I didn’t watch the documentary Leaving Neverland yet, but I did watch the Oprah Winfrey interview, After Neverland. Her interview has been an eye opener for many people who had no idea how abusers operate. It’s an eye opener for people who only think of abusers as ‘monsters’, perpetrators of violence and physical force. This is not how child molesters operate. More often than violence and force, they use love; love that is entangled with manipulation and intimidation; love that relies on fear and shame; but still love.
Just a few years ago, I had a flashback to 1972 or 73. I was five or six years old and I was out in the yard playing with my cousins. We were walking around in the grass playing some sort of detective game, looking for clues. All of a sudden I heard a siren in the distance. My eyes darted for my grandmother’s back door and my stance tensed. My cousin looked at me and yelled mockingly, ‘Quick, Kim! Go run in the house! They’re coming to get you!’ I froze for a moment, not knowing what I should do, then I ran inside, frightened and embarrassed.
The day I had this flashback I remembered that, as a child, I was afraid every time I heard a siren. I ran inside every single time. And that was quite often because we lived in Newark. So, I must’ve been afraid a lot. And it was on this same day that I realized why I was so afraid. My grandfather had told me that if I didn’t keep our secret, the police would come to get me. I was afraid they were coming to take me away.
Forty years after the fact, it came back to me clear as day. How could I have forgotten that? Fear and guilt and shame that had been programmed into my brain when I was 3, 4, 5 years old kept it buried deep down in my body. Fear and Shame are a mighty powerful team. When you add Love to the fear and shame they become even more powerful.
If our abuser is a family member, a friend, a priest, or an idol, they draw us in first, with love and attention. At a young age, that loving attention can easily be escalated to physical attention without us knowing that what is happening is wrong.
If we are told to keep a secret, the fear of breaking our loved one’s trust keeps us quiet. And once we begin to realize that what is happening may not be normal behavior, Shame begins to creep in. It brings Guilt and Embarrassment along for the ride. But Shame is the most powerful. And it suddenly becomes our fault. How could I not have known? How could I not have seen? What will people think of me if I tell them? Shame keeps us from telling our stories. It keeps us from confronting our abusers. It keeps us from healing our families. For years. And sometimes, forever.
Shame is a thing we have to move past each and every day on our way to healing. It’s like a weed that only grows in the dark. We pull it out of the ground and walk past it each day, only to find it there again the next morning. Maybe it’s a little smaller, with shallower roots, but it’s still there. It’s one tenacious s.o.b..
But because it only grows in the dark, it can be killed with repetitive and prolonged exposure to the light. The first time we bring our story out into the light, we release a little bit of the shame. Each subsequent time we release a bit more, until eventually, we can move past it.
Bringing our stories out into the light helps us to heal, and it also helps others realize that anyone can be an abuser; your father, aunt, priest, coach, idol. Bringing our stories out into the light will cause people to have important conversations with their children before anyone ever has the chance to ‘lovingly’ groom them. Bringing our stories out into the light will help us to continue to change the world for the better.
If you’re still walking through the weeds, why not shed some light on them? Tell someone. If we all share our stories, without shame, we can help the next child, and the next, and the next…
I was 12, he was 18 and the son of the people who owned the deli. I had a wicked young girl’s crush on him… he knew it. He told me to come to the store on Sunday afternoon around closing, when he knew he would be there alone. I was so excited, and a bit nervous, with those little butterflies in my stomach that I thought meant love. I know now that they were the flutterings of something inside me that knew there was danger…
I still remember how the afternoon sunlight filtered into the unlit, dusty storeroom window, how he stood on a crate and unzipped his jeans, how I thought it would be gross to put it in my mouth… but he said that if I liked him, I would do it… so I did.
When I told my sister and our friend from across the street, they were grossed out too, so we named him Meat Boy and laughed to soothe away that icky feeling.
Looking back now, I think it was just our way of making light of a very serious situation that 12 year olds have no business knowing about! 43 years later, we still refer to him as Meat Boy. I don’t even remember his name, but will never forget his face… oddly enough though, I cannot conjure a picture of his junk, even though it was shoved in my mouth. Thank the gods for small favors.