Security, privacy, and shame

When a coworker once joked that the marks on my face looked like my husband had smacked me, I laughed lightly and dismissed the idea with a fake smile. She must have assumed I couldn’t possibly be a target of domestic violence and felt free to joke about it. Terrified that she’d guessed the truth, I laughed along with her painful joke.

In reality, I’d sleep little the night before while the abuser raged at me for my failures, punctuating his points with slaps and fists. I’d disguised the damage with makeup for the bruises and an emotionless mask for my face, but I was hurting.  My complicit laugh at the joke felt shameful.

While trapped in an abusive relationship, shame muffled me from talking about abuse, but my need for security ensured my silence. The abuser’s violence and threats of killing himself or me left me vigilant and eager to avoid his rage. I doggedly hid the details of our dysfunctional life. But, I’d eventually attempt to leave him, which would expose snippets of truth about his abuse. My first four escape attempts were unsuccessful, and when I returned after each escape, he’d insist that I clean up behind me. I had to tell anyone privy to information about his abuse that I’d lied and was never abused.

After my final escape, I’d learned to break all contact with the abuser or anyone he could use to influence me. I withheld information about my location from everyone except my brother, who met me at an undisclosed location and protected my safety. When I notified the abuser by mail that I was initiating divorce, he killed himself.

Years of carefully controlling information about myself made me secretive and mistrustful. While the abuser’s death ended his retaliation, threats to my security outlived him through his proxies. I had to cut them out of my life before I could relax my concerns about my security.

A good counselor and internet forums for abuse survivors gave me confidential and nonjudgmental environments to start sharing my experience with abuse. Still, my sense of privacy and shame for tolerating abuse kept me from disclosing most details.

Before long, my need for privacy relaxed, and I began sharing my stories with close family and friends. Once I built a relationship with a trusted partner, I revealed the most painful details of abuse with him, and the shaming power of the details dwindled.

Five years after the abuser’s death, I decided to write my stories of abuse in a memoir. It seemed that an important window was open and might soon shut. I’d released enough of the shame and need for privacy to release the information. But, I needed to write about the experience before the intensity and impact of abuse faded.  Writing the memoir was difficult, but I’d gained skills in managing the onslaught of emotions it dredged.

The memoir naturally progressed into starting a blog. I am now satisfied that I have shared my stories about abuse on a timeline that considered my security and privacy. I share my stories with details in defiance of the shame that once made me laugh along with a joke about bruises on my face.

Security, privacy, and shame motivate us to protect our stories of abuse, but those motivations change with time. I was so burdened by shame it became important for me to ultimately share even the details in a public format. On your own recovery I recommend protecting your need for security and privacy. But when it comes time, kick your shame in the butt!

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