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There was a lot that was off limits for conversation growing up. The past. Sex. Sexuality. Gender. Bodily functions.

It was a given that these were not conversations for polite company. Sure, I could ask questions about them but we wouldn’t really talk in detail and we all felt kind of embarrassed by the whole thing. So I learned to not ask questions. Eventually I would figure things out (or not) on my own. Maybe I would look it up in a dictionary or a book at the library (this was before being able to just Google things). Or I would blunder through with massive gaps in my knowledge.

In time I internalized a truth: That the things we didn’t talk about weren’t talked about not because they weren’t fit for polite company but because they were shameful. And so if I thought about them, or wanted to know more about them, I should feel ashamed for that. Because only sinful and wrong people wanted to know things about shameful topics.

We were also taught that our number one priority in life was to keep our testimony pure. Which meant that when things happened in our lives that could tarnish that testimony we weren’t supposed to talk about it. Especially not with people outside the church but honestly, lots of the time, even with people in the church.

So I learned to keep things close to the chest. I learned to not talk about things. When something happened in my family I kept it in the family. I sometimes didn’t even tell my best friends when something was going on.

I went on this mission trip once where the phrase “keep it in the family” was used often. When we had a bad day on the trip. When something went wrong. When someone was sick. We were supposed to get off the bus with smiles plastered on our face and fake our way through the night.

And even after I left that world there was so much that I was uncomfortable discussing. My body. Sex. Family issues. My desires.

What I now realize is that language like this, behaviors like this, are what create environments that foster and harbor abuse. Because when you are told to “keep it in the family” you do. But what happens if what’s happening in the family is abusive? Or unsafe? Or inappropriate?

One of the things that happens is your intuition gets broken. If everyone around you is telling you that something is okay, you start to believe it. Even if it doesn’t feel okay. And you believe it because the only people you can talk about it with are the people who are in the same world that you are in. If you talked about it with someone outside of that world you could hurt your testimony. But the other thing that could happen is they could tell you that what you are experiencing is not okay, that it’s abuse, that it’s hurtful, that you should get out. And of course the people in power don’t want you to hear something like that so they want it kept in the family.

But it’s not just horrendous things like abuse. It’s also things like emotional manipulation or toxic theology or just unhealthy ways of relating. I wasn’t abused in my family or church (except maybe spiritually), but there were patterns that were unhealthy. And because I wasn’t allowed to talk about the things that didn’t feel right I internalized the message that I was wrong. That the reason I didn’t like the messages were because I was sinful or stubborn or that there was something wrong with me.

Later in life, when I was in an unhealthy marriage, the same pattern surfaced. We fought all of the time but I never told any of my friends. She said and did things that were harmful and hurtful but I only spoke well of her to the people around me. Because that was what you did. You protected your family. You hid the things that weren’t right.

I’m not sure that my friends even knew we had issues until we divorced. And even then I didn’t tell the whole truth of it. I didn’t want to seem resentful or mean. I didn’t want to make her out to be the “bad guy”. I felt like I needed to continue to protect her (even though she had never done the same for me).

It took me years to realize that the things that had been said to me were not okay. It took me years to realize that there were major issues in our relationship from the get go. It took me years to realize that I should have listened to my intuition so much earlier. That it could have saved me a ton of pain.

But you know what else could have saved me pain? Opening up to my friends about what was happening. If I could have told them the truth, they could have spoken truth into my life. They could have told me that what I was experiencing wasn’t okay. That I was being mistreated. That I was being gaslit. That I did not have to take what she was dishing out. That I was not the bad guy. They could have told me to trust my intuition. And maybe they would have helped me to find a way out. To get to safe place emotionally.

One of the reasons I write about hard things today is because I am done being shamed into silence. I am done feeling like I need to “keep things in the family” to protect people who are being harmful or hurtful. I am done playing the respectability game. I am done considering my “testimony” at the expense of my mental and spiritual health.

So I write. I tell the truth. I talk about the things that embarrass me or that I feel shame about. I do that because I know that the only want to get out from under shame is to tell the truth. To tell it loudly. To tell it in public. Because shame hates the light. It festers and grows and spreads when it is kept in the closet, but once you kick that door open there’s no way that shame can survive.

Sometimes it’s hard. Other times it’s agonizing. But at the end of the day, when I have written to dissipate my shame, there is always someone else who steps forward and says, “Oh my God, me too!” And in that moment I realize that our shame had been keeping us apart and that the way toward healing comes from walking together.

So I go forward. I speak boldly because I have nothing left to lose. I do it so that other people might have courage to speak their truth, too.

No more “keeping it in the family”. No more hiding. No more pretending like things are perfect when they aren’t. No more protecting people who are harmful or hurtful. No more.

So let’s speak about our shame and get ourselves free.

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Photo Credit: Chris B Richmond Flickr via Compfight cc