Hiding In Plain Sight
She is safe. That much I know. No one will ever hurt her. Because no one else gets in. Just me.
I was young when he sexually abused me. I don’t know how many times it happened. I know that he was only in our lives for a short time. I don’t know whether it was over weeks or months. Some of those details are hazy. I was too young to have a good concept of time. I was so young that my mind could barely process what was happening and the words to describe it or to talk about it simply didn’t belong to me yet. I don’t remember everything. But I remember enough.
It’s the parts I don’t remember that haunt me. Flashes of memories. Horrible dreams that have been visiting me on a regular basis my whole life.
When he would come for me again and again. When he would whisper with heated venom, Don’t cry. Don’t you dare fuckin’ cry. And my young brain could barely understand what was happening…
When I would feel the hot tears but I would stifle the sobs. When I refused to make a sound because it could invite something even worse…
And the anger, the paralyzing fear, the pain, they hitched a ride with her.
I let her take all of the bad stuff and put it someplace safe where I didn’t have to see it or think about it. What was left of me? I put on a happy face.
I protected myself and the people I love by putting on a happy face. By ignoring all the bad stuff that happened. I couldn’t deal with it. And I somehow decided the danger of letting anyone else know was too great. Don’t let anyone see.
And because she hid, she saved me.
She preserved a part of me that allowed me to go on. Long after he was gone. Long after his face became a sickening blur that I didn’t try to bring into focus. She saved me.
That was a long time ago.
And she’s still hiding. The part of me that had to go into protection mode is still hiding. She’s keeping a vigilant watch.
Because of her you don’t really know me.
Because of her I’m hiding right in front of you.
No one knows the whole me.
It’s a wonder that I am able to have deep and meaningful relationships with people. With my family, my husband, my friends. I need people in my life. I need connections. Over the years I learned just how much to give to the people I love while still protecting the deepest part of me.
But it’s not all good. There are consequences to this carefully calibrated exposure. I have trouble with negative emotions. I deny sadness. I stuff it down. Don’t cry. Don’t you dare fuckin’ cry. I don’t know how to get mad. I deny my anger. Even if it’s wholly justified. The hurt gets buried. The anger gets squashed. Don’t let anyone see.
The consequences? I’ve gotten so good at hiding that I don’t even know when I’m doing it. It’s become innate. Intuitive. A retreat as deft and soft as a blink.
It happens so often that I end up confused by the feelings that ooze their way back in. What? Anger? Why? Where did this come from? Is it in fact anger? The befuddlement of a toddler to basic human emotions.
And it plays out in my relationships. It can be days before I realize I’m angry at my husband. I can withdraw completely while I try to decipher the simplest of emotional codes. It’s not a game or a ploy or passive aggressiveness. It’s just confusion.
The crazy part? I didn’t know the charade was taking place. My whole life I have been not only hiding from everyone around me, I’ve been hiding from myself. It wasn’t a bad gig, really. Bad feelings out – good feelings in. The result: Happy. Not a lot of drama. Not a lot of dwelling on the negative. But real? Apparently not.
And being real is kind of important. Because not being real? It’s exhausting.
Now, as I realize what’s been going on under the surface all this time? I’m tired. The effort to keep things buried, to dismiss and ignore all the bad feelings? The regimen has become cumbersome.
I’m tired of hiding. I have no reason to hide any more.
I’m not ashamed.
I’m proud of who I am. Of my life.
I don’t want to hide any more.
I want to be free.
I want to feel and to understand what I’m feeling.
I want to yell. Scream. Cry. Growl. Throw things.
I want to say what I’m feeling when I feel it.
And I want to deal with all of it.
I want to be free.
I want to deal with the good and the bad and the ugly and the prickly and the painful. It’s never been about strength. I know I can withstand the assault of decades of feelings. I’m ready, I’m itching to unleash all of it.
I just don’t know how. Not yet.
I’ve had moments. Moments where I’ve been mad and I knew it right away. And I didnt hold back and question it or try to deny it or rationalize it. I yelled and I said everything I was thinking and feeling. I was harsh. Maybe even a little too harsh. But I’m told a little over correction is ok after all this time.
And it felt good. It felt real.
It felt clean.
I felt a little lighter.
So I’m going to keep working on it. I’m going to try to get better at cracking the code of my emotions and dealing with them. I’m going to work on unlearning a lifetime worth of response.
I’m glad that part of me hid. It was self preservation. An act of survival. And even for years after the abuse ended, it still served to give my young mind room. Room to grow and mature and learn and be a kid. The hiding was essential. It served a purpose. It saved me.
But now I don’t need saving.
She can come out of hiding. She can take leave of her duties. She can go be a kid and laugh and play and make flower chain head bands and sip honey suckle off the vine. She can ride her bike and stretch her arms out wide trusting the steadiness of her balance. She doesn’t need to hide any more. She can be free.
Because now I’m here.
I’ll take all the feelings and I’ll learn to feel them.
I’ll accept the fear and the hurt.
I’ll feel them. I’ll deal with them.
And I’ll be ok.
I’ll be here, all of me. I’ll be safe.
I’ll be free.