Helping Break the Code of Silence, One Tiny Brick at a Time

I have written about the Code of Silence as it relates to PSU, and in Tuesday’s guest post, my friend and fellow blogger, Dawn Sticklen, has written about how it has affected her community.  What I have not written about is how it has affected (and still affects) me.

I don’t like my own story. So I create ones in which I do not feel weak and disempowered. In Ripple, I create a fairy tale: a father rapes his 15-year old daughter, Phoebe.  Phoebe’s mother, though failing to prevent the abuse, protects Phoebe from FUTURE harm as soon as she finds out about the abuse.  And in helping Phoebe heal, Helen, a workaholic lawyer, finds redemption for failing to protect Phoebe.  No one is perfect in Ripple, but action and disclosure breaks the silence.

This isn’t about me.  It’s about what’s been done to so many others by so many. I know it’s done. But they can’t let go of it. They churn it over again and again in therapy.  They like to think they’ve healed, but time is an uncertain companion, just as the abuse we suffer. Some of us get over it quickly. Others bury it until it haunts them. Some thrive. Some suffer.

The worst thing is it’s ugly.  Either an abuse victim is telling lies, or their abusers committed great harm. sins.  No one who wasn’t abused, and even some people who were abused, wants to believe that there is evil in our world.

I told a friend the logline from Ripple, and she asked me if the story was realistic.  “Do fathers really rape their daughters?”  Yes, my friend, they do.  Parents abuse their children all the time, in more ways than one.  It’s ugly, and messy and confusing to hear someone’s story, but it’s even uglier and messier and confusing to tell your own story.  The only thing worse than telling your story is to face the disbelief of others.

That’s what abuse victims face, readers, when they try to break the Code of Silence.

P.S. I couldn’t leave this on a sad note, not after watching some good news on NBC.  Earlier today, Kayla Harrison became the first American to win a gold medal in Judo.  Kayla was sexually abused when she was a 13 year old girl by an ex Judo coach.  And yet, she triumphs.  She is, my friends, a Rebel Thriver.

54 Comments on “Helping Break the Code of Silence, One Tiny Brick at a Time

  1. Brave, honest and I hope somewhat cathartic post my friend. It is hard to experience the disbelief of others. Our pasts are so honest and raw that they are too much for some. That doesn’t mean they aren’t true.

    I love you El. Your strength, your honestly, your courage and your determination to keep on growing.

    Run on, and find your ocean <3

  2. Reading this post reaffirms my belief that my mom will always be the greatest mom in the world for just this one reason: when I finally told her what was happening she didn’t hesitate to remove me from the situation (at 2 o’clock in the morning) nor did it ever occur to her to not believe me. She changed my life that night and I will always be grateful. This is also the reason why I decided to stand up so strongly for other victims: they need to know someone believes them.
    Stay strong my friend, stay strong.

    • I’ve met so many people whose parents/families did not respond like this and it, too, has made me grateful for my mom’s instantaneous, unwavering belief and immediate action. I am more and more grateful for this the more disbelief and disregard I have witnessed.

      • I am almost ashamed to admit that I didn’t realize the importance of what she did until recently. Too many people live in fear, and this clouds their judgement. My mom says she left out of fear of staying, I say she did it because she was strong enough and wise enough to acknowledge the reality of that fear and unwilling to have it rule her life.

        • Amen to what both of you wrote above. And this disbelief really fueled the way I wrote the main character, Helen–only after writing it did I realize that Helen was the mom I wish I’d had–replete with faults, but acting without hesitation once she learned what had happened. I am so, so happy that both of you were blessed by fast-acting, clear thinking moms. xo

  3. Like you, I thought that what went on at home was how things were for everyone. To this day, I have very few memories – for 60 years. Not sure what happened before college, but at that point the was drinking till I’d black out. I love you, El. You offer me a hand and an example to overcome that which I cannot name. I do not even know how much molestation occurred, or at whose hands.
    Keep speaking, writing, publishing and shining the light on the Truth.

    • Trece:

      It amazes me that we lose our memories through this weird amnesia. I spent years trying to piece it all together . . . thinking that if only I could grasp hold of each tendril of thought, I could figure it all out. I’ve been able to heal despite not having all the pieces. But I do wish I’d uncovered them all.

      I love you Trece. And whenever I see your gravatar, I always smile.



  4. El, this post was very powerful for me. In fact, it just helped me make a major decision on how to handle a similar situation in my life. Stand your ground. Don’t let the guilt sway you. Unfortunatly your family member is an enablers – i have those people on my life too. “You’ve just got to overlook those things and accept they for who they are … They are your family … Come on and ease up …. You’r being too hard on them, etc.” I’ve heard it all, El. I really think God puts people in front us to help push us along if we are having a hard time making positive changes. That’s what you’ve done for me here today. More to discuss off line. Blessings to you!

