Our Little Secret

By Nicole Braddock BromleyApril 23, 2015

The following post contains themes of sexual assault. Please take caution when reading.

Think of your deepest, darkest secret – that one thing that makes your stomach churn and your palms sweaty when you imagine sharing it out loud. It’s that one secret you intend to carry to your grave.

Right now, too many people are thinking of sexual abuse.

For a long time, that was my secret too.

I grew up in a small town. Many considered me the “perfect girl” from the “perfect family.” I excelled as an athlete, student, artist, and leader. My life seemed ideal. But behind my bright hazel eyes, my super-achiever persona was masking a girl who was carrying the silent pain of childhood sexual abuse and afraid to tell. My silence, like the silence of so many survivors of abuse, helped hide the truth that sexual abuse is affecting millions of people just like you and me.

I believe childhood sexual abuse is one of the best-kept secrets in our world today. And I believe that breaking the silence is the key to healing. But it isn’t easy. If you have been abused, sharing your secret may very well be your biggest fear.

I know how you feel. It took ten years for me to find the courage to tell my mom that my stepfather had been sexually abusing me for nearly all of my childhood.

He silenced me in so many ways, telling me no one would believe me. He told me if anyone did find out about “our little secret,” my mom would hate me, divorce him, and I would never see her again.  I believed it was my responsibility to keep our family together. I had to protect my mom; I had to do whatever my step-dad wanted. I felt as if I had no choice…no voice. I was scared. I felt trapped. I was silenced.

I felt lost, ashamed, dirty, and broken. I not only needed rescue, but I needed hope. I needed to know that I was not alone, that my story mattered, and that the shame I felt wasn’t mine to carry.

But throughout much of my life, I wore that shame like an uncomfortable undergarment. It seemed I always knew it was there–closely covering my body, almost suffocating me at times, and affecting the way I felt every day. My shame not only stemmed from a childhood marred by the painful secret of sexual abuse, but also from the betrayal of my stepfather who abused me; I was ashamed of the false belief I had that it was my fault; and I was ashamed of the unhealthy ways I tried to cope. 

Shame is often rooted in lies we believe about ourselves. For an abuse survivor, it is especially entrenched in the lie that we are somehow to blame for the pain we have experienced. As a result, we are left feeling dirty, unloved, and afraid of what people would think about us if they knew our secret. 

And just as I tried to keep the secret of childhood sexual abuse hidden for years, I also tried to cover up the shame I felt. My outerwear consisted of coping mechanisms such as perfectionism and people pleasing–anything that would hide my shame from others and instead show them the person I thought they would love and accept. 

Finding the courage to tell my secret released me from the shame of my past and helped me embrace the future; it put me on a journey of healing where I discovered the freedom I’d been longing for. In sharing my story, I also realized I wasn’t alone. So many others began telling me their stories too, sparking healing in lives all around me!

I now understand the power in finding my voice. I no longer live with my childhood secret; instead, I share my story to empower others to share theirs and to prevent the cycle of abuse and injustice. The pain that I thought would end me actually had the potential to fuel my purpose in the world.

Ending something like sexual abuse, sex slavery, or the fact that an estimated 1 in 6 women will be the victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime will not just be about my voice—it is going to take each and every one of us choosing to not remain silent.

In my book “Hush: Moving from Silence to Healing After Childhood Sexual Abuse,” I write:

“If no one sheds light on what is being done in the darkness, it will never stop, and survivors will never know the truth that will set them free from the lies that keep them in bondage. Every time we bring abuse into the light, we help prevent more abuse while we help its victims heal. 

Victims need their own voice to break free from their silent pain. But they also need your voice. They need my voice. Together, our voices become one voice, one that rings loud and clear as it speaks words of love and truth, of validation, acceptance, and comfort. Our voice will break through the darkness to expose sexual abuse for exactly what it is. Our voice will lead wounded hearts to a safe, open place of healing. And as we speak out, our voice will reduce the risk of abuse for the next child, and the next, and the next.”

Everyone’s story matters. There are people around you who are going through something similar to what you have experienced, but they are silently hurting and afraid. They need someone—they need me and you—to speak out, to reach out, to encourage them, and to remind them that they are not alone. You may feel you don’t have much to give, but what you do have may be exactly what someone else is desperately searching for.

