The Story I Want to Hide

“The most audacious story waits behind the one trying to hide. That is the place where you’ll find the most emotion, the most passion, and the most resistance.”

–Lisa Dale Norton, Shimmering Images, A Handy Little Guide to Writing Memoir 

 Tell the story you most want to hide.


  1. Adrienne Drake says


    I want to write about my deteriorating relationship with my best friend, but I don’t want to go there yet. I don’t want to face that after years and years of her mothering, that isn’t what I primarily need anymore. She has helped me face all of my demons because rescuing others is her specialty. Her confirmation name is Theresa, after all, after “Mother Theresa.” Get it?

    I want to write about the deterioration of our relationship because writing is how I heal. I need to put it all down in black and white so I can see that it is real, not just some stray web of pain in my psyche that will be gone in the morning. I don’t want to know that if I don’t need to be rescued she doesn’t know how to relate to me.

    I don’t want to realize that when she is not around I suddenly morph into this completely capable and fully functioning adult and that when she comes home, I can’t even find my sunglasses. I don’t want to acknowledge that if I continue to relate to her in the safest way she knows how to communicate with others, I will become crippled by her “love.”

    I watch her repeatedly rescue her daughter who is 42 and has a PhD. I watch how the daughter struggles between being the good mom she herself can be, and clinging to her dependent children the way my friend chooses people who need to cling to her. I see it all as clearly as the nose on my face. I see all of this now, after the 10 years of psychotherapy I required to dive deep into the mess left behind by the molestation. By a parent. Who should have known better. Who should have cared and protected. But who used and destroyed instead. After all my work, I have learned the art of mothering myself.

    What will it take to turn our relationship around? She said, “If you don’t work it out, you will choose someone else just like me to work it out with.” “No,” I tell her with utter conviction. “I won’t. You need to grow.” The question I ask myself is, after almost 30 years of friendship, can she continue to grow with me? Why is it that I am always the one who must put us in pain before she grows too?

    I am emerging as surely as the butterflies in the habitat on my kitchen table after their perfect time in the chrysalis. This must be the reason saving butterflies has become my latest obsession. Their miraculous metamorphosis, their inner knowing of how to align themselves with the collective intelligence and pulsating life force permeating the universe is something I aspire to. I need an equal.

    Can we make it? I don’t want to write about it. I don’t want us to fail.

    • says

      Adrienne, I really needed to read this piece. Thank you for writing it. I’m currently at a very painful impasse with my very close sister/friend of 38 years–and don’t know if the relationship will survive. I will be meeting her face to face to talk a week from now. I’m scared but also glad that I may at least know what is going on.

      I don’t want to write or talk about it either. But I’m glad you did.

      My favorite line in your piece was this: “The question I ask myself is, after almost 30 years of friendship, can she continue to grow with me? Why is it that I am always the one who must put us in pain before she grows too?”

      But in my case, I think it’s my friend who’s asking herself that question about me. Ouch.

      • Adrienne Drake says

        Dear Laura,
        You are such a wonderfully warm and evolved individual and I hope you and your “sister” will be able to work things through. The crucible of pain can lead to good changes for those involved. I am so glad my story was one that you needed to read. I hope after your meeting there will be a healing story waiting to be told!!!
        xoxox, Adrienne

    • Ilana says

      Wow Adrienne- This is so great! I love the way you keep the metaphor of the butterfly going through the whole thing. I love your honesty that you do not want to write about it. I thought this was a tough one, what’s new? But you really nailed it beautifully. Nice job! Ilana

    • Tony del Zompo says

      adrienne, thank you for sharing this piece. i’m also at an impasse, but with myself. the person is simply the mirror…

  2. Ilana says

    The Story I Most Want to Hide (and The One I Most Need to Share)

    Wow, how am I going to manage this one? It sounds like an out and out challenge. But I am going to do it. I am going to accept your challenge, your invitation. Because I am nothing if not determined. I will not back away. I will not cower under my shame and fear. Not even if it kills me.

    But I think I’ll begin with a different story. A story so painful and fresh that the wounds are still bleeding, literally for another day at least. Don’t worry the two stories are deeply connected and one will help you to understand the other.

    Is she stalling? Most likely but give her a chance. She’ll get there.

    It all began when… actually, I’m not sure exactly when this latest episode began. I’ve been working at this incest thing for two years now. It gets harder and less hard at different times. I’m not going to say it gets ‘easier’, that word doesn’t seem to fit. Anyway for so many reasons, both logical and emotional, this leg of my journey has been simply agonizing. So, there I was, worn out and exhausted, crying every other second. Then I found myself in a safe space.

    My husband, Zander, and I had left the kids with a sitter they adore. We went on a double date with one of my favorite couples. Julie and Kristi are two of the loveliest women I have ever met. They have been married almost as long as Zander and me and also have three children. Perfect situation, right? A respite. Not! For some reason when my body relaxes and I feel safe, my psyche ceases to protect me from my own feelings. “You’re with safe people? Good, now I’m really going to let you have it!” We had a very enjoyable evening and were walking back to the car. I felt so sexy in my new dress and favorite high heels. My nine year old daughter had done my hair in a sophisticated French braid that ran diagonally down my head ending in a tight bun just below my right ear. I was enjoying the sound of my shoes clicking on the cement, the feel of my husband’s hand in mine and the joyful voices of my friends.

    Suddenly a new sound joined these far more pleasant ones. It was the sound of my own breathing; something between a gasp and a loud wheeze that shattered the night with each inhalation. The others responded before I had the ability to say anything. “Ilana! Are you okay?” I don’t even remember who said it but all three of them were staring at me.

