When I first learned about what happened to my daughter I was not only in shock, I also felt scared, and even alone. That's not meant to be disrespectful to my husband. He was, and still is, my rock, my shoulder to cry on, and sometimes my punching bag. What I mean is that when life throws you a huge curveball, no matter how broad your circle of support is, no matter how 'grounded' you might feel you are, you will need to process it on your own terms and in ways that work only for you. That can feel isolating.
And let’s get real — when you’re talking about incest, childhood sexual abuse, or any sexual abuse for that matter, it’s not like our society openly embraces that conversation (that needs to change). Although I was dealing with tremendous shock and pain, I was not about to send an email to friends and family seeking support or put up a post on social media about it. When a friend asked me how things were going, I couldn't respond, “Well, we just received some bad news. We found out that our daughter was sexually abused ... by my dad.” The secrecy around child abuse sure added to the feelings of loneliness.
While everyone’s story will be unique, with other types of calamities you can often find those who have had similar circumstances (and we all know that with the Internet you can find just about anything!). For me, I sought others whose situation looked and felt like mine: people who were not only dealing with the horror of finding out their now-adult child had been sexually abused as a child, but also having to come to terms with the fact that it was their dad -- a person they had trusted and respected their entire life. To learn that someone you love hurt your child is like a double dose of shock and trauma.
Simultaneously, I started to search for therapists for my daughter (we'll talk more about letting go of control in another post). I spent hours online learning and educating myself about incest, and looking for resources for her as well as for me. I came across so many wonderful organizations, articles, and websites. But I never really found anyone whose story was similar to mine. They’d all have bits and pieces of my story, but I always felt like a key component was missing. It would either be that the survivor was a minor or young child when the family found out (mine was an adult); or the abuser had a history (not in our case); or, the abuser was a family member, but not the grandfather to the survivor, or if it was, he had abused children outside of the family.
I then began to realize that similar stories may not be out there because incest is shrouded in shame and families remain silent. Yet, incest is a huge problem in the United States (Read: "America Has an Incest Problem", The Atlantic, 2013).
I grew up believing in, respecting, and still value, privacy. But even from the beginning, I embraced the idea that when you keep secrets, especially secrets like this, you create and feed shame. So while I didn't tell everyone what was happening, I did share my story with a few friends (more on that, too in a future post) and found that the truth does set you free. Free from shame. Free from burdens. Free from isolation.
I hope that you find someone (a friend, partner, or therapist) with whom you can share your story. I hope you find a safe space with a person (or people) who genuinely care about you, will be there for you, and only want the best for you.
It's been over two and a half years since I found out and I still dabble in sorrow, grief, and guilt. Healing is not an "up and to the right" kind of trajectory -- it's complicated. But day by day I continue to work toward acceptance and peace. As Thich Nhat Hahn says, "peace is every step."
The resources I've put here, along with therapy, and practicing mindfulness have been and continue to be part of my healing toolkit which includes reading, journaling, long walks, music, talking, yoga, and finding stillness -- which sometimes looks more like me burying myself in the back corner of my bedroom crying. My toolkit is broad and deep because the pain and trauma of it all is broad and deep.
I hope that you will find something helpful for you here at M*OASIS. I wish you wellness and peace, and may you find acceptance and gratitude on your journey.