So, be courageous. Find your voice. Share your story. Listen to someone else’s.

You could change a life. You might change the world.

Nicole Braddock Bromley is the founder of OneVOICE and OneVOICE4freedom and an international spokesperson on sexual abuse and child sex trafficking. Nicole is the author of “Hush: Moving From Silence to Healing After Childhood Sexual Abuse”, “Breathe: Finding Freedom to Thrive in Relationships After Childhood Sexual Abuse” and SOAR: A Film Series and Study Companion to Hush.”

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Comments (20)

  1. Janet

    I’m a survivor of sexual abuse being raped at age 11, n only in the last four years have I dealt with it n finally feeling like a victorious woman whose been healed by all that happened to me , thanks to my saviour Jesus Christ

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  2. b.e. noll

    Nicole, thanks for this. Yeah, the first couple of times I began to tell my own story was hard. It felt like I was bleeding. I felt like I was coming apart. However, it helps to kill the lie. It helps to remind me that the voice in my head that said: “if they new, they wouldn’t love you anymore.” It didn’t make the love of others… more true, bigger, etc. It helped me to feel their love more loudly. One friend I told called my cell & left a message. He thought he was just stumbling blindly with his words to me. More than 9 years after he said it, it’s still saved on my phone. Another friend emailed me, saying: “I never understood why you did certain things, why you acted certain ways. After your story, everything about you makes sense.” Which, to be honest, freaked me out a bit. The rest of his email didn’t make sense till I read Renee Yohe’s book. Then, suddenly, everything he wrote is understandable. I could truly feel every word.
    I’m sorry, I’ll stop now before this becomes a book. Just… thanks again for this.

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  3. Dee

    Nicole your books are awesome and an answer to prayer. You are so brave. Be blessed!

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  4. Cheryl

    What about those of us who finally tell and we are called a liar and no one believes us. And to make it worse the one person who can back you up because it happened to her too lies and said it never happened because she wasn’t ready to talk about it then or ever

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    1. Danielle

      I know that it feels impossible, it’s terrifying, doesn’t make sense and truly isn’t fair… I know because I’ve been there because I’ve FINALLY told my story and many doors were slammed in my face (literally) and family members no longer family. That’s where the love and support of non-blood “related” step up, those that love us.

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  5. Deborah Woods

    Thank you so much for speaking up about this sensitive topic. I see so many children in my counseling practice who cannot speak up but want the world to know they are not broken, shameful, or bad. They are wonderful and precious and deserving of our care and concern. It’s time to make it safe to heal from childhood sexual abuse.

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  6. Danielle

    When I look at my hand as if I’ve realized for the first time, “It’s mine and it’s attached to my body” or when I meet new people and I think, what do I talk about? They are going to ask all about where I grew up and what my parents do, which I cannot answer without a small tremble at my core… getting up to check that the door is locked several times before I go to bed, the alarm is set… hearing foot steps to the shower every time I run the water, sitting on the floor of the shower hoping that someday I won’t be afraid… and every time I start a new relationship, just wondering, what’s wrong with me that this doesn’t feel, ugh, right..? I’m supposed to be ok, I’m an adult right? It’s true those things and more run through my mind… thank you for sharing.

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  7. M

    Thank you! I needed this today. I have been holding on to guilt and shame for 30 years now. I won’t share details here, but I finally told my husband of 5 years(we’ve been together 10) last night. He seemed empathetic, but I feel very raw and exposed. Why would he want to be with a damaged _____?