    “I think (deafening gasp/wheeze) I’m having (gasp/wheeze) my first (gasp/wheeze) asthma attack (gasp/wheeze) in fifteen years.” I wasn’t so scared at first. I’d had asthma attacks before. Granted it had been a while but I knew the routine. My seven year old daughter has asthma so it was just a matter of getting home to take her medication. As time passed, though, it got harder and harder to breathe. The awful noise got louder and my confidence faded as cold hard fear set in. By the time we got home I jumped from the car and bolted into the house. Then I yanked off my precious shoes without unbuckling them and blew past the nonplussed baby sitter up the stairs to find the medication. I was already struggling to open the box when Zander hurried in after me. The sitter did not want to leave but between ever louder gasp/wheezes, I promised her I’d be okay. The truth didn’t matter. She had to be home and it was best to lead her to believe there was nothing to worry about.

    I took the inhaler. The medicine made it even harder to breathe. Zander hooked up our daughter’s nebulizer. I put on the cute little dog snout mask and immediately gagged on that medicine. The sound got even louder and it got even harder to breathe. That’s it, hospital time. He stripped me down and forced me into sweats then called a neighbor asking her to stay with the sleeping children. It was about 10:15 but she’s a night owl and a very kind person. Between horrifying gasp/wheezes, I apologized for the dress which lay in a puddle on the floor and thanked her for coming over.

    It felt like a long drive to the emergency room and the noise of my own inhalation was almost as frightening as the inability to feel the air entering my lungs. When we got there I jumped out of the car and ran inside. It was so quiet and I was relieved because that meant I would not have to wait. I tried to tell them that my husband was parking the car. The woman behind the window gave me some paperwork but seeing I was losing my ability even to stand asked me just to put my social security number anywhere on it. That task accomplished I lost my grip on the counter and fell. She reached through the window and with strength that surprised me she held me fast. Seconds later, Zander was supporting me from behind. “I’ve got you, Ilana.” He assured me.

    They got me into a wheelchair and took me to a room with a bed. Again I was stripped and a gown was pulled on over my head. Then the doctor came in. A tall African American man with a kind smile, he introduced himself giving me his first name. I hate doctors who don’t have first names. This man was safe. Then someone asked me, “So, what did we get into?”

    “What? Nothing!” Zander explained that I was not on drugs. Between the two of us we managed to answer all of the usual questions about my habits and medications. Then I said, between horrid gasp/wheezes, “Zander, I think we’d better tell him the other stuff.” I told the doctor that I was also dealing with memories of childhood incest. He immediately took two steps backward. “I’m staying right here. I’m giving you your space.” The nurses weren’t quite so respectful. By that time I was set up with another breathing treatment and a man who must have had very little experience with a needle made no less than five attempts to put in an IV. Once the men were gone, the female nurses pulled down my gown to set up an EKG. I immediately panicked and started crying. I begged them to cover me up but they refused. “Hold still so we can take the picture!” I couldn’t hold still. I couldn’t stop crying. Zander finally told them that I had been sexually victimized. An instant later a sheet was laid over my chest and I stopped crying. Another woman took me out for a chest and throat x-ray. I begged her to help me stay covered up and she was accommodating. Then she took me back to my room.

    Shortly thereafter the doctor returned and relieved the other two nurses. They were replaced by the woman who had reached through the window to catch me, I think. She was nice to me. The fifth IV was terribly painful. She took it out and put a sixth one in my other arm. Finally they got the medicine into me and my breathing calmed. I calmed, it was ativan. The doctor came back into the room. He explained that all my tests were clean. They didn’t know what was wrong with me but I was breathing.

    It was decided that this was most likely a massive anxiety attack, though it was nothing like the ones I’ve had in the past. They sent me home with steroids anyway. I’ll be on them for three more days. My arms are covered with bruises and medical tape that won’t wash off. They hurt when my children grab a hold of me. I had a reoccurrence the next day but swallowed a full milligram of ativan and managed to quell the attack.

    The outcome of the whole event is that for fear of another reoccurrence and another visit to the ER I have to go on anti depressants, now! Fear and tears threaten me on a regular basis and I know that at any second I could be assaulted by that horrible gasping wheezing sound. Zander is going out of town for work. He can’t leave without knowing I am going to be okay. I can’t wait the two weeks until I can meet with a psychiatrist and talk this out calmly. I have to go on them now and discuss it with the doctor later. So, that’s what we’re doing. My PCP will proscribe whatever medicine she and Zander decide on and against my own preferences and desires I will take the pills. In two weeks I will meet with the psychiatrist and then I will be in the driver’s seat. That’s the agreement. No one is particularly happy with it but it is a compromise we can both live with.

    Here is where we come to the other story, the one I’d most like to hide. On October 12, 1996 I freaked out during my GRE exam. My boyfriend responded by breaking up with me and demanded I talk him into changing his mind. I succeeded, though I don’t know how. I hated myself more than he hated me. Thankfully, it was a long distance relationship and he went home. Still, the panic attacks came hourly and did not let up. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t sit through a lecture, much less an exam. My parents came to my college campus and I was forced to go on medication. I’ll never forget the way they set it up. There were three chairs. Mine was backed into the corner. The other two faced me and in them sat the Dr. Max and my father. “I don’t want to take medication.” “You have to. You’re sick.” And that’s how it was decided. I went on an SSRI and eventually my anxiety disorder was under control. My boyfriend forgave me for being broken and I graduated with honors.

    It was the right decision. I needed to be on medication but not that way. Not bullied into it, literally backed into a corner. There was no concern for my feelings, no kindness, only solutions. It was humiliating, dehumanizing even and I never forgot the fresh wave of self hatred that resulted.

    So here I am again, going on psychiatric medication in an emergency situation, when it’s really not what I want to do. I know I don’t have a choice. I know it’s the right thing to do. I can’t function the way I am now. I just wish there were time for a discussion, time to address my concerns. I just have to hope that there will be. When the emergency has passed I can finally meet with the psychiatrist, who I’ve been told is known for his compassion. Then I’ll be in charge. Then I’ll be making the decisions. I just hope he chooses to listen to me. That’s what I’ve got now, hope that it will be different this time.

