But What Will My Family Think?

I became an instant fan of Jane Friedman, janefriedman.com, who 9 out of 10 times writes an article relative to my writing experience. Her last blog discussed the book, A Year of Writing Dangerously by Barbara Abercrombie, which in one excerpt raises the question, “What Does Your Mother Think of Your Writing?”

At the bottom of Jane’s e-mail she inserted a quote by Anne Lamont that gave me permission years ago to share about the realities of my life: “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better.”

The first thirteen years of my dysfunctional life I suffered through the worst kind of sexual abuse by an older brother, and my mother knew, but to acknowledge my abuse she would have had to acknowledge hers. My mother won’t read what I’ve written because it’s too painful for her to revisit, yet she has no idea how the past makes me feel.

My award winning memoirs and poetry are based on my dysfunctional childhood, yet if you ask any one of my three older sisters and two older brothers, each of us would have a different version to tell, as if we grew up in different homes.

Like many abuse survivors, I’ve made lemonade from an immense lemon orchard. I’ve served as a life coach for over 30 years to sexually abused people and I’m working with a publisher on my first non-fiction book, The Long Term Effects of Sexual Abuse.

I have no problem sharing my past even though several family members have asked me not to publish anything about the abuse. How else do we end the cycle? Speaking up lessens the power of the effects of abuse and it helps to bring an end to the generational pattern. There are those who say it’s no one else’s business but what I hear is, “We’re ashamed and embarrassed about the truth of our family” and “What will people think of us?”

I know that my children who are writers at heart will post my mistakes and shortcomings out in the universe one day and that’s okay. I am willing to be accountable for my actions, for my mistakes as well as my triumphs. Perhaps someone will be able to learn from or be inspired by them.

Today is my 54th birthday and I’m celebrating it by honoring my Self and that includes my integrity. God bless Anne Lamont who gave me permission to write “shitty first drafts” and to tell my truth, even if it doesn’t match the truth of other family members.

Do you have your own truths that you want to share but are concerned about how others will react? If you could write about anything, without restriction, what would it be?

17 thoughts on “But What Will My Family Think?

  1. Light and air is the only way to deal with long term abuse. Your relative wasn’t committing an error. It wasn’t just a slip. He committed evil and the only way to avoid it happening more is to talk about it. Besides, there’s nothing like knowing that you’re not the only person in pain when you’re going through something. Keep talking. Keep shining the light that’s in you.

    • Thank you, John, for sharing your valuable opinion. You’re right –abuse is the hard edge that gets polished every time we speak about it. Eventually it becomes a smooth stone that can be put to good use, whether to hold us to our center, to show others how to get to that smooth state so the sharp edges no longer cut us, or to have something to throw at anyone who attempts to abuse us when we finally make the discovery that we deserve better. Here’s to the light that shines in every one of us!

      • Carole:

        We have been very good friends since 1977, if I remember correctly and we have shared a lot of personal experiences throughout the years. You have become one of my very good friends and I have enjoyed watching you grow and learn and become a famous writer. I am so proud of the fact that you did not let your family stand in the way of your writing aboout your sexual abuse. I wish I had that courage to seek counseling years ago when it happened to me from the ages of 15 to 22 but I was too scared for my mother, as her boyfriend at the time, who sexually abused me threatened me and said, “if I tell anyone” including my mother, I would regret it so, being as young as I was, I believed him and did not say a word until one night, I had no choice and told my mother. It was the biggest relief and a burden had been lifted although my mother cried all night because she had no idea what had happened to me. Because of you I now have the courage to tell my story to anyone who will listen and for that I am truly grateful. You have not only been a great friend but an inspiration to me and for that I want to thank you. When your first book is published, I will celebrate you and always remember your words of inspiration which, in fact, did help me, as you were the one to convince me to tell the ones I love what happened to me. I know you will succeed as a great writer. You have become a very brilliant and successful person and have overcome so many obstacles in your life. Love Renee

      • Renee,
        Thank you for your beautiful and touching comment. I so appreciate you and your generous heart. I’m glad to hear that my words had a positive effect and am proud that you had the strength to take a healing path, to speak up and clear things up with your mother, and most of all to create change for yourself. I’m so glad you became a champion for yourself! Keep up the great work and never stop striving for happiness because that will enable you to help others with joy.
        Love, Carole

      • It takes a very special person to listen and understand to those that need your advice from what we have both been through. You are very welcome! Love Renee