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  8. Mal

    Thanks for sharing. Sometimes it seems like (I can only share my own experience, so I will use I, but in no way being self indulgent) I’m more comfortable with my past than others. When I told a friend of 6+ years I was raped she stopped talking to me for an entire year. When I told others I’ve been abused by seven men in total, from age 4 to 21, from family members to strangers, they don’t know what to do with it. Counselors immediately refer me to their supervisors, I’ve even had counselors not contact me in fear of my history, without even knowing any of it other than my school’s counseling center has rejected my case. It’s weird. How can me, living and breathing my story each and every day be more comfortable than you hearing it for 10 minutes? So no, I am no longer silent, but at the same time I don’t know who is willing to walk alongside me, to hear me out on things, I honestly don’t know. For 95% of the time even with my closest friends I am a joy to be around, it’s just the 5% of when pain surfaces or when life gets rough. Are there those who are willing to take all 100? Who aren’t in a deep pit themselves? (I feel bad burdening them further)

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  9. river

    is there a way you could email me? im tired of silence. are you willing to talk with me?

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  10. river

    help me

    Reply  |  
    1. Claire Biggs

      Hi River,

      Thank you for your comments. If you’d like to reach out to our team, please email [email protected]. We respond to every email we receive.

      If this is an emergency or if you need immediate help, please call and talk to someone at 1-800-273-TALK or reach out to the LifeLine Crisis Chat at http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/GetHelp/LifelineChat.aspx“. We also have a list of local resources and support groups on our FIND HELP page.

      Reply  |  
  11. Sandy G.

    Nicole….sex trafficking lays heavy on my heart. ..what is the best way to get involved to help stop this horrific sin against the innocent? I was sharing my heart with my daughter in law Mandi G. From Nashville. ..friend of Lacy B….she has met you ….and she spoke of you. I will be following your FB page! What a great purpose God has for your life! =)

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  12. Michelle

    I’ve been healing for three years now with plenty of help but just recently found the courage to tell my story in a very public way. My friends were so supportive, even people I never knew could be such good friends. My family is on the brink I think of disowning me. My dad called without a trace of compassion and laid into me for speaking publicly and my brother is shooting me angry texts that imply he thinks I’m insane and need professional help. I know I should have expected this… And I did… but I didn’t plan on it being so hard. Any advice?

    Reply  |  
  13. hope dretzka

    This comment could not be shared due to the nature of the message.

    Reply  |  
    1. Claire Biggs

      Thank you so much for sharing part of your story with us.

      TWLOHA is not a 24-hour helpline, nor are we trained mental health professionals. TWLOHA hopes to serve as a bridge to help.

      If this is an emergency or if you need immediate help, please call and talk to someone at 1-800-273-TALK or reach out to the LifeLine Crisis Chat at http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/GetHelp/LifelineChat.aspx“. We also have a list of local resources and support groups on our FIND HELP page. Please know that we also respond to every email we receive at [email protected].

      Reply  |  
  14. hope dretzka

    I forgot to mention, That was the first time I told my entire story. My little secret is out

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  15. Cheyenne

    I’ve never told my story. Never spoke the words aloud. You are the first . I was sexually abused at around 5 or 6 yrs of age. For the longest time I had no memories of my childhood. I just couldn’t recall most things. And then . Bam. There it was. They came flooding in. Memories of a dark time. I almost convinced myself it was some evil nightmare. It wasn’t real. I still fear it’s my imagination. But I Know. Deep down. It happened. I know who did it, the house, the “games” . I was a child. Innocent and pure. Those “games” weren’t to be shared. Keep them a secret I was told . And I have . For over 10yrs I haven’t told a soul. I’ve reaped the consequences though. Depression, Anxiety, and so much more.I find myself disgusting, undeserving of love . I try to get over these feelings but it’s not easy. I want to tell. I want to be released from this prison . How? I have no evidence, I may not be believed by officials, my family will be devastated . What if I can’t handle what happens next. How can I find my voice?

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  16. Arden Whitehead

    Thank you for telling your story. You made me feel like my story matters. I was molested when I was 8 by another girl at school. I was sexually harassed by a male cousin when I was fourteen. He continued to try to torment me for years after I told my mom what happened. This year I told 3 of my brothers. And warned my niece about him. I still have nightmares but I’m trying to work through them. A few of my siblings told him not to bother me anymore. Up until he did all of the stuff he did, he was my best friend.

    Reply  |  
    1. TWLOHA

      Your story absolutely matters, Arden. Please know that you can reach out to us at [email protected] if you want to share more of your story. Our team would be honored to offer you some support as you continue with your journey. You are worthy of hope and help.

      Reply  |  
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