There’s a phrase, the elephant in the living room,
which purports to describe what it’s like
to live with a drug addict, an alcoholic, an abuser.
People outside such relationships will sometimes ask,
“How could you let such a business go on for so many years?
Didn’t you see the elephant in the living room?”
And it’s so hard for anyone living in a more normal situation
to understand the answer that comes closest to the truth:
“I’m sorry, but it was there when I moved in.
I didn’t know it was an elephant;
I thought it was part of the furniture.”
The Persuader came after me twice when I was seventeen. Once was for not cleaning the kitchen fast enough and the second time for running away because my parents wouldn’t let me go to school.
I recently wrote a book review for a book by Shannon Thomas titled Healing from Hidden Abuse. I found her book compelling because she uses the term “hidden abuse.” I hadn’t heard that term before but I really like it. I like it because for most of our lives those of us who grew up with narcissism in our families struggled with invisible bruises and scars. Like the elephant hiding in the room, we couldn’t always see it for what it was, but we felt it. And we aren’t alone.
The neighbors didn’t see it. The pastor didn’t see it. The teachers didn’t see it. The grandparents didn’t see it. Aunts and uncles didn’t see it. Because the abuse was hidden. It was hidden behind closed doors. Shame poured on like syrup on pancakes if we didn’t go along. It was hidden in the dark corner of the house and the darkest corner of our souls where so many times we couldn’t even see it ourselves. Sometimes it was hidden where nobody could see it except for God.
And the question for many of us is, “Where was God?” We can take comfort in the fact “The eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.” (2 Chronicles 16:9). And Jesus says, “For all that is secret will eventually be brought into the open, and everything that is concealed will be brought to light and made known to all” (Luke 8:17).
I personally have no desire for vengeance or revenge. I believe such feelings are harmful, but I don’t blame people for having these feelings. It’s easier for me to release resentment because holding a grudge has never been my style. And part of the reason for this is I often didn’t realize how much I was affected by this hidden abuse. I justified my feelings. I rationalized my abusers’ behavior. It was so hidden sometimes I couldn’t even see it.
People have asked me why, thirty years after the fact, I feel a need to write this memoir. Because of hidden abuse. Because the abuse of thirty years ago has left welts on my soul that never seem to heal and it wasn’t until I read Shannon Thomas’s book that I understood why. It’s the secret. The cover up. The denial that I joined in to save my own mind at times. And it would be great to say it’s all water under the bridge, but it’s still not over. When your parents lie and talk about you and try to turn everyone away from you, you know it’s not over.
What bothers me the most, is the lack of honesty. When dealing with right talkers, they see every conversation as a game to win. It seems some want to win by a technicality where they don’t speak an actual lie, but they live one. Or they use that old trick of all politicians and say they don’t remember. They figure if they can just forget an incident I can too. And if we all forget it, it never happened. The problem comes because I am still reeling from the effects of the past and now dealing with the lies repeated to me.
Not every lie sounds like a lie. Sometimes lies are simply a piece or part of the truth. Sometimes lies are told in silence through facial expressions which fail to reveal the heart. Sometimes lies are told by telling a part of the truth and omitting significant details.
Sometimes lies are told with vague words and lack of commitment as some do when they say your outfit is weird or unique or interesting when they really mean it’s ugly. Or when they ignore the rest of the truth and speak only enough of the truth to entice the listener to accept their words as the end of the conversation when in reality so much more has happened and needs to be discussed.
I think the worst lies are those said to appease the conscience. When some says I love you, but they can’t stand you enough to call you once a year or share what is going on in their own life because they merely call you to say they called you or to get information to carry back to the narc.
This is how I was taught to be dishonest as a child. To prevaricate and rationalize our position to soothe conscience and say the least I could, so as to not to be caught in a lie. It might seem like a white lie, but such subtle techniques destroy relationships and families. And it helps us confuse God with our parents which is just another lie.
As I think about my life and where I long to be, it’s always, always in that place of honesty where faces are true and we can look into each other’s eyes and not hide a thing. I crave emotional honesty. I soak up spiritual honesty where our stories are messy, but we can tell the truth about our dirty secrets anyway.
A huge part of the pain of this hidden abuse continues because of the secrets we have had to endure and the fact we can’t mention the past long enough to heal because it might offend the narc. So yeah, thirty years later and we still don’t talk about it. I am reminded of an episode of the Judds where Ashley told her sister about her memoir. Wynonna was upset and said, “Why did you have to do that?” And Ashley replied, “Because you and mom wouldn’t listen any other way.”
My heart ached for Ashley. She gets it because she has lived through hidden abuse. Sometimes people don’t respect us and probably won’t respect us–even when we write the memoir, but we must respect ourselves because our stories matter and God himself does not ask us to hide in the dark.
Meet me at the place of honor
Where past is not a dirty word
And memories–good and bad,
Can both be heard.
Where truth we welcome and lies we shun.
With nothing between us, we can be one.