I recently shared the story behind my why and the importance of creating a space for others to share their lived experiences and disclose their truth. This part of my why has been an ongoing thread throughout the past few years for me and has been my motivation on the days when speaking out publicly on the topics of childhood sexual abuse, incest and trauma have been difficult.
One thing that has proven to be powerful in sharing my lived experience is the way it opens up opportunities for others to disclose their truth.
There are moments when I prepare myself for people to speak to me about their own stories. These will come in times when I have spoken publicly, on a stage giving a keynote, during a conference, after a podcast interview has been released, via my private messages on social media or when someone has read my memoir.
I am somewhat prepared for these discussions, and though I will never know who will reach out and exactly what they will share, it is part of my role as a public activist that I am mindful of and I choose to create space for these moments whenever possible.
Though it is the unexpected disclosures, those micro discussions that catch me off guard that can be the moments that deeply matter.
In late 2021, whilst writing my memoir, I was also running my other business and working on a new service offering with the support of a freelancer. Time management and being clear on my boundaries regarding my time are important to me and during a conversation with the freelancer, I shared that I was not available on Fridays as they were my writing days, and that if items needed to be attended to that I would come back to them the following Monday.
It was a simple moment in the conversation that created the expected next question of, ‘OK great, what’s your book about?’.
Without hesitation, I explained that I was writing a memoir regarding my lived experience of childhood sexual abuse and trauma and that the abuse had started when I was 10 years old. An unexpected yet very specific point to share with this person I had only known a few weeks.
This disclosure of mine created a ‘me too’ moment, where the freelancer went on to share with me that they had also been abused as a child and that they were also 10 years old when the abuse had occurred.
We sat together in that moment of connection, and to be honest I don’t recall the exact words we spoke next, though I do recall that the conversation was brief.
Yes, this was one of those unexpected moments I mentioned earlier, out of context in some way, but nonetheless an important moment in time. What I would discover, months later, was that at that moment, the freelancer, who had become a dear friend of mine, had never disclosed the abuse to anyone else in their life.
I understand that it can take decades to disclose abuse, I am living proof of how long shame can silence us. However, learning that this was the first disclosure for my friend brought up many questions for me. Questions I have sat with as I’ve watched my friend tackle the journey that has come since that first disclosure.
Sitting in the in-between space of being a survivor and a survivor supporter I wanted to dive in deeper and get to the heart of that moment in time, and all that has come since.
So I recently sat down with my friend Leah and asked some questions, in hopes that the answers will help us create more opportunities for truth-telling, better ways to be survivor supporters, especially when survivors disclose, and of course to hear directly from survivors why they share their truth and what they need as they continue on their healing journeys.
Caroline: As I’ve mentioned I don’t recall exactly what we spoke about on that day, how do you recall the conversation?
Leah: It’s interesting you say that because I too don’t remember much else of that conversation. I think it was the complete shock of being so open with you and having only met you recently. Thinking, ‘Oh my god! Did I just say that?”. I do remember you after making that statement that you weren’t submissive and didn’t brush it off. You accepted that in that moment I was being open and sharing such a deeply personal experience with you. You may have even said, “Thank you for feeling safe enough to share this with me”.
Caroline: Was there a pause between the moment I shared it with you to when you disclosed to me? Do you think you actively chose your disclosure or was it simply in the moment?
Leah: It was purely in the moment. But it felt so natural and almost as if it was the perfect moment. Not that I really think there is ever a perfect moment to disclose this to anyone.
Caroline: Was there anything about the moment in time that made you feel safe or unsafe, or any other emotions you can share with me?
Leah: Initially I almost felt my whole body seize up. But, not because I felt unsafe but (like many people pleasers) because I felt like I had all of a sudden made this conversation about me. But I could tell by the look on your face that it was pure acceptance of my disclosure. It was at that moment that I felt my shoulders release and realised I had been holding my breath.
Caroline: Is there anything you’d do differently or would like people to be mindful of?
Leah: Thinking back I do wish that I had asked if it was okay if I shared my experience. But to be honest, I felt so safe at that moment, but I can understand how it can be quite confronting when you aren’t prepared to hear an experience like that. That is something that I am mindful of when or if these conversations do come up again.
Caroline: What happened to you after that conversation? What did the rest of that day or week look like?
Leah: The rest of my day was a bit of a blur. It’s like I went through a bit of a grieving process. I kept having to remind myself that it had actually happened, I was then angry with myself for kind of dropping that on you and then it all hit me. But I was shocked that I didn’t cry. I knew I had to but I couldn’t bring myself to feel that. My day was so busy that it was once again put back in the box, to be dealt with again later.
Caroline: Since disclosing that day you’ve had some significant life changes, what has that moment propelled you to do?
Leah: I mean how long have we got?! From that moment it was almost like I was thrust into a world of acceptance a lot quicker than I had expected. I realised very quickly that it was no longer a secret that I had kept to myself. Not that I felt you were holding me accountable but I felt like it was the push I needed to start dealing with it. I made the move to find a psychologist who specialised in trauma to work with. I have also been working with my GP on ensuring my anxiety medication is still suitable for me as my anxiety was extreme for the weeks and months after. It wasn’t until the launch of your memoir (after many red wines) that I sat in my hotel room and actually said the name of my abuser out loud for the first time. But the most significant life change so far has been the day I decided to inform both of my parents of what happened. Alongside three of my beautiful friends (including yourself), I sat with both of my parents and let it all out. It has been a rocky journey but we are slowly figuring out our way through this.
Caroline: Where are you now on that journey?
Leah: Right now I am learning to become more aware of how I reduce my emotions to protect otherwise, which generally is a detriment to my emotional state. But with the amazing help of my psychologist, we have been working through this. I am also in the process of figuring out a way to discuss my experience with my son. I am at a point in my journey where I am being more open about my experience and this will mean that my son may be privy to conversations that I don’t want to restrict him from. It is something I am no longer ashamed of and I never want this to seem to be a shameful topic.
Caroline: If you could share anything with a survivor who has not disclosed as yet, what would it be?
Leah: Your time will come when it feels right. Trust your gut when it comes to those you tell and if it doesn’t feel like a safe space then it’s best to not share. I have experienced this and didn’t get the support I was hoping for but that was also because I assumed that they would understand.
I’m incredibly grateful to Leah for her vulnerability and honesty throughout this conversation. Moments like these are often the ones that truly matter. In sharing this part of her story, Leah has opened space for others to do the same, and she has also allowed herself the space to reflect, acknowledge and then take the next step forward as she moves with the trauma and continues to heal.
I want to thank you, on behalf of Leah and myself, for holding space for this piece, As always I would love to hear from you, so if you’d like to share your insights please feel free to send me an email or to connect with me via social media.
Until then, take a deep breath and remember to be kind to yourself. You’re doing an amazing job!