Self

It Took Me 20 Years To Reveal My Most Shameful Secret

Photo: Kaponia Aliaksei | Canva
Woman standing stoically

For many years, I was silent about what had happened to me. I felt shame as if something was wrong with me because of what was done to me. I hid in the shadows, disconnected from life and myself. Instead of asking for help, I would lash out in anger, pushing away anyone who tried to get to know me. I was carrying a huge secret and the weight of it was crushing me.

I was molested for four years of my childhood. While it was going on, the intimidation and threats from the abuser kept me silent. I was afraid that if I asked for help, the people I cared about would get hurt. So I stayed silent. I continued to be silent for many years after it finally stopped. 

The burden of carrying this secret weighed heavily on my heart and soul for years.  I was in my early 20s when it all came rushing back to me, flooding my mind with the memories. I was reliving it all over again, and again, and again, often waking up in the middle of the night in a panic with a scream caught in my throat that would only come out as air.

RELATED: How To Reclaim Your Voice When You Feel Silenced

Until I finally broke the silence. I shared with those closest to me what had happened during my childhood. I didn't know how they would react. Would they blame me? Would they pity me? Would they still love me? Thankfully, they supported me and continued to love me.

My healing journey was just getting started — my journey to rediscover who I was and to heal the trauma. The more I tapped back into who I am, the stronger my voice became.  

I no longer felt I had to keep the secret. I discovered that I had nothing to feel shame for. After all, I was not the one who did these awful things. After carrying the secret for so long, it felt good to release it and no longer feel like it was going to negatively impact the rest of my life. 

RELATED: The Sad Reason Why Childhood Trauma Is Holding You Back As An Adult

The more I opened up about the trauma from my past, the freer I felt. Free to speak my truth. Free to be me.  I stopped blaming myself and instead, focused on rebuilding my self-esteem. I surrounded myself with supportive, understanding people who helped me see my strength and resilience.

Reclaiming my voice after abuse was more than just sharing my story. It was taking back control of my life and my sense of self.  When I was being abused, I felt utterly powerless. The abuser had stripped away my right to consent, my childhood innocence, and my ability to speak up. Through finding my voice, I regained what had been taken from me. I began to show up as the real me.  

   

   

Finding my voice helped me set boundaries (and stick to them), share my thoughts and opinions, and stop blaming myself for what happened. I was able to break down the limiting beliefs and dismantle old narratives that told me I was worthless, had to stay silent, and deserving of mistreatment. I got to rewrite my story on my terms, shedding light on dark secrets and shame. My voice was the key to releasing old wounds, healing trauma, and embracing resilience.

RELATED: A Letter To 10-Year-Old Me, Who Was Repeatedly Sexually Abused

Speaking out also connected me to others who had been through a similar experience. I built strong connections. The more women I connected with, the more I realized I was not alone. My voice offers a glimmer of hope and inspiration to others who have been through something similar, helping them feel seen and heard. I also get to shed light on the impacts of abuse and reducing stigma. 

I want those who are suffering in silence to know that it is possible to reclaim your voice. It starts with a single word, then a sentence, until you are speaking your whole story with conviction. You get to choose if you share just with those closest to you or if you choose to share publicly. Do not allow anyone else to dictate what you can and cannot say, or how you say it. Your experiences, thoughts, and feelings matter. You deserve to be heard. 

I will continue speaking out so that one day, no child has to endure what I did. We all have a voice that is meant to be heard. Together we are obliterating the cycle of abuse. It ends with us and goes no further.

Sexual abuse of children and minors is incredibly common.

According to the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN), 1 in 9 girls and 1 in 53 boys under the age of 18 have experienced sexual abuse from an adult. Girls are far more likely to be victims of sexual abuse; the organization reports that 82% of all victims under 18 are female, and those who do suffer from assault and abuse are more likely to also develop mental health issues like depression, PTSD, and drug abuse.

Sexual abuse of adults is also common.

RAINN also reports that every 73 seconds, an American is a victim of sexual violence. As with children, females are far more likely to be abused and assaulted, and 90% of victims who are adults are women. This is especially prevalent among women who also happen to be college students, which makes their risk three times greater.

There are ways to help child abuse victims.

Want to get involved to bring an end to child sexual abuse? There are a few things you can do. There are organizations like Prevent Child Abuse America that are good places to start and that are always looking for people to donate their time and money to their efforts. The organization also suggests writing to local elected officials to support policies that bring an end to sexual abuse, and of course, the simplest thing to do is to keep eyes and ears open and to report abuse when you see it — and to always take children seriously when they say they're being abused.

RELATED: 6 Ways To Find Your Voice After Staying Silent For Too Long

Heather Dunlop is a beacon of hope and transformation, drawing from her profound journey of healing and self-discovery. She extends her compassionate hand to other women, serving as a guide and mentor in their quest to transcend the constraints of survival mode and embrace a life of thriving. She is also the best-selling author of Release, Renew, and Revive.