I’ve had figurative walls up around me for as long as I can remember. In elementary school I was labeled with “selective mutism,” which basically means that a person can physically speak, but mentally, they can’t get themselves to actually do it. For me, I was so completely terrified to say anything that I had literally been rendered silent. I did not say one word in first or second grade. Not one word the entire year to a single soul. In third grade, it was about halfway through the year when I finally said something and I thought the teacher’s eyeballs were going to fall out of her head, her eyes where open so wide with shock.
Why didn’t I speak? Because I knew that my life was different from the other children around me and my child mind could not figure out what was and what wasn't ok to say.When it came down to it, I simply couldn’t differentiate which things was I supposed to be keeping silent and which things I was allowed to talk about, so I just didn’t say a word.
As I got older and people started intervening in my life, I quickly learned what was, and was not, a safe subject to talk about. Contrary to popular belief, telling someone that could “help” me about what was really going on, was not helpful at all, it was actually a torture sentence. They would attempt to intervene and my parents would immediatly assure them that I was just confused, that really, all was well. I would be left getting blamed for our dirty little family secrets being exposed and whatever mess that I thought I might have been saved from would end up being magnified tenfold and rained down upon me in a horror that I had not even fathomed. Eventually, the silence that blanketed many areas of my life also started to protect my reputation. I wanted to fit in; I didn’t want anyone to know the way that I was actually living. I didn’t want anyone to think that I was weird, so the only way that I could see to fit in, was to keep my mouth shut.
For years I kept my mouth shut, never letting anyone know what was going on in my childhood home and then in my marriage. Fears of being judged, fears that I was a failure, and fears that no one could help me, sealed my silence.
The thing is, by nature, I am an extroverted person. I love people, I love to make people laugh, and I love to be surrounded by friends. That personality type doesn’t really fit with being silent. So what then, does that end up looking like? Well, you get someone like me; someone who talks about anything and everything, except for any of the things that she really should be talking about. Sigh.
For example, every so often Mr. Attorney Man brings up the time that as I was riding in the car with him and his colleague/friend after court, I said something rather blunt about sex. This is also the same Mr. Attorney Man that I dragged through my divorce case with me and never told him that my ex was abusive until the divorce was over. Why is it then, that in so many areas of my life I am wildly forthcoming, and in others I have built myself a nice big Berlin Wall?
Somewhere along the way I set a very distinctive boundary line in respect to what I would share with people. My therapist put it best when she said “everyone thinks they know you. You are loud, outgoing, and you let everyone into your life, but then they all hit that wall where you don’t let them get in any further. They all think they are “in,” and yet no one is really in. You let too many people in way to far and you let no one in all the way.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself. Looking back, I think my loud outgoing personality started out as an act. I couldn’t let anyone know who I really was, so I had to become someone else. I portrayed what I actually wanted to be, which was a fun, confident, and outgoing person. I let people think that they knew everything about me, because by portraying the façade of transparency, it masked the massiveness of my wall. People were so busy enjoying the flowers that I planted in the front of my yard, that no one wandered around back to see that there were weeds 10 feet high and a forest fire burning down the shed.
A lot of you have commented and asked I how learned to be so outgoing. I think it was a two-fold kind of deal. On one hand, as I’ve said many times over, I decided at a young age that I was going to be ok with being enough for myself, and so I really, truly did love myself. That sense of self esteem gave me enough confidence to play a character if you will, portraying myself as much less of the lost and confused person that I was, and eventually, it just actually turned into who I am. I attracted so much attention to myself with my outgoing ways, that it became my true personality. I got used to people looking at me, and eventually I became comfortable to the point where I stopped caring what people thought of me.
I don’t care who judges me based on the choices that I make. Like I said in the post “Let’s Talk About Sex Baby,” I refuse to let someone put a label on me for a choice that was never theirs to begin with. I don’t care if someone looks at me like I am a crazy because I am singing out of the car window to them at a stoplight. I don’t care if I am judged by the choices that I make, because I stand by each and every one of them, and if someone doesn’t like me for it, well then they are basing their judgments off of a small part of me, and I don’t care, because I firmly stand by every part of me.
