recovery by story telling

I came across this incredible website dedicated to helping people tell their stories in order to recover.    Here is Allison Vesterfelt’s latest article:

Editor’s Note: Today’s post by our Editor-in-chief, Allison Vesterfelt, is a really powerful story. She is encouraging others to uncover their secrets to find freedom. You can share your story with us.

We sat together in a wooden booth in the back corner of Imbrie Hall, wood stove burning across the aisle, a half-eaten basket of tater tots in front of us, glasses click-clacking every time we set them back on the table.

“Dad,” I said, “There’s something I have to tell you.”

He paused, a familiar pause, sturdy and normal, the kind of pause he had mastered in his years as a clinical psychologist.

Suddenly I felt very much like one of his patients.

“You know you can tell me anything,” he said, warmly.

I knew.

That’s the reason I had invited him here — to tell him. But being “allowed” to tell him “anything” and telling him this weren’t anywhere in the same realm.

This wasn’t just anything. This was beyond the scope of anything.

This was different.

“There aren’t really words…” I said, but even the sound of those words coming out of my mouth felt like choking, and instantly I wished I could take them back.

“I was — ” I started.

He waited.

“Abused.” I said. “Sexually. As a little girl.”

It was the first time I had said the truth out loud; and for some reason it didn’t feel as good as I had hoped it would. There was no fanfare, no explosions or dramatic gasps or tears.

I kept waiting for that moment — the “pop” of the Pillsbury roll as you slowly peel back the paper.

It never came. I didn’t feel anything.

It didn’t even feel like I was telling the truth.

Secrets

I was seven years when I promised myself I would never tell anyone.

We had moved to a new city and I was lying on the top bunk of a bed that was too big, or in a room that was too small, I’m not sure which, so that my face was very close to the ceiling and I was socked in.

I was safe now.

Things had happened to me before but they could never happen again.

And this thought came to me, so clearly that I still remember it today. No one has to know. I have very few concrete memories of the abuse itself, which spanned over three and a half years, but that moment is seared in my brain like it was yesterday.

Satan’s best trick is to get us to keep his secrets.

The Father of Lies. It all makes so much sense to me now.

I knew that something had been taken from me, even at seven. It hadn’t been given, or offered, like a gift, it had been stolen, like a wallet. I lay very still in bed, in my pink nightgown, and that sinking feeling settled in, the feeling you get when your wallet is gone.

You’ll never get it back now.

That was the moment I decided I would never tell anyone. If no knew, I promised myself, it would be like it never happened.

It would be like hitting the delete button

The problem is that there is no delete button. I didn’t know that when I was seven, but I know that now. Keeping secrets doesn’t make the truth go away, it makes you go away. Truth is constant. We are not.

The only way for us to ignore truth is to live outside of it.

Hiding

I spent the rest of my life hiding from what was true, and hiding the truth from others. But I didn’t just lie about the abuse. Anytime something felt uncomfortable or unfair I lied about it. I figured that fixed it.

That’s the thing about lies. They don’t have boundaries. They leak out of cages spill over edges and permeate everything around them.

They don’t obey us. We obey them.

I always had a good excuse for doing what I was doing.

  • No one would believe the truth if I told them, I reasoned.
  • It would be too hard on everyone. It’s just better if I hold this.
  • It’s not even that big of a deal. I don’t know why I keep obsessing over it.

When one excuse stopped making sense to me, I would just move on to another.

  • They’ll wonder why I kept it from them all this time I thought to myself.
  • Wait, am I even sure it ever happened?

When you lie perpetually, over a long period of time, the lines between lies and truth start to seem really fuzzy.

The worst part about keeping secrets was that it never did what I thought it was going to do. It didn’t release me from the pain or depression or anxiety that I was feeling. It just made it very difficult to explain my position to others.

Lying doesn’t give us the power it promises. It actually steals any power we had in the first place.

Lying is lonely.

Uncovering

It didn’t all end that day when I told my dad. In fact, that was just the beginning.

I told my sister, and my brother, and my mom. I told a close friend, then I told the man I knew someday would be my husband. Every time I told someone, I got this same familiar feeling.

Like I had been exposed.

I told my sister in a parked car in the driving rain. My mom and I leaned across the Island in the kitchen one day, elbows planted, very little eye contact. I told my brother over the phone.

Uncover. Uncover. Uncover.

I told my now-husband, while he was just my boyfriend, as we were driving through Minneapolis, eyes pointed straight forward. He stopped the car, pulled over, and put his hand on my chest, all heavy and comforting.

I’ll never forget the weight of his hand there, the weight of him knowing me, the weight of him knowing that thing that I promised no one would ever know.

And I felt it begin to melt, the power that it had over me.

Uncovering was so freeing. Hiding, lying, pretending I was someone I wasn’t was exhausting. Admitting the truth about what had happened to me felt like a giant sigh of relief, like I could finally rest.

I hadn’t fooled as many people as I thought I had.

Uncovering helped me to discover authentic relationship with people, which was where I experienced God’s grace in a tangible way. Revealing the most intimate parts of myself gave people space to know me, and love me anyway.

Uncovering helped me to discover how God feels about me.

I had spent so much effort and energy hiding this terrible “secret” from my past that I hadn’t given any space to focus on the truth — which was that what happened to me didn’t compromise my value the way that I thought it did.

Uncovering wasn’t easy, but was the best thing I’ve ever done.

And what I am learning is that we are all covering something…

What do you need to uncover?

About Allison Vesterfelt: Allison is the Editor-in-Chief of Prodigal Magazine, who believes that there’s more to life than meets the eye and she’s not afraid to prove it. She’s passionate about helping people to tell, hear and understand stories that inspire, uplift, encourage, and even convict by pointing to the truth of Jesus. She lives in West Palm Beach, Florida with her husband Darrell.

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