    • says

      Ilana, my heart goes out to you. I can see why your experience in the hospital was triggering for you. What I don’t understand is this–everyone should be treated with sensitivity, not just those who go out of their way to explain that they’re dealing with sexual trauma. But that’s our dehumanizing medical system. You so clearly express in this piece the need to have a choice and to be part of the equation in determining your own care, even in a crisis. That image of you being backed in the corner like that will stay with me for a long time. I’m sorry that was your introduction to anxiety meds–because they can be life-saving and critically important, and now they have this negative association for you. You so clearly express that in this piece. Your writing, as always, was vivid and memorable.

    • Adrienne Drake says

      Ilana, this was just gripping in detail and honesty! What a tribute to your committment to healing. I totally got the urgency of the ER visit and the intensity of the swiftness with which all parties had to move to be sure you were not in a life threatening asthma attack or other catastrophic situation. Their insensitivy I assume sprang from that urgency as there was no time for emotion to register. Our bodies play out our emotions when they are too intense for our psyches to register. As you are able to metabolize your trauma and grief, you will heal. Writing it all down helps. Thanks for sharing.

    • Terry Gibson says

      Ilana, you told this story so well, I was terrified and frantic reading it and felt every emotional shift in you. Anxiety attacks are awful; I still have them. Sometimes people minimize them as if they have no real medical consequences. Although I don’t think I’m powerful, I offer you all the strength I have and hope you can borrow my positive unconditional love for you when you can’t feel it yourself. I say that just in case you’re like me and dismiss the love at home as somehow ‘not counting.’ Take care and please keep writing through this rugged time.

    • Polly says

      Ilana, (I’m starting this reply how I always seem to with you), this piece resonated with me. It’s so scary to feel out of control. I’m glad that Zander, your friends, and some medical professionals were respectful to you. I’m so sorry that others weren’t. It must be so hard right now – and obviously a trigger – to not be the one who decides your current state of being. I’m glad that you’ll be able to, soon. Know that we’re all here, rooting for you.

    • Ilana says

      Thank you, Laura, Adrienne,Terry and Polly for your responses to my post. I am having a hard time right now. The anxiety is not yet under control. I do not have it in me to respond to you each individually but please know that your words have been read and reread and I continue to find comfort in them. Thank you again, Ilana

  3. MaryL says

    During a lengthy divorce process, after being separated for over a year, I dropped the children at my husband’s place, not noticing that his car wasn’t in the driveway. He pulled up and jammed me in, between his car and the garage. He pushed me into the house and said, “You are not going anywhere!”

    The children witnessed this. I could not get out. He stayed in the home for several weeks, so I had no opportunity to slip out. He disconnected the phones and hid the cords. He made sure to “take me to bed,” I suppose so that he could claim this nullified the separation. To me, it was rape! Again!
    In the living room, my sweet little girl sat next to me, wouldn’t leave my side, and I knew she was missing me terribly. Being able to hug her, after being kept away for so long, was magical. If I wanted to be with the kids at all, he said, I had to withdraw the divorce petition.

    I moved back in with him. I felt so foolish, stupid, alone, helpless. I thought that I’d never see an end to our abusive relationship. It took four years, but I did leave, went through with the divorce, won joint custody of the children, started working again (outside the home). As if breaking my heart was not enough, my ex-husband kept the children from seeing me for years, despite our legal attempts to enforce the custody and visitations.

    And many years later now, two of my three kids will not communicate with me at all. What hurts the most is that I know in my heart that I am a good mother, but the now “adult children” may never understand me.

    • Ilana says

      Mary- Thank you for sharing your story. I can’t imagine the strength it must have taken to survive all of that and then to retell it. I couldn’t help but feel a little peace, though, that you got it out of you and onto the page. I don’t know if you put it in so subtly that I can’t find where or if I am projecting my own feelings onto you. Either way, congratulations on a well written and very effective piece. Ilana

      • MaryL says

        Ilana, it has taken a long, long time to tell this story without feeling like I was to blame. I still struggle from time to time with an aching loneliness about the children, but I learned that everything passes, even a difficult day. Mothers Day, for example, is like a sharp knife … then comes Monday. Thanks for your support. MaryL

  4. Tony del Zompo says

    I love crazy women. The truth is, I’m addicted to them. Like a moth to a flame, I move towards them. And they burn me every time.

    I’ve worked on myself long enough, processed every issue, claimed a belief in a Higher Power, and turned my will and my life over to the care of God as I understand Him. And then I meet “her,” and serenity slips away. Again.

    Last week’s debacle took the words “powerless,” “unmanageability,” and “insanity” to a whole new level. I’ve never had to call the police to prevent a drunk woman from driving home after passing out and coming to before. The next day a friend asked me why I didn’t just let her go, let her suffer her own consequences. I couldn’t. She had spent the evening with me, and even though it was her decision to get drunk, I felt responsible for her safety. And my own.

    When she came to, called me an asshole, and put on her clothes to leave, I knew that had I restrained her, I would be the one to go to jail.

    When I was a child, only nine years old, dad showed up on Christmas Eve completely shit faced. He was supposed to take my brothers and me to our Grandmother’s house. We were out front waiting when he swerved recklessly around the corner and slammed his car into the curb. When Dad stumbled out of the car, I ran into the house and told my mother he was drunk. Mom was cutting a friend’s hair in her salon downstairs. I saw her in the alley. But look was all she did. She didn’t confront our father. She didn’t call the police. She simply went back inside.

    My oldest brother, Lou, then seventeen, stood up to our father for the first time in his life. “There is no way you are putting my little brothers into the car with you. Leave.” I was inside crying by this time. I have no idea where my brother Frank had disappeared to.

    Dad capitulated. I have no idea why. As drunk as he was, he somehow knew better.

    I remember begging my mother to call the police, to get my father off the road and to safety. She wouldn’t. But when the woman I had been sharing my bed with for the past eight months decided to get into her car and drive, I made the call my mother should have made those years before.

    She wasn’t arrested, and neither was I. The police responded to just another domestic disturbance in Capitola on a Friday night, one of many where alcohol was involved. They called her a cab and she left her car on the curb outside my apartment. As the text messages poured in and she unleashed her fury upon me, I never wavered in my decision, never doubted for a moment that I made the correct decision.

