I found my very first diary. The cover is graced with two white doves etched with gold tipped wings hovering over an ocean lit by moonlight. With each turn of the aged pastel pages, a sweet scent lingers which lives in the recesses of a forgotten room in my brain. On the inside cover was my best attempt at handwriting my name along with the year 1989. I received this diary for Christmas. On New Years I chronicled my adventures in babysitting. I made $25 for a 7 hour shift. I vaguely remember the parents getting home at 3 a.m. and trying their best to steady themselves on drunk ankles. ha!
I chronicled little and big moments from 13 to 18 years old. Some days my handwriting was scrambled and scrawled, and other days it was intentional with pretty cursive. The margins were filled with doodles and drawings. Hearts followed by broken hearts.
As I read some of my more life altering entries, I felt compassion, sadness, and a deep feeling of empathy as I knew how my story would unfold.
In those 5 years of teenage dairy entries, I wrote about friends passing away, moving (running) to a boarding school, my Grandfather’s death, being used and cheated on, feeling like an outsider in social circles (I drew a photo of my body with arrows to the areas I hated), smoking/drinking/sneaking out, my parent’s separation/divorce, and the hardest to read: being raped.
The journal entry for the rape started and ended with this sentence…
“I hate myself”.
The entries after were a spiralling of self, full of confusion and a complete lack of self-worth. My writing was full of shame and blame and wanting it all to end.
Thirty years later, I am a Mother to a teenage girl the same age. As I read the words of 15 year old me who was trying to articulate rape, I felt the love I have for my daughter. Within the recount, I remembered things I had pushed down. Among the hardest words to read were:
“I let a lot of people down.”
“I did a really dumb thing” (by putting myself in that position.)
“He started kissing me and pushed me to the ground.”
“He was around 20 years old.” (I must of wrote that understanding he was an adult and I was a teen)
“How am I going to tell Mom and Dad?”
“This is awful. I never meant for it to happen like this, my first time was supposed to be special and with someone I loved. He hardly even knew my name.”
“When I got back I threw up 3 times all over the road.” (I do not remember that)
“I hate myself.”
Signed Christine (at 15)
As a Mother, what would I want 15 year old me to know? That question spoke to me the entire time I read that diary. I almost felt like I was invading her privacy by reading it, like she was not me. What an odd feeling…
Dear Christine at 15: You are so very loved and worthy. You did nothing wrong, and I’m proud of you for sharing. You will never let me down, my love for you is never-ending and without conditions. Please allow those who love you to lift you up. When you speak aloud and share with those who are safe to do so, shame can’t abide in that same sacred space.
Now, in saying that, I’m not sure I would have been able to accept that love. I blamed myself, and stuffed that shame with food, partying, running away, outer silence/inner turmoil, alcohol, etc.
As was evident by an entry after, written by my childhood friend, I had a supportive loving network. I must have let my friend read my diary a few days after the rape. Side note: I forgot how much I trusted my childhood friends…enough to let them read something so intensely vulnerable. There were other entries from more friends in the years after. I think this is when I learned to share by writing.
This is my last page of the rape entry, followed by her letter to me…
When I read “Don’t ever cover up that picture again.” I had a memory flash of covering up my photo, blocking my face. I couldn’t look at my reflection. She poured her love and acceptance over me. She is still my friend today, we meet yearly for a family photo session. I forgot why I feel such a connection and kindred spirit with her (beyond the obvious fact she too is P.S. cool and I love her). When I closed my photography business in 2020, I felt it on my heart the importance to continue to document her life for her. I didn’t remember she wrote me this until I read it today. Thank you Merrilyn for the gift of your friendship and whole-hearted acceptance.
I’m still sorting through all of this, the healing thirty years later. I know I’m finally doing the work, this has been my gift of isolation within 2020 and 2021. I took another big step a few weeks ago and spoke about Shame on a podcast. I am nervous to hear my outside voice, but I’m proud of myself for pushing down the fear and doing it.
I was listening to a podcast from Brene Brown where she quantified how she knows its safe to share something traumatic in a public forum (like a podcast, blog, book, post, etc.), and it has stuck with me. This is not an exact quote, rather how I perceived her words…. If my healing is dependent on another’s response, then it’s not safe to share publicly. I will share with a person who’s earned that trust.
Today, I’m in a position to talk about this more openly as my healing is not dependent on your response. I feel like this is something so many women carry within, the shame and blame, the feeling of unworthiness.
The idea that another woman may also be feeling this way guides my spirit to speak. To write about it. To be honest and transparent that I’m still working through it and I don’t have all the answers yet as to how I will reclaim this part of my spirit.
I want you to know…
You are worthy.
You are loved.
You are not broken. You are healing.
You are brave.
I am so sorry for what happened to you.
You did nothing wrong.
You have nothing to feel shameful about, sharing erodes shame.
As you speak and share…that shame will meld way to open a powerful space rooted in love and compassion. There is beauty in the breakdown. I’m so very proud of you no matter what stage of healing you are in. Vulnerability is incredibly courageous.
From my heart to yours,