The Keeper Of Secrets


“I have felt the sharp sting of abuse. Sexual, physical, mental. And it’s felt like shame for so many years and to speak the words into this world makes me want to howl and hide. But I say them out loud anyway so my sisters know… they do not stand alone…” ~ Salmaelwardany

As an abused child, I learned to keep secrets.

The heart of an abused child is laden with them. We carry the abuse as our fault, somehow we are to blame, somehow we deserve it. Our voice is taken from us; silent and powerless, we protect the ones who should have protected us. This is how we keep our secrets safe.

Often, even when we expose the abuse, we are dismissed. We come to believe it is us against the world. We are on our own, there is nobody we can trust.

We become the keeper of secrets.

I reflect upon this as waves cavort with the shoreline and salt air adheres to my skin; upon how the heart of an abused child looks much like the heart of an abused woman.

This, I came to understand when, as a woman, I was abused.

And kept it a secret.

The keeper of secrets.

Broken shells scatter around my feet and in them the disorder of the last year reflects back at me. The gift of time and distance has offered me perspective, I find myself often in moments such as this; outside my body, detached from the experience yet desperate to put order to the chaos. To feel whole again, to mend, to grasp at some sort of closure.

I’m positive this is why women stay in abusive situations for so long. Because we believe for the happy ending promised in the fairy tales of our childhood. We are nurturers, healers, fixers, empaths; it goes against our very nature to abandon that which is so very broken, until invariably, it breaks us.

Hindsight leaves me to wonder how an intelligent, educated woman like myself allowed this to happen, allowed myself to be verbally and emotionally abused for so long by someone I trusted. But here lies the key. I trusted him. Respected him. Admired him. Not only did I, but so did my husband, my children, my friends. He was welcomed into my home, into my family, into my life.

Into my secrets.

And then, he took my secrets and turned them into his power.

You fucking whore. You fucking slut. You are nothing but a fucking whore who fucks around. You make me sick you fucking slut.

Messages like this continued for months, enabled by my silence. There is no physical proof with this kind of abuse. It is oh so easy to be the keeper of secrets, to pretend it isn’t happening, to delete the messages and pick your kids up from school and make dinner and kiss your husband goodnight as if your heart hasn’t been ripped from your chest and obliterated by words that will forever be seared on the back of your eyelids.

I consider why I didn’t reveal the abuse the first time it happened, and can only concede that his abuse was tied to my shame. The two were inseparable. To tell of his abuse would be to admit I believed his words were justified. After all, he knew of my past, my pain, the choices I had made out of the places I had suffered. And he threw these things back at me, made sure I was smeared with the filth of them, made sure I knew how worthless that made me.

I was no longer a grown woman, but once again a child, betrayed by someone I trusted, someone who should have protected me. Confused, scared, ashamed, I believed it to be my fault. I had made it happen, I allowed someone too close. I had been too vulnerable, too trusting, too naive. I deserved it.

As if any woman deserves to be abused. As if any woman deserves to be shamed. As if there is any justification for destroying another human, ever.

He apologised, of course. He never meant to hurt me, he knew he was wrong, knew that’s not who I was, promised it would never happen again. I forgave him, of course. For not only had I been raised by generations of women who exemplified the female doormat, but had also been subjected to years of religious teaching on how we should love others. If someone slaps you on the right cheek? Offer him your left. How many times do I forgive the one who hurts me? Seventy times seven. My heart cracks wide open for the women under this teaching who stay in abusive relationships, who are told, if you love him better, he’ll come to understand love and will no longer hurt you. 

No dear woman, he won’t.

I no longer believe in a love that must suffer for the cause of another. For months I suffered. More months that I would even care to admit. I suffered for my own fear and shame. I suffered out of love for our mutual family and friends. I suffered for him, to protect him, because I wanted to believe the best of him, I wanted to believe he was a good man who operated from a place of his own pain, and maybe with more compassion, more love, more understanding, maybe he would heal. Maybe he would become the person I thought him to be. Maybe there would be reconciliation, restoration, a way for closure.

Overhead, seagulls circle and I pick up a stone, feel the smoothness of it between my fingers, trace the outside of it. I ditch it toward the waves but like everything of late, the effort is halfhearted and lacks conviction.

I had learned about pretence in my childhood, about the masks we wear and the words we say to ensure there is never questions of what lay behind the falsity. In fact, I reached beyond a level of skilfulness to complete mastery of such impression. To many, this could be construed as deceit. To the rest of us, this is a tool of survival we have carried into our adulthood, one we are disinclined to trade for the perils of honesty when we are so accomplished in our secret-keeping.

To keep the secret of abuse, whether as a child or an adult, is to learn to live two different lives. There is your outer life, the one where you hold yourself together for your family, where normal is rehearsed and practised, where you go about your life and hope the people around you don’t notice the tiredness in your eyes and the way your hands shake when you pick up your phone.

Then there is your inner life. The one where your husband leaves for work and you are finally alone and can fall apart right there on the bathroom floor. The one where you cannot find the energy or motivation to get dressed, where you haven’t showered for days, don’t answer your phone, and find every reason not to leave the house. Where your work suffers, your health suffers, your spirit suffers.

Secrets destroy us. They eat away at our flesh and rot our soul and soon we begin to decompose, and all that festers inside our putrid body can no longer be hidden. We see it in our anger, our addictions, our depression. In the way our bones ache and our joints hurt. In our mood swings and outbursts and the way we do not sleep for days, weeks, years. In our fear, anxiety, isolation, numbness, irritability, hyper-vigilance, disconnection, self-destruction. We see it in our crushed spirit and dried up bones. In the way we turn away from life, turn away from ourselves.

