Pretending in Silence: The Burden of Disguise
My untold story didn’t just keep me trapped in a cycle of pain, it kept me shackled to pretense. When at first I couldn’t allow myself to believe my abuse story hadn’t ended with my uncle at the age of 3, I became a zombie of routine and smiles. I felt as if I was at the edge of a cliff facing a deep, wide trench that separated me from continuing on my path. The only way across was this Indiana-Jones-style rope bridge. I couldn’t change my actions, because that would mean one step on its wooden planks that echoed complaints of my progress through creaks and moans. So I went back to where I came from.
No one knew of the turmoil growing inside of me. It led me back to that bridge every day and each time I asked myself how bad is the chasm really? I wondered if it was more difficult to live surrounded by my own fears and anxiety and thoughts of harm and unhealthy relationships and self-isolation and pain, so much pain. Or if it was more difficult to face my experiences of trauma.
For some reason, I always thought the latter. So I packed up my burdens, stuffed them back into my hiking pack and carried them home. At home I couldn’t rid of my burdens, they pressed on me, weighed me down. Flashes and nightmares of being sexually abused by my father were thrown into my pack. And the memories of other people I trusted, even loved. I could zip the pack closed when we had family dinners or gatherings. I could hold onto my nostalgic memories… Each passing day my backpack seemed to grow larger, heavier. The voyage to that bridge seemed further, rockier. Still I would walk to that bridge and ask myself do you really want to lose what you have? Even if it was a false reality. Do you really want to cause more pain from this? For others, I was always thinking of others. Especially my mom.
For so long I knew my untold story would cause pain to my mom, which is why I pretended in the first place. My mom wouldn’t be heart broken. My family wouldn’t be split apart. My dad wouldn’t have his name damaged. I thought of everyone else. I thought that if I wore the smile of a daughter with two parents who have loved and protected her and a family who had done the same, then everything would be okay. I could force it to happen. But that’s all it was – a forced disguise. My silence kept me pretending and disguised as something I wasn’t.
My pack became so full I couldn’t zip it closed any longer. And everything I denied from myself seeped into my life. When I found the bridge again, I asked myself if facing my sexual trauma experiences would be more difficult than being surrounded by my disguises and fear and anxiety and raw, real hurt. I stepped on the first plank and accepted the truth. It was a shaky experience at first, but I didn’t fall off that bridge – some of the burdens did.
I faced the first greatest misery by sharing my untold story. Before I knew it I was halfway across the bridge and pounds lighter.
When I told my mom that my dad had abused me when I was younger, it was hard for her. This was her husband of 15+ years. I was her only daughter. I can’t imagine the difficult position I put my mom in and the amount of pain my dad’s actions caused her. But that doesn’t excuse her. My mom didn’t and doesn’t believe me. It devastated me. And not only did she not believe me, as much as she wanted to want to believe me, she didn’t support me. When she found out I remembered my uncle’s abuse she offered to get me help, to put me in counseling and to go through it together.
When I told her about my dad’s abuse she made me confront him then and there, where he denied it and made it about him. I stayed living in the same house as my abuser, no further discussion, no questions asked. Until I couldn’t handle it any longer and decided to not have a relationship with or see my dad. I moved out. I told my mom I wouldn’t be around when he was. She said okay. Every family function my dad would be invited first. She cried at her birthday because I didn’t go to a family dinner. I cried too; that was the start of losing my family.
And her and I tried to carry on our relationship like normal. For me, there was always a white elephant in the room. I felt uncomfortable by our relationship because I hadn’t realized I was still pretending. In several ways, I was more hurt and mad at my mom for not believing me and supporting me than by my actual trauma. But in order to have a relationship with her, which I very much didn’t want to lose too, I had to put on a disguise and pretend to be something I wasn’t.
After all of the progress I had made, I was back on that cliff and off of the bridge. Every text I received, every call, made me feel the hurt I had bottled and pretended wasn’t there for years. I knew that I couldn’t have a relationship with my mom if I didn’t forgive her. And I couldn’t forgive her if I kept the disguise. So I decided to take a hiatus from family. In order for me to begin to figure out how to forgive my family for everything that has happened to me, I needed to heal. In order to heal I needed to stop pretending completely. I needed to stop holding onto to a nostalgic reality that no longer existed and instead create a new one.
Because as much as I’ve tried otherwise, I’ve found that you cannot heal if you are still pretending. Healing requires the authentic, raw you.
Is it harder to face your experience of trauma? Or is it more difficult to live surrounded by your own depression, anxiety, thoughts of harm, extreme fear, physical pain, addictions, unhealthy relationships? Running, hiding, pretending all come at a cost that will weigh more heavily on you than anything you’ll experience over the long-run. Being pain-free is not the option. It’s the type of pain you can choose – one that traps or one that frees.
So – are you ready to take off your disguise and cross that bridge?