    My father made it home safely that Christmas Eve. I’ll never know if she would have made it home safely, without consequence. But it wasn’t a risk I was willing to take.

  5. Jess says

    The story I want to hide… well I don’t know if its even a story, but it’s certainly something that I hide quite regularly.

    I’m not who they all think I am. I’m not perfect. My life isn’t amazingly stress free and happy. And just because I smile infront of them, doesn’t mean that I’m okay. Just because I can get up every morning and laugh at the meaningless jokes and contribute to the superficial conversations doesn’t mean that I believe in those things, care about those things. Just because I’m smiling right now doesn’t mean that I didn’t cry myself to sleep last night.

    In a way I think it’s almost better to let them believe that I’m all that they think I am. They don’t really need to know anyways. They don’t need to know that I’m scared, that I’m so in love it hurts, that I’m utterly heart broken, that my grandmother has dementia, that my mother lives with cronic pain. They don’t need to know that I am greiving, that I’m insecure. Me telling them all that won’t help them. It’s not going to solve their problems, it’s just going to make them feel sorry about mine.

    Sometimes I talk to my friends and am overwhelmed by how little they know me. Even though they all think they have me figured out, they haven’t even begun to chip the surface with what they know about me. They only know what information I have volenteered, and they couldn’t be bothered to ask for more. They are far to busy telling me about their life to be bothered with mine.

    So I just let them assume. It’s not like I act like I’m someone else, if asked I’ll give an honest anwser. I just pretend to be a happier more confident version of myself. Because I know that they’re all far too busy to put my broken peices back together. And rather than expose myself to them I simply choose to pretend that there are no broken peices to be picked up. I can just put myself back together on my own, in private, where I can cry myself to sleep every night without them ever suspecting a thing. One day I will be okay again and I won’t have to pretend anymore. And no one will ever know the difference.

    • says

      Jess, this is a vivid portrait of loneliness. That’s what I thought and felt as I wrote it–the pain of never being fully seen. For me this piece raises the question of what is a friend–and what it means to risk intimacy and being seen. As you clearly state here, not everyone deserves our trust or cares enough to see beneath our facade. But that doesn’t mean someone can’t or won’t. You deserve to have people in your life–at least one–who truly, deeply sees you. It can transform your life–being seen and honored for who you really are.

    • Ilana says

      Stunning Jess. This is beautifully written and the sentiment resonates so strongly with me that at one point I asked, “Is she reading my mind?” I am sorry that you feel this pain but so grateful that you shared it with me. Thank you for that, Ilana

    • MaryL says

      Jess, what a lyrical, juicy(SARK) retelling of where you are. This reminds me of the old question, If you really knew me, would you still love me? I know that the real ME, the one in my heart and soul, has rough edges, doesn’t play to the crowd, prefers quiet to silliness, sometimes bursts with choked up anger. Finally, finally, I can say that I really do not care what others think of me, as long as I am OK with myself. … another tale. Thank you! MaryL

  6. Sheila McGinley says

    I have stolen things. And from people who have been kind to me, people who I loved. I didn’t steal jewelry from stores, or cars on the street. I stole a music tape that I never listened to, a piece of cheesecake from my friend’s kitchen, the husband of another friend (although I never thought I meant anything to him). Once, a friend loaned me her car and when I got a scratch on it, I didn’t offer to fix it. When I broke up with a boyfriend, I moved away with his prized Scrabble board in my car. A wealthy friend loaned me $400 and I only paid back $200. And I did not know why.

    I do not approve of people who steal. I am contemptuous of thieves. I used to give my daughter a hard time for stealing flowers from a yard to bring home to me. Those close to me have been victims of theft. and so I am indeed intolerant of thieves. And yet, I stole. I did not admit to it, even to myself, even if I was caught.

    When I was younger, I stole time and feeling from the therapist who saved my life. It was my secret, that I dragged and begged extra minutes from her, sometimes an extra hour on the phone. often raging when I did. No one knew. The more she helped me, the worse it got. She was wonderful. She saved me. And I stole from her the only thing that mattered: the understanding that she gave so freely to me.

    I don’t steal anymore, haven’t for many years. Being caught was definitely not what made me stop. People sometimes found out and were angry at me, but all that brought with it was shame and self-defense. I did not know what made me stop, but one day I just did. Looking back, I know what it was. The therapist who saved my life suddenly stopped working with me one day, probably for an unrelated craziness of her own, but what I knew then was that I had taken too much from her, demanded too much, like a spoiled and devouring child. The loss of her was total, the blame was mine and I walked the streets all night for months, not caring at all if I was safe on those late nights in the city. Not caring if I lived. And when I was done walking, I stopped stealing.

    In time, I understood that this woman had been more than a therapist to me. It was as if I had lost my family and all of my lovers in the same car wreck, but I had been driving the car. I had sucked her dry and I didn’t know why. I sucked everyone dry and I didn’t know why. After the mourning eased, after I stopped walking, I knew that I would survive. But what was there to do but hate myself for it?

    I learned to live again after I stopped stealing, despite the hatred. But for a long time, I watched myself very carefully, looking for signs that it would happen again. Sometimes I would come close, but soon I was able to tell because it would come on me when I felt as if I were feeling nothing, felt as if I were sleepwalking. I remembered that getting caught would fill me with rage and relief. I could not know, no matter how hard I tried, what the stealing, the being caught, meant to me.

    Years passed, and I found myself working in my office with a young boy who had lost his family at a very young age. He did not remember his first parents at all, and he lived in a loving family now, the only family that he had any memory of having. But they were constantly finding whole boxes of cookies in his pillowcase, crackers in his laundry basket, candy under the bed. The more they confronted him, the more things disappeared from the kitchen. In desperation, they tried giving him everything he wanted and so he stole things that he didn’t want. He got offended if they challenged him and would run away from home. After a year of working with him, one day he told me that he felt like he was sleepwalking when it happened, and that he did not understand why he would steal, that he felt both enraged and relieved when people caught him. I looked up, startled. I saw in front of me an orphan, this angry, sorrowful young boy who played football and was on the math team, a handsome boy who everyone loved. And I saw the thief. I saw me.

