quick smile can hide. I know that they need our help, even when they do not know it.
For thirty years I held all of the secrets close. I guarded them with everything that I had. When some escaped, I held the rest even closer. I did not want anyone to know the reality we lived in, truth be told, I didn’t want to face that it was reality. I did not have a voice for all those years. I let others mistreat me, I let them hurt me, and I let them own pieces of me.
As a mother myself now, I have to speak up. My voice speaks not only for me, but for my children as well. I hope, that my voice will be loud enough to speak for the children who have had their voices stolen from them. My voice will not be shushed any longer. I will speak my truth and I will never be silenced.
My memoir, The Monster That Ate My Mommy unleashes all of the secrets I held. It tell truths that took me a lifetime to understand. It shares all the things I was told never to tell. The words on the pages are my truth, and I will never again keep them hidden. Secrets are toxic. They are the poison that keep the wrong people in charge of us.
We all have a story to tell. We all have been given challenges to overcome. It is what you do with that challenge that matters.
You are not alone in your struggle.
You are braver than you think.
Never give up.