  2. My sympathies. I can understand what you feel.

    I do have a few truths, but like you I cannot really speak them. For one thing, my mother throughout my life told everyone I made things up and was an exaggerator. One reason is that she can’t remember things (she had electroshock therapy and insulin shock therapy for depression back in the sixties after much had happened to me, and she forgot that stuff–she’s lucky she avoided the lobotomy craze that went on there for a while and even got one of the Kennedy sisters!) Another is that I am indeed a storyteller on paper, and whenever I wrote a story for school she would mock it and go crazy with how I was making things up and would never tell the truth and so forth. She never has “gotten” fiction, thinking it a complete waste of time. Mother remembers the first instance of sexual abuse on me, which was when I was diagnosed at eighteen months with urethral stenosis. In 1962 they were afraid to put children that age to sleep for minor surgery (which I eventually had when I turned three to fix this–that was a trauma in itself because of the way hospitals were then), so the cure was to hold me down in the doctor’s office (my mother was given this job generally) and have a doctor insert dilators into my urethral canal and hold them there firmly for a while. That was extremely painful, and the doctor would squeeze with his fingers in my vaginal area, probably just to get a good grip, and THAT was painful. Just as I thought the pain had maxed out, they’d take that out and put in a larger dilator. Eventually they’d decide the urethra was “stretched enough” and they’d let me up and see if I could urinate. This method did help cure the constant infections and the burning sensation that was going on because I couldn’t urinate–but it caused other problems. I consider this the FIRST sexual abuse. I woke from the surgery (which I mostly remember as someone holding a terrible stinky rubber thing over my nose and mouth and then going into the abyss, and waking up confused, and Mama reports I came to murmuring, “Mama doesn’t care, Daddy doesn’t care.” which would prove to be a useful insight) in terrible pain. Any number of people “examined” the area all the time to “see your operation.” Later, what others would define as abuse began. All the time I was being verbally abused in the name of “not letting you get a huge ego and not being so conceited.” I know to this day that most of my family thinks I am a worthless pile of excrement, although I was a National Merit Scholar and I have two university degrees and I worked for years as a software engineer and I have written several books that some people have enjoyed–however, I am still FAT in their sight and have flaws and am a worthless loser. My family thinks everything I have written is stupid. They are waiting to see whether the book I wrote that won the Oak Tree Press contest sells. So far, it isn’t doing anything exciting. Most of your friends will expect a free book and will not buy the book to boost your Amazon rankings. So when you publish, don’t expect anything. Good luck with that–that’s just a hint. (grin) But anyway, for some stupid reason there is an encouraging little voice inside me that says I am indeed worthy to receive the Muse, and I press on, boats against the current and all that.

    But I sure wouldn’t write about any of my family experiences or anything like this in a manuscript, because then I would be completely shunned by the family. (And by hubby’s family who is NORMAL and has no idea what abuse is and would blame the weirdo victim. And of course everyone has always believed my mother all my life when she said all sorts of bad things about me–and because Hubby and I take care of her now, they’d believe she still knows all. Thus the shunning would occur. And I don’t think I could handle that.

    I think that all the abuse does come out in transformed events in my fiction, though, so take that for what it’s worth.

    Good luck with your writing!

    • Denise,
      Thank you for sharing your poignant story. This in itself is a well written and inspiring work. I encourage you to rise above what your semblance of “family” has to say. Family is supportive, loving, and nurturing, but it seems as though these characteristics are lacking in your most intimate familial reality. You owe no allegiance to anyone except yourself. You don’t think you can handle shunning, yet that very thing has already occurred as no one will validate your experience. I say write about your childhood because your words are extremely powerful and moving, and because on your death bed you won’t be saying, “Thank God I chose to hold back my real feelings and let everyone off the hook for all the pain they caused me.” I hope you keep in touch and I wish you success in your writing career.

    • Thank you for taking the time to respond, Kristen. It’s so much easier to speak with integrity -with absolute honesty, than to worry about the reactions of others. I also think that speaking the truth earns more respect than hiding behind silence or a lie. Sometimes it takes a lot of courage to speak the truth!

      • I’ve certainly been trying to work on those “white lies”. I’m always too nice to everyone. My friend always asks for my advice and it feels nice to let it go. I don’t know why i hold things back!
        thanks Carole!. Your always helping me out. 🙂

      • Thank you for commenting, Ashley. You hold things back because you’re still seeking approval and fear the consequences of speaking up -someone might get angry, someone might not like you, you might hurt someone’s feelings and the guilt will get to you. As you practice speaking up, you will become more powerful in your integrity –you’re ability to speak honestly. It takes practice to learn how to speak in a spirit of truth and in a respectful (honorable) manner, but soon you will see how much easier it gets and how much better the results!

  3. Thank you, Carole. There’s only one way to stop abuse and that’s to tell about it. Your courage should help those still caught in these horrible situations and give them the courage to speak out.

    • Thank you, Velda, for sharing your thoughts. It has been a long journey. The hardest part of abuse is getting beyond the fear –of what people think, of their potential rejection and disapproval, of the possibility of failing, of not valuing ourselves enough to demand better treatment– and to embrace whatever comes with every step forward.

  4. Carole, I found your story and everyone else’s comments hugely validating. I’ve never written about my abuse, and only one or two family members know if it. But even the two sentences about other hurts in my latest book ( The Sound of Water), like being abandoned by my mother and only being tolerated by my father and stepfather – who are all dead,- have caused my three siblings to verbally abuse me and harass me over the internet. I’ve had to cut them out of my life in the interests of my self-respect and peace of mind.
    People would rather deny the truth and believe what they want to believe, especially if they worship the almighty god of Respectability. I will be really interested in your book when it comes out. I was only thinking this morning of the ways in which it ruins people’s lives, and how I can almost tell by looking at some people – men as well as women – that that is the story of their life.

    • Thank you, Valerie, for your eloquent post. I think that when we speak up, abuse loses its power over us.

      I met an 86 year old woman I’ll call Mary and coached her for a while. She heard my story in a group session about one of my many childhood abuse experiences. After our meeting, she told me her story. Mary said when she was 6 years old her step-father raped her before she went to bed. She staggered out of her room to the living room where her mother was watching television. Blood was dripping down her legs and Mary told her mom, “Daddy hurt me.” Her mother said, “That’s what you get for walking around in your slip.” Then Mary told me that she had never shared that story with anyone. She carried the burden of her secret for 80 years! She died recently and left me a message: “Thank you for listening.” I knew exactly what she meant.

      As you had to do, I have “divorced” certain family members, like the brother who molested and raped me or the alcoholic cousins or “friends” who wanted to stay rooted in the past and tried to keep me there with them. We have to find ways to continue moving forward and cutting off dead branches is sometimes the only way to grow.
      Your story is your truth and doesn’t have to match anyone else’s. I encourage you to find the strength to write about the abuse. Our stories inspire others to step forward so that we can combine our voices to put an end to it. We inspire those who have no voice and give them permission to own their own truth.

      Thank you for responding and I look forward to hearing your thoughts again soon.


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