It has been two and a half months since I began this project. Over that time, I have had countless conversations and meetings with people: teas, coffee, lunches, afternoon calls, evening video chats and stolen moments at social gatherings. People have emailed me and pulled me aside here and there in whispers, “I think I might have a story for you” or “you should talk to my friend."
People I have never spoken with about child sexual abuse have come forth with people they know who might have a story to share. Friends have offered to connect me with friends of theirs who are part of the seemingly endless tidal impact of child sexual abuse.
Everyone knows someone. And everyone has a story to tell.
I knew from the beginning it would not be the finding of the stories that would be hard (virtually everyone has a connection), but instead it would be the sharing of the stories. Understandably, people are nervous, scared and hesitant to share their stories. The stigma, shame and guilt of child sexual abuse is overwhelming. Telling stories from our childhood are some of the hardest to tell because the stories from our childhood are often times never just ours. Telling those stories involve revealing not just vulnerable information about us, but the people we grew up with as well. Our families, our intimate networks and communities, our hometowns, our relationships, our collective secrets. It involves revealing who we used to be and who did or didn’t protect us; who did or didn’t have our backs. It involves going back to places that we have left behind, or in some cases, made our peace with.
It can feel like a breaking of trust or betrayal to tell the very things that have so fundamentally shaped our lives because they are the things we have constantly been taught not to share. And even though the stories collected here on the Living Bridges Project are anonymous, the anxiety of someone finding out can be enough to stop us.
This is one of the ways that child sexual abuse (and many other forms of intimate violence) continues. Because our lives are so interdependent and bound up with others, especially when we are young, it can be hard to pull apart “our stories” from “their stories.” Telling our truth involves telling pieces of other people’s lives—people we may love and care about, people we may still have to see everyday, who may help us pay our bills, or take care of our children. People who are our connection to our peoples, legacies, traditions, lands and ancestors. People who might have wanted to do better than they did, who wished they had supported us or spoken up in our defense. People who sacrificed for us. People who may never change or people we still hope might change, even after all these years.
So I reach out and wait. Reach out and wait. I listen and hope, but always—always—I understand. I understand the fear, the risks, the decisions to take care of ourselves. I understand the reasons that make it hard for us to tell our stories. I understand the “I’ve made my peace with it and don’t want to go back there;” the “I have to ask my friend and my mother if they are ok with me sharing my story;” the “I can’t tell this story while he’s still alive;” the “my kids don’t know yet;” the “I need someone else’s voice to be recorded telling my story;” the “I need some time to think about it.”
Always, always, I understand. I understand. I understand.
For some this is a release, a closure. For others it is a reckoning, a collision.
No matter the reason, I understand, more than you know. And I long for a world where we don’t have to be afraid to tell our stories, to tell our truths.