But being judged based on things that were out of my control makes me feel worthless, and that is a big reason why I chose to keep many areas of my life private. The judgments that are passed onto me because of what my parents or my ex did, or because I was raped, well that feels like I am not even worthy to be judged on who I am as a person. Like the act was so terrible, that it doesn’t matter who I am, I just don’t even count as a human being anymore.
This blog, as it is titled, is about me learning that these trauma’s of my past are nothing to be ashamed of. While I believe that with my whole heart, you have all watched me struggle with being a more open person in the ways that matter. I'm getting there though. I am finally starting to talk about what has happened. I am finally letting people in. Like the post “In Which I Take My Clothes Off For Money,” where I talked about finally exposing and accepting my true self physically, I am finally exposing my true past. And you know what?
I honestly can’t say that I’m always very happy with how it is going.
Yes, I am seeing people come around me and take care of me. I am seeing friends stand by me and hold me up when I am falling down, but as is human nature, the pain of rejection stings deep.
I live next to two nutcase neighbors who hate me because I was raped. I had a guy that I liked kind of break up with me because my past was heavy. I've lost a few friends because they just couldn’t handle what I was going through. It feels like the more I open up, the more that slips away.
I know that in reality that isn’t what is happening, but it’s hard not to feel that way. What is actually happening is that I am learning who my real friends are and I am weeding out the bad ones. I am unintentionally filtering out the people that do not deserve to be in my life, and I am becoming stronger because of it.
But you know what? It still hurts.
It hurts to know that I was right all along, that some people do not like me simply because of what I have gone through. That because something happened to me that was out of my control, I am deemed unworthy. That hurts. It hurts to be degraded down to a position of being made disposable.
It hurts in ways that I have spent many years trying to protect myself from.
That sucks because this is a really critical time for me. My not-for-profit is taking off and I need to decide right now if I will use my story and become the “face” of this project. I need to decide if I will be the face of the story that grabs people’s heart strings, or if I will keep that area of my life private. If I want this not-for-profit to keep moving forward, I don’t really have that much longer to make my decision. The people that I have met, the advice that I have been given over, and over again, is that I need to make my story the driving force of this project. That I need to use what happened to me, to bring awareness and funding to the organization.
This would not be the first time that my story has been in the public eye and that is why I so desperately cling to the anonymity of this blog.
I started writing when I was 10 years old. Ironically the first thing that I ever wrote was a play called “The Moth and The Butterfly.” It was a school project, every student had to write a play, and then the school submitted all of our entries to a national children’s touring theatre. I won the contest, and the play company came to my school and performed the play, complete with costumes, sets, and a cast of full time adult actors and actresses. I was so embarrassed. Here I was, the kid that never said a word, and her play was being performed as a community event, with a special assembly held in my honor. The plot line of the play was about how every creature was so focused on the beauty of the butterfly, that no one noticed that the moth had just as much to offer to the world. Yes people, I was clearly disturbed by age ten. Since the touring company was nationally touring, the play was performed all over the country.
It was quite a shocking experience and I didn’t write anything again until I was 14 years old. I remember very clearly sitting in the back of the classroom and jotting a poem down in my notebook. For reasons that I still don’t understand, I went home, used my father’s office fax machine, and I sent the poem off to the publisher of the “Chicken Soup for The Soul” series. A few weeks later I received a letter saying they receive 600,000 submissions a month and if they chose to include it one of their books, someone would contact me. A month later I got word that the piece had been accepted for submission. When the book came out, it was the talk of the town. The school put a big congratulatory banner on the marquee in front of the school. The school board honored me with a special book signing assembly in front of all the students. The newspaper ran a front page story about me, with my big ole’ picture right on the front. I wanted to die. I was mortified! The piece that I had written was deeply personal and at 14 years old, I couldn’t grasp how widespread the publicity would go. At an age when I was desperately trying to be someone I wasn’t, my secrets were being exposed, my mask peeled away, and the fallout was intense.