    • Oh gosh Stephanie: to hear that it helped you make a decision on how to handle something similar in your own life makes this whole thing I’m going through feel worthwhile.

      Yes–I’ve been hearing the exact same things. There are messages on my answering machine waiting to be heard. My husband will have to listen to them. It’s his family.

      We must stand our ground. I agree. 100%.

      And God puts us here for a reason, yes. I’m so glad you’re in my life.

      Blessings to you my friend. And I’m offline any time you want to talk.


  5. Dear El,

    I can relate to the choice you made to ‘bid your birth family farewell’. Only recently I had to make that choice and did so without hesitation. Luckily for me it was only one rotten branch of the tree and I didn’t need to explain it to anyone. (The one person I did tell thought I was over reacting.) The reasons are different but are rooted deep in toxic human hearts and I made the decision to cut the cancer from my life. I have not looked back.

    Friends are the family we choose to have. You are wise beyond your years from weathering storms no one should have to experience. The way ahead will be easier as the the course you’ve charted takes you farther from old rocks and shoals of your previous shores.

    May you and your children have fair winds and following seas for the remainder of your voyage. I have no doubts about the character and skill of their Captain.

    Smooth sailing.



    • Doug,

      As usual, your response left me with warm fuzzy feelings. You strike me as a remarkable man–and this, just based on our online correspondence. Your goodness comes through via the words you type, you know?

      I agree re your definition of family, and I’m finding as time passes how blessed I am with friends who are now forming both a part of me and a part of my *real* family.

      I hope we visit Hawaii one day, just so that my crew and I can wave Aloha at you in person.

      Thank you for your support.



  6. El! This is powerfully awful stuff. Having people doubt your truth, well…you and I both know that is part of the reason why people do not report abuse when it occurs. They are afraid of not being believed.

    As a person fortunate enough to have read your 1st draft of RIPPLE, it is a beautiful story of women helping other women heal.

    I am thinking of you and that email you had to write to explain yourself. Just keep doing what you do to PROTECT your children. Love them and trust yourself!

    • Thank you so very much Renee! And yes, absolutely, this is why far too many people don’t report abuse. I believe, however, that this will change. In time. And for all of the e-mails that have not been written, I hope that many more men and women will be able to write these notes as time passes and more of us speak out. xoxo

  7. I love you, your compassion and strength are a constant source, a deep well. There are days when I stand in your shadow simply to gain a space to breath, this is one of those days.

    There will always be those who think we should do something other than what we have chosen for ourselves, to heal and grow strong; because they weren’t there and they failed to stop our abuse. My answer? ‘F’ them and ‘F’ their opinion. I have a few of these in my own life and while in some cases I love them, I have finally said they must either back down and respect my decision or they must close the door.

    I could feel your heart beating as I read this. I wanted to hug you.


    • Val:

      Aw, my friend, thank you so, so very much!! It made me feel very loved — that last thing you wrote about my heart beating. And I gotta agree with you: fuck them, fuck them, and fuck them lol. But seriously, unless they wear my dirty running shoes all day, they have no right to criticize the road I’ve chosen!!

      So much love and gratitude to you for your love and support!!



  8. Having to defend yourself and your truth is abuse all over again. Oh, I’ve been there…trying to get certain family members to understand, to believe. I’ve even had someone say, “Just get over it.” Huh? Stay strong, dear friend! And if you feel that resolve weaken, reach out to your friends who will lift you up until your strength returns. You are not alone on this ongoing journey.

    • Carrie: it is always so reassuring to see your name, both here, and elsewhere. And yes, the unimaginably callous phrase, “Just get over it” is a shocker, one that makes me heart hurt. :Sigh: Still shaking my head!

      As far as staying strong–aye. Thank you so much for being one of the people I can turn to when I feel not so strong.



  9. WOW. Just Wow! (((HUGE HUGS))) El. Although my abuse as a young child was not as severe, it was more molestation than rape, etc., the memories and the pain are still there… I applaud you with both of my hands and feet, not only for mustering up the courage to write this awesome blog post, but for having the courage and strength to do whatever it takes to protect your own children from experiencing any kind of abuse, whether sexual, mental, emotional, or whatever, from the same hands. KUDOS to you, my friend! I swear, I love you MORE and MORE every time I hear from you! Blessings, much LOVE and HUGE HUGS, my friend! You ARE AMAZING and FABULOUS and a WONDERFUL FRIEND! xoxoxoxo ♥♥♥

    • Dear Sheri!! I’ll take those hugs and return them, my friend!!! And with one of those huge grins of mine as well. As far as your abuse: two things. First, I am so sorry hun. And second, all abuse is abuse . . . a dear friend once explained to me, when I felt as if her abuse was much worse than mine, that “pain is pain,” and that my pain was just as real as hers. So I wanted to pass that along to you, with love.

