Discover more from The Tali Steine* Writing Project (*pseudonym)
I've been struggling since I wrote my last piece. I realized that in addition to the two possibilities I already mentioned for my parents' reaction, there is a third. Beyond a defamation suit, or some other destructive action to me or the people I love, my parents could do something destructive to themselves. If that happened, I would have to live the rest of my life being blamed for their actions. That road will not bring me peace. None of these roads will.
I feel like my hopes for saving and speaking out for myself as a child are quickly fizzling out. Being able to talk openly about what happened to me was a dream that I yearned for for a long time. I've carried the cloak of shame for decades, even in the years when a part of me locked away all the memories to give me some space and the ability to breathe.
I feel shaken and changed. I always thought that when I was ready to speak my truth and stand up for survivors in my own name I would feel strong. I thought I would stand on flat, sturdy ground, on top of a mountain of healing and self-compassion. Instead, I feel as though I've moved from one precipice to another. I am still afraid of what will happen if I speak out. There is no guarantee of protection or safety. I don't feel strong. I feel terrified.
I also feel incredibly angry. I am angry that I was taught that I was being abused because I was bad, because I had misbehaved, because I had chosen it. I am angry to discover that I lived my entire childhood thinking I was the only kid who had to endure this torture, only to discover that abusive parents are not as uncommon as I thought, and that abuse is never a choice. I am angry that speaking truth to power will result once again in being in danger of my parents' harm.
I am also angry at all of the people who judge survivors for not speaking publicly or who criticize us for taking so long. Why are they so critical of people who have already suffered? Perhaps they want us to report quickly so that they may feel confident that all abusers are known and accounted for? Are those people now offering to walk by my side while I look for a defamation lawyer? Will they sit with me in court? Will they run interference when relatives and my parents' friends blame me for some sort of decline to my parents' health that will somehow be my fault? ("They've been traumatized by your lies!", I imagine the relatives saying.)
I am feeling devastated. I thought I was ready. I thought that healing had given me the strength and resilience to speak the quiet truth out loud. It turns out that I’m not sure I will ever be ready to face off against the people who caused me so much suffering. Even if I’m simply talking about surviving abuse generally rather than naming names, it will be taken as provocation.
As I write, a part of me shares a memory. When I was eight, she says, we had a health and safety class at school. The class was taught to be wary of strangers, and that if anyone ever touched them, they should immediately tell a trusted adult. She had already been abused for quite a few years, and she had no trusted adults. That part of me is panicking now. This moment feels painfully, unbearably familiar. There is both pressure and a desire to tell and speak out, but it turns out that speaking out is actually fraught and dangerous.
In the face of this profound, aching disappointment, all I can do is mourn. While I’m sitting with all of the parts of me who are mourning, I’m sitting with you, too. I’m sitting with those of you who spoke out and were sued for defamation. I’m sitting with those of you who endured retaliation. I’m sitting with those who were blamed for hurting their abusers. I’m sitting with those of you who never reported and were shamed for that. I’m sitting with those of you of who are ready and those who may never be ready.
I may not be able to speak in my own name, but I will not give up on fighting for abuse survivors. Sending love to all of you, *Tali