My family always had secrets. So did my church. There were things in both that were hidden, that were never to be discussed. I didn’t understand why not; they were just part of my life… normal. I didn’t know they weren’t normal to normal people. But oh, the rebuke if one of the secrets got out.

I responded to a grandparent’s question with a fact that was unexpected, and got in trouble because “we don’t talk about things like that!” But we do them, so why not talk about them? I wondered. I talked to a crisis center about being stalked. “How dare you talk about the church with those lesbians and make us look bad!” I didn’t make you look bad. I only found some recommendations for ways to make this situation safer for me, I thought.

In conflict resolution classes years later, I learned that one of the main reasons conflicts happen is because people are trying to protect their own image. And I realize that image plays an important role in abuse, too. Image. A facade, something to build and protect and defend, but not something real or tangible.

Secrets in my life were kept to protect image. Not my image, but that of the Others. The church, the family…

We lived, four people, in a two bedroom house. We weren’t allowed to lock the doors. There was never a time when I had space to myself. There was one drawer in the bedroom dresser that was for anything private of my own. Everything else… no secrets. No privacy, no place for myself. Mom listened in on my phone conversations, chats on the driveway with the neighbor kids. Don’t talk about that. I think it’s time you came in. They were just loving me, my parents. They were trying to keep me safe. Stop crying, Mary. If your best friend is a bully, just ignore her. Just make other friends.  No, they must have been loving me, must have been keeping me safe.

Church made sense. They told me what to wear and taught me what to think, what to say. They made decisions for me that I should have made for myself. They were just keeping me safe. My pastor was like a dad. That made sense — dads were like that, making decisions, wanting to know everything. Families were like that–keeping secrets, looking out for themselves, telling me what to do.

They weren’t safe, not really. They weren’t healthy in the long run. And somewhere in the process of surviving and being “good”, being what they wanted me to be, I lost sight of who I was. I’d like to know.