      Ah, thank you so very much for your kind words!! And I love you more every time I read your comments, both here, and on the pages of our mutual friends! Thank you, thank you so very much Sheri!!! xoxoxo!!

  10. I think that you are braver and stronger than you give yourself credit for! <3 You handled this situation extremely well and the way you should have. I'm not sure I could have done that but it was definitely the right way to deal with it. <3

  11. Wow, El. You’re a pretty tough chick.

    “I like to think I’ve healed, or at least I’m on my way.” I think you’re doing just fine. I hope your family starts respecting your wishes.

    • Aw, Thoughtsy, thank you so much!! I love to be seen as a tough chick!!

      And my MIL wrote me back and apologized, which felt pretty good. In the past, I would have just hid from the situation.

      Have a wonderful Sunday and thanks for stopping by!!

  12. I shared this on my personal page, with a memory it immediately evoked.

    When my cousin died in a gun accident a decade ago, I didn’t attend his funeral. It wasn’t that I didn’t mourn him; very much the opposite. It was that my dad’s family is toxic and I felt it would be better to mourn privately than be awash in that toxicity. I later ran into my cousin’s mom at the mall; she ranted and railed against my mom, blaming my mom for my decision not to attend the funeral. I appreciated her sadness, but quietly said that the choice was my own. As long as she and my dad’s family continued to nurture the delusion that my MOM was the abuser, I could not be a part of their gatherings or lives. Fortunately, Nick and Rachael were at the mall with me and quietly reassured me that was it. It was done.

    Occasionally I still run into someone who says that blood family is more important than anything–abuse, neglect and all. That is fine for them to believe, although I pray any young lives entrusted to them do not suffer for their choices. What is not fine is for them to tell me, or others who have suffered abuse, is that we need to behave as THEY think we should.

    No. It’s my choice to devote my time to building love, truth, and safety, not embracing some ridiculous concept of “family” that doesn’t encompass all the people who share no blood with me but are absolutely my family. I choose safety. I choose honesty, accountability and love–not cruelty, endless excuses and indifference. I thank the people who have redefined family for me, and applaud El for this beautiful blog, and her actions as described within it.

    I hate that your sense of safety was compromised, but I loved how clearly, eloquently and powerfully you responded, no matter how you felt as you did so. You set a beautiful example, my friend.

  13. I applaud you for setting boundaries to keep your children safe. I can’t say I understand, becasue those are shoes one must walk in to understand, but I agree that your duty is to your children and yourself. Other than that, whom you let in your circle is entirely up to you. Stay strong, my friend!

    • Thank you so much Lisha, for your kind and supportive words!! I was thinking of you earlier today, as I walked past my Crape Myrtle in the front yard. I never asked you what happened last week — I reckon I should ask in a PM and not here–but I’ve been worried about you. xoxo

  14. Wow. Tears. Fears. I pray for strength for you and I sometimes forget that I am not so alone in this. xo

  15. Reblogged this on The Monster in Your Closet and commented:
    My sister’s recent post about breaking the silence has been on my mind almost constantly since she posted it a few weeks ago. This post is also beautiful, and touches on another subject near and dear to my heart: the meaning of “family.”

    Please read through the comments on El’s post for the very specific memories and thoughts this evoked for me.

  16. Wow, El. An amazing story of strength. Yes, strength. As a person who was never abused, I hope that I have learned some sensitivity from this post.

    (I had lost the subscription to your blog. Thank Deborah above for reblogging.)

    • Aw, thanks so much Elyse!! And I’m so happy to see you here!! I also really appreciate what you wrote above. I don’t write about this stuff with anger, but I sure do hope that more people can understand the story survivors tell, because that helps prevent more abuse AND it helps those who survived get the support we need to thrive.

      Have a great Sunday!!

  17. I came here from Deb’s site, and I’m glad I made the trip. While I was lucky enough to have a “normal” childhood (anyone who knows me will balk at EVER calling me “normal” 😉 ), I was also lucky enough to have parents who acknowledged that other kids didn’t have that normalcy. I knew a couple kids growing up who had various forms of abuse in their lives, and my parents explained it so that I could recognise what their “problems” were, and why they acted the way they did. If only more parents would at least acknowledge that not all “happy homes” are happy.
    Very well done, El. 🙂

    • John!!! Welcome!!

      I’m grateful that you made the trip as well! And I am so happy that you had a normal childhood (grinning about the balking at the word “normal,” which really is terribly overrated, LOL). And I love that you grew up with such a fantastic set of parents. The first step to overcoming a difficult past is facing it, eh?

      Welcome aboard, new friend!!