    It was years before I could fully admit to what I saw that day. Yes, of course I saw a boy who was so enraged, so sorrowfully without memory, a boy who had lost so much that it was unbearable to be loved by someone. I saw a boy who resented people having enough in themselves to have something to give. I saw jealousy and hunger that were quite simply impossible to bear.

    But that day, I now know, I also saw me. I saw how deeply the loss cuts in me when I am handed sympathy, love, admiration, a gift of any kind. I saw how it has filled me at times with meanness and anger and shame, so that all I have wanted to do was take, take. And once I took the thing I craved, I did not want it anymore. Once I took, I was empty. Once I took, I had spoiled that love. I had made garbage of the gift. I had made garbage of myself.

    I hadn’t understood, because right there in front of me was my family, the family that had always been mine, the family that loved me. But I was an orphan thief. For two years in the hospital, I had been abandoned. When I came back home, while they of course welcomed me joyously, they had also formed themselves into a family without me, had a history that was not mine. And for two years, too, while in the hospital, I had been loved and cared for by strangers who I came to love, this broken child. And each one who gave love to me also left at night to go to their own home, their own family. I was a raging, sorrow-filled, orphan thief. And this little boy in front of me that day reflected me in his eyes. How could i help him, how could i help anyone, when I was the same, or worse?

    Amidst the avalanche of emptiness, I was able to help him, only because he saw clearly that day what I knew. Then, somewhere along the way, as I got lost in loving my daughter, as I nursed my mother to her death with all the love and kindness I had ever been given by her, I stopped raging with greed and sorrow. I have had enough to give, enough to love. Sometimes just barely, but enough. I still do not trust myself, even now, that I have left it all behind. When I feel touched and loved by someone, I often feel fear, fear of what I may do. But slowly, slowly, I am learning to see that orphan thief more clearly, and with some kindness. I am learning how to stop sleepwalking, and how to forgive.

    • Sheila McGinley says

      Dear everyone, This is quite literally the story that has hidden for years. I don’t really feel that I have to ask this because I think it is a given among us, but please keep it here between us only. Thank you.

      • Ilana says

        Shelia- What an amazing story and so clearly rendered. I felt like I was right there. I rejoiced when you triumphed at the end. As far as not telling other people your story, I understand where you are coming from. I don’t even use my real name on this blog. I don’t care what people know Ilana wrote as long as no one connects it to me. You are safe here. Please, keep sharing. Ilana

    • Deb says

      Your story touches several raw nerves that show yet another story in me that I don’t want to share! Thank you for sharing.

    • says

      Sheila, this is powerful–both in the writing and in its raw, unfettered honesty. By writing it and posting it here, you have given more permission to everyone reading it to tell the hidden stories and truths that are so hard to admit–and commit to paper.

    • Polly says

      Sheila, this piece struck a chord in me, in a manner that I still don’t know how to express. I don’t know that I’ve stolen tangible things but I know what it is to “take, take”. This was eloquent and so honest, and beautifully told. I really appreciate it. Thank you.

  7. Deb says

    The story I want to hide.

    The story I want to hide is the one I find so difficult to talk about in counselling, it’s the paragraph at the end of my writing that I’m not ready to share, it’s the part I write and then delete before I print. It’s that nugget of “By the way” as I go out the door, out of time again!

    Why is it so hard to show this part of me? Why do I want to hide it?

    Because of the shame, because of the fear, because of the grief. The part I want to hide is about my father, I feel sick even typing this, even though he has been dead for 24 years I am still scared of what might happen if I start to talk about him. When he was alive I lived in fear of his anger, in fear that he would grab my arm with his massive hands and I would be caught, no way of getting away. I was scared that he would kill me, I was scared that if he found out my uncle had abused me, that I had let my uncle touch me, that he would kill me. Even though I have such horrible memories and nightmares from when I was little from what I think my father did to me.

    So the shame is about being abused and the anger is about my father finding out, but what about the grief, where does that come in? The grief is about never having the father that I wanted, never having a dad who loved me for me, who knew what I felt, loved, feared, dreamed of, and aspired to. A dad who was proud of my achievements, a dad who was there to help me achieve. He was none of these, he acted like he was proud but he couldn’t really be proud because he didn’t know who I was.

    Ps. I found this so hard even dropped my surname, forgetting my picture is there!

    • Sheila McGinley says

      I am totally with you on this one. Thank you for writing. I was going to drop my name too but didn’t know how. I guess we both took the prompt very seriously.

    • says

      Deb, thanks for the courage it took to write this. Just that step–committing it to the page and sharing it–is huge. I think sometimes the fact that you’re posting it here, rather than having to read it face to face with someone, makes it possible to share the really hard things.

      • Deb Mansell says

        Thank you Laura. Ironically this will now not be as difficult to share next Tuesday at counselling. Sharing here and getting that all important feedback and validation that I am not a monster gives me the strength to take it forward.

      • Deb says

        This is the paragraph at the end of my writing that I was too scared to share…….

        “In my nightmares he held me down he put his hand across my nose and mouth and told me to be quiet, to hush else I’d wake the baby,that mummy was with the baby. He pushed his hand between my legs, he put his huge hand right in the private part and rubbed, and it hurt.”

    • Ilana says

      Deb- Nice job. I know that had to hurt. Reading it I could feel your pain coming off of the page, almost physically. It is very well written, clear when you wanted us to have details and vague where they might have detracted from your message. I hope this was a healing step on your journey. Wishing you all the best, Ilana

    • Terry Gibson says

      Deb, I know how shaky it makes me feel to share these kinds of experiences with people. My cheeks burn hotly with embarrassment and shame and I instantly want to retract it–the post, not the truth. That can’t be done. Somehow I survive and continue to tackle the next thing on my path to healing. I applaud your courage and know that each step will make you a little bit stronger. I know that might offer little comfort right now but please try to hang on to that and whatever else works for you. You were and are not to blame; it was and is not your shame to bear.

