One of the greatest tragedies of human existence is when a person lives with shame – not for what we have done, but for what was done to us.
There’s an expression in AA that, “We’re only as sick as our secrets.” For as much as I hold 12 step programs in great reverence, there are things we require “outside help” with. The most notable of which are surviving childhood abuse.
I’m not saying everyone needs counseling. I’m saying we need people that we can share intimate pain with and know that we’ll be supported without judgment.
For the record, if someone shares with you that they were abused as a child, here are some things you can do that are helpful:
- Believe us and express very directly that you believe us.
- Tell us you’re glad that we shared this with you and that you believe in us
- Say, “I’m so sorry.”
- Say, “It wasn’t your fault.”
- Ask if you can hug us (sometimes touch helps, sometimes it hurts)
- Understand that where we’re at is usually equal parts courage and desperation (we don’t feel brave).
Here are things that are well intended but hurtful:
- Saying our abusers were simply doing what was done to them
- Saying that our parents/family did, “The best they could.”
- Asking questions about our part in the abuse (children have no part)
- Asking if we told
- Asking why we didn’t do what you think we should have
- Or why we did/do things that don’t make sense to you
What you need to know about us is: We yearn to be set free and we’re terrified to let go.
Don’t pity us. Don’t treat us differently after we share with you. Be patient with us.
Then take a minute to feel damned good about yourself. If we share with you, it’s because you’re an incredibly trustworthy and honorable person.
Don’t tell us we need counseling. Tell us you know of a good counselor if ever we want one. Make sure it’s a counselor who is skilled specifically in supporting recovery from trauma.
Researchers are waking up and recognizing what anyone in recovery could have told them: Trauma is most often the root of addiction (and eating disorders, and self-harm, and a hundred other things).
Brief rant: don’t recommend counselors who use the latest buzz words like, “Adverse Childhood Experiences.” For f@ck sake, an adverse childhood experience is when a kid drops an ice cream cone. Trauma and abuse are not “adverse” they’re f@cking terrible and they often have lifelong consequences.
Recovery is a life-long process of transformation. Too many of us settle for less than becoming free of our secrets and releasing our pain, shame, and false beliefs. I hope you will come to a place where you’re willing to share yours.
Between now and then, check out Postsecret.com, a place where folks anonymously share their secrets.