Sharing my story has been most healing for me and here is why: deep down I felt unlovable, unacceptable, and fundamentally flawed because of what happened to me. That's why I kept it a secret; if people knew the terrible truth then they would surely be disgusted and leave me! Ironically, when I gave my loved ones a chance to really know me, when I let them into my pain and see that they love me anyway, it deconstructed my prison of shame. When they stand by my side, when they listen to my pain without running away, then and only then I know that my deepest fears are not and never were real. By sharing my secret with my brother and experiencing the fullness of his support, I have never felt so loved and lovable. And when I see that I am lovable by him and others, I am able to love myself. This is the essence of healing.
Every army needs a General. Someone to lead, to call the shots, to draft the plan, and to execute. My army of supporters is no different. The General of my army is my older brother.
I debated for many months on when and how to share my story of abuse with my brother. I desperately longed to have his support but was unsure the effect this would have on our relationship. Would he believe me? Would he question the details (some of which I do not have)? Would I be able to communicate the story and my pain in a way he can understand? Would he freak out? Would he immediately jump into action (for which I'm not ready)? Would he be able to understand my sorrow or would it be too difficult for him? Would he be able to help me through this or am I better off keeping my secrets?
I visited with my brother numerous times in various places between the months of April and June, but it never seemed to be the right time. Ultimately I decided to tell him one night in late July during a family visit when everyone else had gone to bed. We sat on the back porch of my new lake house and it was right. I was ready. The monologue flowed. I was able to recount the story with clarity and, astonishingly, without tears. He listened. He empathized. He expressed his sorrow for the pain I have endured. It was precisely the support I needed.
These days my brother and I are closer than I ever thought possible. We talk more openly and honestly than we have in the 38 years I've known him. We have always been close, but never like this. Never this raw, this vulnerable, or this authentic. And in this deep abiding love I have found a great source of healing. When I spoke about the healing nature of sharing your story in my post Super Better, it was my brother who inspired this line of thought. This has been such a powerful part of my healing journey, I want to express those same thoughts here.
For all the beauty and joy that has come with sharing the story with my brother, it has also come with great pain. He is now shouldering some of the weight of my sorrow, and this relief for me comes at a price to him. He did not sleep at all that first night. Later he told me he had nightmares for weeks about all the things that happened to me, and he has guilt over not being there to protect me. I have seen him many times the past few months and he has changed. We have had many conversations about our shared sorrow, for all we can really do in this situation is to keep talking.
Even though it pains him, I am not sorry I told him. I needed his love and support in a way that I can scarcely communicate; there simply aren't enough words. I see a side of him now that I did not know was there, a caring and soft side that he hides from the rest of the world. He calls me just to say hello. He goes out of his way to spend time with me regularly even though we live 3 hours apart. He tells me he loves me at every opportunity, which melts my heart. He touches and hugs me more than ever, a reassuring affection that I direly need. He sends me text messages that simply say "Love you" which makes me cry every time. I am so grateful for his expression of love and care. It has unlocked a need inside of me that I wasn't aware that I had.
There was a practical reason for sharing the story with my brother. Our maternal grandparents are both experiencing failing health. For months I have had recurring nightmares about the possibility of having to face my assailant amidst the inevitable grievous family events, whether hospital or funeral related. I have considered simply not attending these events, but I love my grandfather very much and want to be present. I decided that this would categorize as yet another thing stolen from me if I were unable to grieve his passing out of fear. I needed a family member in the know, someone to serve as a buffer and protector so that I can participate in family events should I so choose. I decided that it needs to be my choice.
This is how and when my brother became The General. I've been paralyzed and confused about how to progress with my healing as it relates to family matters. I am overwhelmed with fear in trying to figure out how to be around them without telling, but if I do tell then who and when to tell, what to say, who to involve, who to protect... all of these thoughts become a swirling mess inside my head and I fall into a state of total disillusionment. It's simply too much for me to process, and most often this line of thinking ends with a meltdown.
The General lays out options. He discusses tactical plans, courses of action, and probable outcomes. Ultimately he leaves all of the decision making up to me and, amazingly, has made it clear that we are on no timeline but my own. It was The General's idea for me to create Healthy Boundaries with our mother. He supported my conversation with her so much that he swept into her house right after I left to reinforce the points I had made. That was meaningful to me because I didn't have to do it alone. In fact most of the plans laid out by The General start with "We could..." I am no longer alone, and this is incredibly comforting.
Sometimes when we are suffering the most powerful thing anyone can do is just to sit with us. Sometimes there are no plans to be made, only tears to be shed. My brother has been there for this part, too. Some days he distracts me with video games, movies, and football. These times are precious to me. Other times there are courses of action to consider and options to be weighed, and this is when The General appears. Lately I have felt at a crossroads in evaluating such options; on one side there is justice, the other forgiveness. Spiritual truth tells me that ultimately forgiveness is the path towards healing. The General leans toward plans that involve reckoning; he thinks confronting the abuser in some way is necessary for my freedom. I don't know how I feel about this yet, and so it is not time for any decision. I will know when the time is right.
This past weekend I attended a film festival where I viewed a documentary called Beyond Right and Wrong. The film explores personal narratives of unthinkable loss, paralyzing grief and the struggle for justice, forgiveness, repair, and reconciliation. I saw stories of Israeli-Palenstinian conflict (for which my heart aches after visiting Israel this time last year), Rwandan genocide, and IRA terrorism. I saw deep peace in the eyes of those who had forgiven and listened to accounts of how they found that place. It is not the same path for everyone. I no longer see justice and forgiveness as mutually exclusive, for some of their stories included a required element of both. There may be some balance in the middle of this crossroad as yet undefined by me or The General.
And so again, we shall keep talking.