      • Deb Mansell says

        Terry, thank you. I feel the hot tears of shame at the back of my eyes now. The shame that I have to work out with the head/heart connection because they don’t always agree.

        • Terry Gibson says

          Deb, that head/heart agreement can take awhile. Please remember that one-hundred percent of the time, the shame belongs with the abusers. You did nothing to be ashamed of, even if you feel that. Feelings aren’t right or wrong. They just are and their intensity goes up or down like the ebb and flow of the tides.

          • Deb Mansell says

            Tides are in my comprehension at the moment the feelings and the tears wash over me in waves, I feel great waves of grief almost knocking me off my feet and drawing me into the ocean. But I have you and my friends here and my counsellor and all my support holding me fast so I don’t drift off, allowing me to feel.

  8. Fran Stekoll says

    The story that is painful to tell is when I saw my oldest daughter masturbating as a baby. I didn’t understand what she was doing and I spanked her terribly hard to make her stop.

    As she grew up, I saw her becoming a beautiful child, she even won a contest at the age of 5 . Since I was confined to bed with our second child she became the Mother taking care of me , bringing in the paper, milk, and my lunch. She was very creative making her own jewelry, clothing, she even made a pair of shoes.

    She made all our clothes and when we had our drum corps, she made all the flags and uniforms for 150 kids from the ages of 8 to 18.

    As she aged, she had many relationships with many different men, She married at the age of 19, a nice young man who worked for his Father. She left him after a year saying she couldn’t stay as she thought he was too good for her. She moved to Hawaii and worked three jobs, modeling, sewing and accounting. It was there she met and married her second husband. They had three children. She later divorced him, and after running a day care center taking care of her children and her sister’s children, plus many others, she ended up marrying her sister’s husband and having two more children with him.

    After divorcing him, saying he didn’t communicate with her, even though he was a good provider, a fabulous Father, and cook and housekeeper, she began a string of relationships with crazy men. One was a sociopath, who threatened her life and that of her two younger sons.

    She’s now 58 and single, having many men.

    I wonder if my punishing her at that young age had anything to do with her sexuality, or could it have been when my Father-in law sexually abused her at the age of 6?

    I’ve never shared this before; but writing this now gives me some sense of relief.

    • says

      Fran, I’m sure it was hard to admit what you did to your daughter. Thank you for your courage and acknowledging this here publicly. I hope that the writing helps alleviate some of the mother guilt I sense so strongly in this piece.

    • Ilana says

      Fran- I found this piece so effective that I had to take some time to let it sink in before responding. It flows so well that I had no protection from the heart wrenching pain you express. Well done. I wish you peace. Ilana

    • Terry Gibson says

      Fran, thanks for sharing this. It took a lot of courage I know. I too have things that I hide because I think I can’t handle how others would feel about it, how I feel about it. I hope writing about it will help move you toward inner peace on it.

  9. Lucy says

    The story I want to hide.

    The story I want to hide is nestled within another story that I someday will tell. A story of change, love and acceptance.

    The story to tell is that my husband of 28 years, my high school sweetheart, a man that I’ve known since we were kids, has transitioned into a woman over the last two years. That is the story that I am hoping and need to write. One that I want to write once I get up the courage to do so.

    Yet the story I want to hide is how I lost myself in this process. While supporting my partner and loving this person so much to want her to be the person she/he truly is I lost myself somewhere along the way. Everything in my world has changed. My role as a wife, as a parent, as a daughter and as a sister. I question my sexuality and my femininity. I’ve resigned from my job, one which I didn’t realize was a huge part of my identity. My sanity has been shaken. My confidence in myself has diminished. I have spent so much energy in my family and in my marriage that I didn’t take care of myself.

    Now everything is back to normal. A new normal. My spouse and I are in love today as much as we were the day we were married. It has not been an easy transition and we faced many challenges together. Together we have weathered the storm.

    But today I feel like a stranger in a strange land. I don’t know what direction to take. I’m out of place.

    I don’t know who I am.

    • says

      Dear Lucy, Welcome to the Roadmap Blog. I honor your courage in bringing your story to us–especially as a first offering to this community. Your story is important, your perspective matters, and your point of view is one I have rarely seen put to paper. So I hope you tell it all and add a much needed voice to the literature of trans people–and the impact their change has on the people they love. I look forward to hearing and reading more from your unique point of view.

    • Terry Gibson says

      Lucy, welcome. I thank you as well for this story within a story. Your experiences, emotions, thoughts, and changing views on this topic are so relevant and, no doubt, have an eager and hungry audience (with other transgendered people first) and everyone else interested in and touched by such a transformation. I hope you share more here and look forward to reading it.

    • Diana says

      Lucy, this was a powerful piece. So often much attention is given to the person ungoing the gender transformation that the spouse and loved ones are forgotten. Your piece reminds us that people surrounding the person are ungoing a major transition as well. Thanks for sharing you story.

  10. Ilana says

    Laura- This prompt really pulled the pain out of so many of us. You really challenged us this week. I apologize if it sound presumptuous of me to say this but I am proud of our community for rising to that challenge. Ilana

  11. Diana says

    Now, Sorrow entered the Unit through heavy double doors, the hinges sending out a metallic click. The rhythm of his long stride and reverberating footsteps had sent us warning. An aura of misty soot preceded him as he crossed the threshold. We all tried to ignore him, busying ourselves with passing breakfast trays, greeting visitors, taking vital signs and transcribing orders. Whom had He come to visit today?

    Unperturbed, he settled into a chair, propping his booted feet at the Nurse’s station. He smelled of stale cigarette smoke, alcohol and sweet perfume. He lit a cigarette and the stench of Sorrow permeated the Unit.