  18. El, like John I came from Deb’s site and am glad I made the trip. I’ve never seen so many comments on a blog written by people who really know the blogger. You sound like you’ve not only made difficult and good decisions to save your own life, and keep your children safe, but that in the process you’ve become a rock for the people around you who are fortunate enough to call you friend. I haven’t yet read Ripple–frankly, I was a bit nervous to read it–but I admire that you turned your own traumatic experience into a book that can provide insight and help others see their way through the storm. Thank you for sharing your most intimate pains with us.

    • Hello Culture Bean!! I’m so happy you made the trip over here as well!! Deb is one of my closest friends; she’s also one of the writers I enjoy reading the most, so it was a real honor that she reblogged my post.

      That is such a kind thing you wrote re the comments above. I am blessed to have a very real set of friends that have become a family and a support network for me. Many of the people are indeed friends and this, as much as the chance to get paid for what I love doing, has made this whole writing gig incredibly rewarding!

      Ha! Ripple can be a tough read in places, but it’s all about hope and redemption, and it has light, happy moments and a happy ending–like a fairytale. My husband was one of my beta readers, and when he struggled to get through the harder scenes, I told him to skim them and skip ahead. That might sound like crazy advice coming from a writer, but I do the same when I’m editing it and I can’t handle the serious, sad stuff. Grin.

      Ah–it’s not out yet. I spend far too much time gabbing for a writer (grinning).

      And thank you so much for listening!


  19. It is so sad to me to contemplate that this is the reality of family for so many children. My heart breaks for little El, but celebrates the strength she has found as an adult. You are so right – you MUST protect your children, despite family pressure to kiss and make up. That is a parent’s highest duty.

    • Oh dear Peg! I thought I had replied to your note above but the swirly thing must have captured my response. Thank you so much for your compassion for little El, and for your kind thoughts re Big El. Thank you so much.

      A few days have passed and I feel a lot better now. The relative who had sent me the e-mail apologized really sincerely and I felt just a tad stronger at the end of it all.

      Big smiles at you.

  20. So glad you persisted when link didn’t work last night El and that you found me. Think it’s working now … fingers crossed. At least photo links to right place. Thanks too for subscribing to my blog at Vigaland as I have to yours. I want to locate all the others like us who are writing blogs and/or books on this subject so I can add links to them all from my Vigaland Blog. Can you help me with that? Message me privately via FB or through here, whichever you wish. Thanks El

  21. Darling El, I waited to read this post, knowing after reading the first paragraph that I would need to be in a (good, safe or just alone?) place, and I was right. I write with tears my friend, for once again you articulate feelings and experiences trapped in my own psyche. I struggle so with sharing my own story, and rationalize that it is not really necessary. But the silence has power. My family doesn’t truly understand, and rejects the person I need to be – rejection based in ignorance, yes, but no less painful. And so at times I want to shout my story, tell the world about the true evil that exists around us… yet hide in a corner hugging my knees, knowing the pain that sharing can bring to everyone. I know that the silence empowers shame, and I must focus and connect with the healing and strength that can bloom, and not fear the rejection or anger (including fear of my own anger once released). You are an inspiration, a stronghold, charging ahead of me on the path, shining a light into the darkness, and I am so thankful.

    • My dear friend: I did not know. Thank you for telling me. I have so many thoughts on this issue, but what I mostly feel is love–love for you, and admiration for what you’ve become. I am so sorry for the feelings and experiences that are trapped inside your psyche. I understand your struggle.

      For two years in therapy, I swore (well, not against God–you know what I mean, right?) that I did not need to confront my birth family. I tried, years ago, to ask my mom about it, and she just said that my brother was a horny bastard. Sigh. I know they won’t believe me, and THAT kept me silent for years.The thing is, I didn’t have a big confrontation. I couldn’t bear that sort of pain. But I did not need to. They’re not on trial. They got off easy. And it still scares me–what will they say when they find my writing?

      Well, they will say I am lying. That I am insane. But you know what? I’m free. I’ve made it out. And no, it won’t make a difference in their lives but speaking the truth has made a difference in my own. It was hard, and I understand thinking it doesn’t matter. But you do matter, and so do your feelings and experiences. You have a story.

      I only told mine out of desperation. I was falling apart. Turning all of that pain and anger against myself. The thing is, the anger that you speak of was much more dangerous when I stuffed it. Now that I am expressing it, I have found it is a lot less scary and a ton less harmful to me than keeping it all trapped within. And I am proud of myself. Wow. I am.

      Thank you for that last sentence. Words like that give me the strength and the courage I need to keep riding forward. You will do what is right for you when you do it.

      And whatever you do, just know that you are loved. By me, and by so many others.

      • Thank you so much, El. I LOVE that you are able to be proud of yourself – that is such a delight to me! I treasure you, and the friends that I find with like minds, gentle hearts, and kindred spirits. They become my family. I think I am experiences new layers of my onion, new steps in healing, places in me that I thought were healed now bubbling up like tar. I do need to remember that wherever I am today is exactly OK. xoxo