Chapter four of the book was a difficult one for me to read because of the subject matter and its timeliness to recent headlines. Lee shares the story of a young girl, Amy, who was a talented gymnast and who loved the sport. She trained with her well-liked coach for several years and he sang her praises. Her parents and others in the community thought very highly of him so when stories began to leak that he had taken advantage of the young girls, it was hard for them to believe the rumors. Amy thought back to times when he had touched her in what she felt was a “weird” way but she was afraid to tell her secret. She kept quiet even when questioned by her mother, as she saw how the other girls who had come forward to accuse the coach were treated… they were called liars and shunned by their friends. She wanted to protect her family from that embarrassment, so she kept her secret to herself.
It finally grew to be too much for Amy to deal with and she told her story. She told and re-told how he had molested her, and in the courtroom, she looked him in the eye as she testified against him and shared her story. She grew stronger and braver with each word she spoke. The secret no longer had a hold on her. Telling her story was the first step in her healing and Amy is now an adult living her life free from that horrible experience.
I have never had to deal with the horror of sexual molestation, but I have had secrets eat away at me. Secrets that could have destroyed relationships. When Wayne and I were first dating, the subject of premarital sex came up in conversation. He made it very clear that it was important to him to remain sexually pure until marriage. I agreed with him with my words, but in my heart, I knew I was not being honest with him. For you see, prior to meeting Wayne, I had been sexually active. In fact, I had been pregnant and lost a baby to miscarriage. I led him to believe that I, too, was a virgin and that lie went with us through our wedding and our honeymoon.
That secret began to eat away at me…I could not sleep at night, I was having trouble eating… I knew I had not been honest with him and it broke my heart that I felt I had to lie to him rather than reveal my true self. I had been afraid that he would view me differently and that our relationship would dissolve. I did not trust that our love was enough to withstand the truth. It finally came to the point that I knew I had to tell him as I could not keep it inside any longer. Thru my tears, I shared my story with him one evening about a month after our wedding. I know he was disappointed, not so much with the fact that I had been sexually active, but with the fact that I felt I could not be honest with him. In spite of his disappointment, I was so glad to be free of that secret and the toll it was taking on me.
I took a chance and let myself be vulnerable because I trusted Wayne to handle that secret with care. He would not trample all over it or share it outside our marriage relationship. Telling my secret was hard but it made us stronger as my trust in our relationship grew that day. If you have a secret that is eating away at you, I encourage you to find someone to share it with… someone who will treat it and you with respect and compassion.
1. Have you kept secret any stories you’re ashamed of? How do you think your secret has affected you physically? Emotionally? Spiritually? ‘
I answered these questions in what I shared above… but invite you to answer them for yourself.
2. What prevents you from telling your story? Amy feared bringing embarrassment and criticism to her family. If you were a friend of young Amy, what would you say to her about this fear?
I think if I were to counsel Amy, I would first of all, would assure her it was not her fault…that she had done nothing wrong and that she had not encouraged his behavior in anyway. I would tell her that there were people in her life who loved her and that her well-being was more important to them than anything. Any criticism or embarrassment that telling her story would bring would pale in comparison to the knowledge that she had been harmed in anyway.
3. Have you ever told your story to someone and been rejected or judged? How do you think a truly safe person might respond to your story? What would it take for you to find such a person and risk talking with him or her?
About 25 years ago, I was part of a small Bible study group with 5 other women. We had developed friendships and a sense of trust within the group. At that time, I was dealing with a pretty serious legal matter and I shared it with the group. Unfortunately, rather than getting support and encouragement, I was met with judgement and criticism…not at all what I was expecting. I subsequently left the group and my friendships with the women became strained and distant at best. I thought I was in a safe place to share that story, but I found that it wasn’t. A truly safe person would have prayed with me, would have suggested avenues of ways to get help, would not have judged me at that point.
4. In what ways can you be a safe person for other women who have painful stories to tell?
I have always considered myself to be a caring and an empathetic person. Having been on the receiving end of criticism and of judgement when sharing my story, would help me to be more open-minded and more compassionate toward someone who was struggling with a secret story.