    I pushed him aside to sit at a computer. The Charge Nurse reached over him for the phone and the rest of us busied ourselves in patient rooms. We were all wary of him. Who would he visit today? Sorrow crushed out his cigarette on the counter, lowered his feet and pushed back his chair, warning every one of his impending rounds. With the air of entitlement and confidence of a physician, he entered each patient’s room. Our sense of foreboding grew. He lingered at my patient’s bedside, circling her before settling in the windowsill. I smelled the cloying sweet, moist scent of Death. She will be joining us soon.

    I will not tell you the story of how my patient died that day. The horror of it would overwhelm you. You would look at me stricken and dumb. When you did find words again you would choke out, “I couldn’t do what you do.” Your tone would carry confused admiration and disgust. I will not say impassively, “You’re right. You. Couldn’t”.

    So I will not tell you the story of how she died that day. I will not tell you when I see you at the supermarket. I will not tell you when I see you at the gym. I will not tell you as we watch the children at soccer practice. I will not tell you when you call or Facebook me. The story is locked away in a dark vault on the night side of my soul. No, I will not tell you the story of how she died that day.

    • says

      Diana, I love the way you brought Sorrow in as a character–and Death as well. I’m teaching my summer retreat up at Commonweal right now, and just last night we did a whole class where we personified emotions just as you did.

      I also love the way you characterized what you cannot tell and what you cannot carry. I understand what it means to carry stories that cannot be told. I know at least some of the weight you carry.

      Here, too, last night, we talked about what different people do to let go of the unbearable they witness. I hope in your career, you have your own strategies to let go of what you see and hear and have to do everyday.

      • Diana says

        One of those strategies is learning to write about my experiences in away that maintains privacy yet gives expression of what I witness.

        Commonweal sounds fun. The personifying emotions exercise sounds awesome.

        • Sheila McGinley says

          Diana–Not only was this powerful (and I should mention I mean not just the emotions but the writing) but it resonated so much in me. Sometimes I feel as if I am filled up with stories that cannot be told, those of everyone I work with and then of course some of my own. So I felt like you spoke for me as well as yourself. I had a powerful reaction. Thank you.

          • Diana says

            Shelia, I so know that felling of being “filled up” with untold stories. Thank you for expressing that this piece resonated for you.

    • Terry Gibson says

      Diana, this piece is electrifying in so many ways. Similar to others, over many years as a crisis worker, facilitator, friend, partner, sister, and decent, trustworthy person, I hold many stories within that I will take to my grave. That is inviolable, as is your desire to share that story under any condition at all. Thanks for this incredible writing which has left an indelible imprint on my brain and heart.

    • Ilana says

      Diana- Your descriptions always keep me engrossed. By giving sorrow a personality, smell and his own idiosyncrasies you make him all the more palpable. Nice job. Ilana

  12. Polly says

    The story I want to hide is first of all a story of shame that I hold, on so many levels. I have started the exhaustive process of eliminating and releasing my shame, but I sense that this will be a long road.

    The abuse I endured started when I was a small child, and I am increasingly becoming more secure in the awareness that it lasted well into my teens. The shame is deep there. I was old enough that I technically could have gotten up and left, or not gone to my brother’s apartment in the first place. Granted, when I was 16, he was 30, and he was strong. I don’t think I even tried to fight back. I had a conversation with my therapist about this recently, and she helped me to see that he had groomed me as a small child, and that each time he molested me, I was brought back to the initial time. I was no more equipped to fight him at 16 than I was at 6. When she told me it wasn’t my fault – and she had to tell me more than once – I felt as though I had just heard the most important words of my entire life so far. The tears I need in response to that still have not come, but the knowledge and the subsequent relief are filling my core.

    I feel the need to hide my vulnerability and my feelings of weakness and powerlessness for the moment. A select few phenomenal people are holding me up when I scarcely feel capable of doing that myself. I try to act as though I can handle anything and everything. I want to project a stoicism that doesn’t exist. I want to make it all look easy.

    I am terrified that those around me will soon discover that I am faking it. It’s starting to feel as though that is taking place, and I’m not sure if that’s real. I’m so scared that if I make one wrong move, the jenga tower I have meticulously built will come crumbling down around me. I need my job, my home, my marriage, my security, my family, and my friends. I need my image.

    I think I might have ended my stress leave prematurely. I am not performing to the best of my ability now. I think others might be starting to notice. I’m worried that my house of cards will fall. And I certainly can’t show all my cards.

    The story I want to hide is one of shame. I want to be stellar, outstanding … at least successful. I fear being on the brink of failure. The worst shame now would be for the world to find out that after all this time, and all these second chances, I still have not done well enough.

    The choices I make are frequently not smart enough – it’s actually embarrassing.
    I occasionally self-medicate. Sometimes being numb is easier, but again, it brings about shame. It stops now.

    I want to hide the fact that I experience an unbelievable number of triggers every day. The most seemingly innocuous things send me reeling. I constantly have to ground myself. I can’t try to make others bend over backwards to make me feel safe. I just have to get myself there, over and over again.

    The story I would like to tell is one that might be more true; one I might deserve. I have gotten this far with my integrity and the strength of my core generally intact. I feel so weak yet I have the strength to get up every day and to power through the muck. Somehow I am still alive to tell this. Somehow I can still look in the mirror and thank myself.

    None of this is easy. This has perhaps been the most difficult year of my adult life – a year of remembering and acknowledging the pain. It’s also a year of acknowledging my survival. If I’m able to continue keeping myself strong enough, maybe I can honour that.

    • says

      Polly, thanks so much for your honest sharing. I am in full accord with what your therapist told you–you may as well have been six when you walked into your brother’s place.

      In this piece, you capture so well in your piece the yawning gap between what you feel on the inside and what you project on the outside. I know it feels like the world would end if you ever let the house of cards fall, but in terms of learning who truly loves you and is there for you–and your deepest healing–it may be that someday that house of cards has to come down, so you can rebuild from the ground up on a solid foundation.