My secret stayed hidden within the darkest places in my soul until it almost destroyed me. This is the power of shame. But what I have come to understand is that shame can only survive in the darkness. The moment shame is exposed to the light, it loses its grip over us.

My shame allowed his power over me, as did my silence.

My shame almost destroyed me, until the moment I said no more.

No more will I allow this to happen. No more will I believe I have done something to deserve this. No more will I allow another human to destroy me. No more will I hide in the dark. No more will I be afraid.

No more will I be ashamed.

No more will I be silent.

No more will I be the keeper of secrets.

It is over.

The sound of children’s laughter from across the bay arrives on a warm gust of wind. I breathe the air deep into my lungs, hold it there, allow it to fill me anew with life, for breath is life and I have been dead too long. My warrior heart beats again, the one he tried to destroy. The one he almost destroyed. But not quite. Here, in this place, I once again find life.

I will not speak his name out loud. I carry no bitterness, for this will only destroy me. I am instead thankful for the way this struggle has transformed me. Through this, I have become aware of the parts of my childhood not reconciled. I understand more of the human condition, of the way we operate out of our unhealed wounds, and project them onto other people and other relationships. I understand more about the hearts of women who live with abuse, the reasons they stay, the reasons they cannot leave. I am wiser, stronger, braver. I have found my voice, and I will be the voice for my sisters still trapped in their silence. I will spend the rest of my life fighting for the rights of women. For them, for me, for my daughters.

There are reasons people enter our lives, reasons they become part of our journey.

Sometimes those reasons are to break us wide open.

I walk deeper into clear water, feel the sand squelch between my toes. The shock of cold awakens my soul and I run, dive, break through the surface, plunge beneath, deeper, deeper still, until I lift my face to the sun and rise back to the surface. I emerge, and I am weightless, washed, made clean.

I am born again.

Much has been broken; there is much to be healed.

But sometimes, brokenness carries its own kind of beauty.


9 thoughts on “The Keeper Of Secrets

  1. I feel like I’m reading about myself. The good thing is that I am in the process if healing and still smiling. Really appreciate this gesture of being a voice for all those women who suffer from such kind of abuswork, just like we did.
    Thank you, for putting all if that into words. Great Job!!❤

  2. Very beautifully written and I hope to also find strength to free myself and my kids. I’m so drained and don’t know where to start. However, thank you for writing this as it gives hope to some of us who are still stuck in the circle of abuse. I’m in the UK where there’s a lot of help and I also have pictures, texts and audios of his abuse but I still have fear of what to come if I leave as he has accused me of being an unfit mother, a drunk and lazy woman too. I just feel going to court would really break me as my husband is a very intelligent man & knows how to play the system and on top of that he’s profession is with social services. So he knows the truth ins and out of the system and he’ll play it in his favour. As I’ve been in this abusive marriage for such a long time, at times I struggle to voice my opinion and I think the social service will see me as the weak link and they will award him my kids, which would kill me as I know he’s not good with them. In fact, I’m the one does everything around the household, homework, doctor’s/hospital app and yet I’m made to feel like I don’t contribute to the household. Also What makes it hard for me is that I don’t have any family members here in the UK and he knows I can’t run to anyone for help as he has also isolated me regarding making friends. It’s very hard and it’s been 10 years of hell.

    1. I’m so sorry to hear of your pain and your circumstances, and can only imagine how hard this is for you. There are many websites and FB pages now for support and help for women who are trapped in abusive situations, with practical help for both those who choose to stay and those who choose to leave but don’t know how. Please do look some of these support networks up, and there may even be something near you. Even if just to be able to find a support network to share with of women in the same kind of circumstances. Nobody should have to go through this alone xx

  3. Your writing resonates with me on so many different levels. You put into words things that most people cannot explain. Everyone has pain but few (thankfully) understand abuse as a child. The pain of childhood abuse, for me, brings a new kind of fear as an adult and especially as a mother. The constant stream of “what ifs” race through my mind as my daughter grows older each year. As she passes the age when I can actually remember my abuse, for me it was 4 1/2, it has sent me into tailspins of anger, fear, grief and sadness. As I reflect as an adult, it angers and scares me to think of how anyone could hurt a perfect little child so young and full of innocence at 4 years old. And then I am saddened at what happened to that little girl, and the darkness seeps into my head. I want to comfort that sweet child who suffered, kept secrets and was always afraid of the dark…and then I realize that child is and was me. I did not get comfort as I suffered. I was plagued with fear every night of my young life. For me now, darkness doesn’t take hold for long anymore – maybe a split second. I look at my daughter and see her perfectly beautiful spirit in tact and it heals my wounds a little more each day. To see my child, who looks exactly like me as a little girl, be happy, vibrant, loving and unafraid is God’s gift of healing to me. I cannot accept that people in a home where children are abused just “don’t know what is/was happening” because I see, hear and feel every difference in my child’s behavior. The energy is different when someone or something in your own home is unwell, evil or deceitful. If only my parents had paid attention to the signs, I often imagine, I might have been spared the pain. I might have turned out differentl – better. I might have been a better student, a better person, a more successful person if only they’d protected me from the evil they never knew was there. And yet I had loving parents who genuinely didn’t know that evil lived in their home with us…for a while. It takes everything I have to forgive them for being oblivious. The fear I felt as a child takes root often in my mind. I am often still afraid of the dark. I wake sometimes in terror thinking someone is coming into my room.
    But I am never oblivious when it comes to my child and that is my gift from the pain.

    1. Nita <3 I hear every word of this, and so much of it resonates with my heart. It was having a beautiful, innocent daughter that triggered so much pain within me also, those same feelings of how could anyone hurt an innocent child, and how could any parent turn away from that. Like you, I have four amazing children who have been my gift, my healing, my anchor. My heart is with you <3

Leave a Reply to ekmyselff Cancel reply