Tara’s family had a secret.
Her father was an alcoholic and an elder in the church.
Tara did her best to keep the secret.
Her mother and father’s love seemed to depend on it,
but Tara had a secret of her own.
Her mother taught her that keeping this secret was a cross they were to bear. She said, “Look at all the good your father does for the church, but if they knew he was an alcoholic, they would ask him to step down. Plus it would be embarrassing for our family.” Tara learned to keep secrets so well that no one had a clue—not even her mother, about her other secret. Her father was also molesting her. From the time she was nine until she left home, Tara kept this secret between her father and herself. She thought no one else knew about it and she didn’t tell anyone because he dad said he would kill her cat if she told anyone.
It wasn’t until Tara was thirty-seven that she found out her father had been molesting her two younger sisters too. By then one of her sisters was in rehab for trying to kill herself. Tara’s heart broke when she found her baby sister’s body lying on the floor the night she discovered her and had to call 911. As her sister recovered, the stories told by these sisters who kept secrets for so many years were finally out in the open, but by then their father had died and their mother was in a home for memory care. Tara has wept so many times, wondering if she could have prevented her sisters from the pain she herself still suffered with. This is why it is often said in recovery circles that we are only as sick as our secrets.
A huge red flag for a dysfunctional family is keeping secrets. When someone has a secret, they are usually hiding something unhealthy or they wouldn’t care if that secret was out. Secrets can be very personal like incest or they can just be the way a narcissistic parent tries to control the entire family.
Such control might also continue for decades even after the grown children leave home. Siblings are often the only people who know what each other went through and it’s not fair to ask them to keep childhood abuse secrets for an entire lifetime. Families who have gone through hard times need to be able to talk about it. Children who have been molested should be able to discuss their pain with their siblings without being attacked and accused of betraying the whole family. Kids who have been beaten or used as slave labor or refused an education need to be able to discuss how to survive and find a normal life in the real world.
Holding secrets inside will only cause wounds to fester. They need to be cleaned out so they can heal. Tara and her sisters should be free to look back and say, “We are survivors! Look at what we endured and how we grew from what happened 20 years ago.” As a family, they should be able to talk about the events which formed them and discuss how those events are affecting their lives today. They should be able to celebrate their healing together, but that couldn’t happen as long as no one acknowledged the past. Some people will tell you to forgive and forget, but even survivors can’t forgive unless they can remember what abuses they need to forgive in the first place.
If you are part of a family that’s not interested in hearing how you feel, if you’re in a family that’s still keeping secrets years after everyone has left home, if you have been shunned for speaking your truth and telling your story, it’s time to acknowledge your family isn’t treating you like a friend. Maybe it’s time to find new family and seek support through recovery and church groups. If someone really cares about you and what you’ve endured, they won’t put a muzzle on your mouth. True friends will care about your honest heart.
If you are a believer, Jesus doesn’t ever ask you to hold the secrets that still your soul. He calls himself the Truth and always stands on the side of the truth. No matter what the narcissist and the flying monkeys say, you can tell your story with a clear conscience.