    • Terry Gibson says

      Polly, I see so much of my current life and feelings in what you express here. For what it’s worth, I have a video tape of me being questioned by the Ontario Police years ago. After each break, I’d return to the room, sit down, suck in a deep breath and almost physically restrain myself–to hold my emotions tight. This was in the seconds just before they came back, closed the door again, and started up the camera once more. The prospect of doing it any other way was outrageous; I was terrified of what would happen if I did and just let it all out. After about fourteen hours, I spilled it and collapsed crying, but eventually was okay. I know how terrifying it feels. I could not have been more scared in my life! I wanted to add that your writing reflects some of the things I admire about you like your strength, tenacity, and the energy behind the commitment you’ve made to Polly, to that lovely soul inside your skin. So glad you’re here, as I will be.

      • Polly says

        Thank you, Terry. I love that even your replies to posts on here are in a sense poetic, like your pieces. Thanks for validating what I had to say, for empathizing, and for your absolutely caring words and compliments.

    • Ilana says

      Polly- This is so full of power and courage, raw honesty. I think that when you are through this journey so many of us are on you may want to consider sharing this piece more widely. It could be so helpful to our younger sisters, so to speak, those who have not yet begun the journey. Congratulations on turning your pain into something so eloquent and strong. Ilana

      • Polly says

        Ilana, thank you so much. If I ever decided to share this more widely, I think it would need some tweaking. A lot of tweaking. What a great compliment though! I would have to get your feedback on it first :)

        It’s really nice to hear from you. Be good to yourself.

  13. Terry Gibson says

    The Story I Want to Hide – First Draft

    There are several stories I want to hide but have no time for that luxury.
    I always wait, half-holding my breath, expecting an explosion. My forehead goes pale and my cheeks flush as I balance precariously on a faulty scaffold. Several times a day, I imagine the inevitable. I see word getting out at internet speed that I’m: faking it, scattered, a failure, not smart enough, weak, a wasted life, too smart for my own good, feeble-minded, lazy, not grounded in reality, too loud or quiet, a klutz, complicit, not good enough, unfocused, guilty, untrustworthy, oversexed, too good, someone to be avoided, sleazy, a potential problem, filthy, a prude, damaged, undersexed, embarrassing, a whore, disgusting, totally crazy, a slut, and/or not scarred enough for what I’ve been through.

    The truth is: I am none of these things. The challenge I posed to myself in writing my memoir is rooted in tearing down the very foundation of the lies, stereotypes and societal truths, I fell prey to, as do other vulnerable, secluded (like I was) girls and women.

    Those words didn’t just fly in on today’s exhaust-laced breeze. Grain of truth? Right here. I call myself and have been called all of those things before. Through tears, I tie up in knots and clench my teeth at the prospect of ever being so charged again. It’s not terrifying because I’ll run away and cower; it scares me because I won’t.

    I hide all of this, of course. Sometimes I keep these secrets so well, people don’t really believe I am an insecure mess. They view me as calming, gentle, and well-composed. I am most of the time but inside my bones chatter on.

    I keep on quaking because of another part of the story I want to hide, a vital component in my memoir. This, I am afraid of not surviving. That’s a chilling thing for me to say and my forearms tremble as they rest on this desk while I write. I feel my facial muscles tighten and my eyes grow weary. My throat is dry and constricts as I try to swallow. Even on a glass of water.

    Every day I star in a battle between my intellectual and emotional selves. Is it necessary? Yes. Why? It just is. Are you trying to revictimize and traumatize yourself? Not really, although that is an inevitable side effect of completing this book. It’s not safe to do it then. If I don’t tell this story, no matter how fraught with pain, I will feel that I let myself and others down. I won’t ever complete what I was put here on earth to do. Fake it ’til you make it, they say.

    The hiding goes on out of necessity. I work with the therapist in my head and practice visiting the world where everybody knows. What will they think of me? Do I care and why? Your book isn’t a confession and penance.

    You did nothing wrong! You were a child who was traumatized over and over and over again.

    There’s no real urgency to this but you, Terry, don’t have to hide at all, anymore. Not ever.

    • says

      Terry, you’re so eloquent.

      I guess the one thing I thought about as I read this was whether you need to publish every bit of your story or not. It may that for your own healing and integration, you need it witnessed and heard and written. But not every single thing has to go “in the book.”

      I know there are definitely things I’ve written that I’ll never publish. That doesn’t necessarily mean I didn’t face them. I did. I just made a choice that confronting then was a private triumph, not a public one.

      Just food for thought. Your book is not a test of your character. It’s a story you get to craft however you want. You choose the emphasis, the focus, what goes in and what stays out. As you said in your piece, it’s not a confession. What we’re aiming for is literature.

      • Terry Gibson says

        Message received, Laura. Will think into overtime on these things. Thanks! Ultimately, my goal is to produce literature as well. I’m curious. How would you define the word? Scotland is getting so close now. I can hardly sleep, I’m so excited.

    • Diana says

      Terry, I love how you listed all the labels and names you were given. While we try not to incorporate these labels we so often come to embody them. Labels put on us as children often become the script of our adult lives. I love the empowerment of “I am none of these things.” I hope you have a wonderful and productive time in Scotland.

    • Polly says

      You are a gifted writer and a phenomenal human being. And you’re right: you don’t have to hide. Thanks for having the courage to share this with us. Looking forward to reading that memoir someday.

    • Ilana says

      Terry- This is so well written. Even the first paragraph is artfully rushed. I could feel the pace changing and that made me more a part of your writing. I also love the end where you give yourself permission not to feel an urgency and not to hide. Beautiful. Ilana

  14. Bobbie Anne says

    The story I most want to hide, but didn’t, is that I was sexually assaulted. Yes, I hid it in the beginning, because I, the victim, blamed myself. Now I know that I am a survivor. The rapist is an former police officer who was in the health field. He isn’t anymore. I was instrumental in helping to get his license suspended He can’t practice in my state any more and hasn’t for nine years.

    Actually, this is cause for celebration since now he can’t bother anyone else.

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