This is My Secret and I’m Setting It Free

It all started with a book.

I checked out a textbook on feminism from the library. In it, there was a section on the effects of trauma on children, specifically young girls.

A part of my mind that I had so carefully kept hidden suddenly had a light pointed at it. I started to look back at the timeline of my experience. The pieces fell into place.

I was seven. I was in second grade. My sister had recently been diagnosed with a lifelong metabolic disease. A three-year-old with a disease meant a lot of doctor’s appointments my parents didn’t want to drag me to. So I was left with a sitter. A family member. Really, another child.

That’s when something happened to me.

Like any seven-year-old, I didn’t really understand what was happening, but I knew that it was something I shouldn’t tell anyone about. I learned much later that most kids don’t.

When I think about it now, I see it from a third-person perspective, like you might imagine God sees your life happening.

In third grade, my school recommended I attend anger management classes. I had a habit of stomping my feet. It probably seemed like I was acting out because my sister got so much more attention than me.

By fourth grade, I needed a bra.

In fifth grade, I got my period. I was ten.

At some point I started eating my meals in a specific way. I had to eat one food at a time. Later, I learned that this is called serial eating. My family thought it was quirky. We laughed about it. I did this well into my adult life.

In sixth grade, I couldn’t go to sleep at night if I didn’t do a few very specific things before bed. I’d lie there tense, sure that something terrible would happen to my family if I didn’t get out of bed and go through the motions. One day, I realized that if anyone at school ever found out, I’d be made fun of endlessly. I decided that day that I would not do those things anymore. And I didn’t.

There are many family stories of a confident and funny little girl named Jessica. I don’t remember being that child. I remember being a child riddled with anxiety and fear that only got worse as I got older.

As I grew into my first adult relationship, we had arguments. We were young and full of fire. I could not bear to be touched in these moments. He wanted to hug me to convey to me that he loved me despite whatever it was we were arguing about. The more he tried to hold me, the more violent I became. I would do anything to get away from him in those moments.

Third-person perspective. Anger. Early puberty. An eating disorder. Anxiety. An aversion to being touched when I am upset. Relationship problems. These are all known and documented effects of a major, early trauma. I thought I was just crazy, that I just had a screw or ten loose.

Until I read that book, that was my truth.

As time went on, I avoided thinking about what had happened to me. I avoided the person who did it to me the best I could, which was hard to do, because you know who shows up to family gatherings? Family. Even the family that has done something to you.

I thought I could bury my secret and leave it forever. The thing about secrets, though, is that the more we try to hide them, deny them, and pretend they don’t exist, the more they own us.

After another explosive argument, I had to tell my fiancé. He sat next to me on our bed as I tried to tell him. I wanted to, but I couldn’t. I started to cry. I couldn’t breathe. He waited, and he waited. Finally, after what felt like hours, I was able to choke out, “Something happened to me.”

From there, I couldn’t say more. I was too upset. He asked me yes-or-no questions, and I nodded or shook my head to answer them. He cried. I cried. It was exhausting.

For a while, I was relieved to have told someone. I thought that was enough. It was no longer just my secret.

It wasn’t that simple, though.

I want to enjoy time spent with my family. I don’t want to feel alone. I want a do-over. I want to go back in time—to know who I might have turned into if something hadn’t happened to me. I mourn the loss of that little girl, that potential self, that potential life.

I’m done avoiding, I’m done hiding, and I’m done keeping secrets.


Previously published:

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About the Author | Jessica Philo

Jessica Philo is a writer, introvert, and INFJ on a mission to help others. When she isn’t working her 9–5 desk job, she enjoys reading voraciously, writing about the experience of underemployment, and conquering her to-do list. A native of Phoenixville, PA, Jessica lives with her fiancé, Mack, and two dogs, Yogi and Pippa, in Pittsburgh, PA.

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