After getting burned twice by the exposure of my writing, I stopped writing for a while, but it kept calling my name. When I turned 18 I hired an attorney to help me protect my identity so that I could continue writing. I literally did not tell anyone, not even my parents. My original plan was to write under a pen name about things that really mattered to me, to be able to bear my soul and connect with my reader on certain topics, without necessarily having to expose my whole life and my identity to the world. Unfortunately, I was too young to understand the business side of writing and the literary agent attorney that accepted me was everything that I should have avoided. Because the agent attorney worked on a commission basis, I was constantly being persuaded to write about things that I didn’t want to write about, things that were getting deeper and deeper into my personal life and exposing me in ways I would have like to remain private.
For a while, it was fine, until it wasn’t. It was fine until the day I was riding in the car and I looked out the window to see my name and one of my books on a billboard. A book that was about as personal as personal gets. I about died, and what didn’t kill me right then, crept over me like a slow death during the weeks the followed. First it was the billboard, followed by a magazine article, and then came another newspaper article that caught the attention of my college, and spurred the professors to start asking me to speak in front of the students. Thanks to my attorney hastily signing some forms on my behalf and mistakenly using my real name, I had been exposed. The media didn’t just wash over me, it ran over me like a semi truck. My attorney thought that I should play nice and talk to the media. “They are going to talk about you whether you want them to or not, so either talk to them and let the words come out of your mouth, or let them talk about you and put the words in your mouth.”
I decided to talk to them, but all it did was keep the story going.
It took a year to get my real name off of the work and the advertisement materials to come down. In the end I walked away with a grand total profiting $300 after legal costs, a deep hate for the writing world, and the solidified lesson that you never let yourself be exposed.
The last two years have been monumental for me in terms of coming out of my shell. You have all been watching me as I transform from someone who didn’t feel like she deserved much of anything in life, to someone who is fighting for the life she does, and always has, deserved. I am more secure with myself than I have ever been, and I am finally letting people in.
I am standing up for the things that I believe in. I refuse to hide my past, and I refuse to be shamed for things that I had no control over. Yes, it does hurt when people turn their backs on me because of it, but I refuse to be silenced.
Being exposed on such a public level is scary. There is no turning back from it, no hiding and pretending that it didn’t happen. Once the public gets a hold of your story, it’s not your story anymore. They will twist it, bend it, and fill in the gaps with whatever pleases them. It goes around and around, and it changes from person to person. I don’t know if I can handle going through that again, and at the same time, I know that keeping silent doesn’t help anyone. It certainly won’t help the women that I want to reach.
So here I sit, struggling to decide what to do next with my not-for-profit. I feel like in order to help other people, I might have to sacrifice myself.
I don’t know if I’m strong enough to do that yet.
You have all seen me struggle with my feelings towards the nutcase neighbors. How I’ve struggled with the fact that they make me feel worthless. I understand that the problem is not me, but rather the issue lies in their narrow minded, self involved, judgmental views, and yet, as I have said before, it still hurts. If I go public with this not-for-profit, I am bound to run into many, many, more people like them, and I don’t know if I can handle a whole town of them.
I’ve been using my outgoing ways to spear head the not-for-profit, bursting onto the scene in every direction, and now, when the time is critical, I’m not sure that I can go through with it. I’ve been in the public eye before, in ways that I never wanted to be, my soul exposed to the world, and it wasn’t a happy place.
Its one thing to share my trauma’s with my friends, and let them in as I feel comfortable, and it’s a whole new ballgame to share it with the world. When it comes to the public, as soon as you open your mouth, the story is out of your hands.
If I really want to make a change in this world, and get this not-for-profit up and running, there is a good chance that I will have no say in how much privacy I have left.
I don’t know what to do.
Photo Credit Silence: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/
Photo Credit Burning Shed: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/
Photo Credit Mannequin Trashcan: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/