Dirty Little Secrets

| by Christie McNabb |

Until lions start writing down their own stories, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter.
-african proverb

Here is my story:

When I was three or four, my grandfather choked me, then sexually assaulted me. I didn’t recover this memory until I was 33.

I’ve let those words swirl around in my head for the last couple months, trying to get a grasp on them. “Sexually assaulted” sounds so much better than “My grandfather raped me,” which is likely what really happened. My mind is so adept at protecting me it’s having a hard time digesting this truth.

But my body knows.

It started a couple months ago with a headache. Though, as I look back over a lifetime of coping, this part of me has been crying out in any way possible, looking for attention. Healing. Validation. Just a month before the memory surfaced I had a terrible dream, scary and full of murder. At the end, a four year old wandered around in tattered clothing, crying out “mama! mama!” over and over. In dreams, when we can identify the age of a character, that character represents a part of ourselves. My four year old self was desolate and lost, wondering where her mama was.

The headache started on a Friday afternoon and persisted into the morning. I could tell there was something strange about it’s lingering and the fact that I even had it in my dreams that night. I asked my friend, Amy, who’s an intuitive healer to help me figure out what my body was trying to tell me.

She sat with me, praying for guidance and asking me questions to help bring me into my body. As she did, I told her I felt like I was being choked. A vision of myself came to mind, of big strong hands around my neck and my little legs kicking in the air.

“Whose hands are they?” she asked. “I just keep getting that they are big and kind of hairy.” I knew who it was before she even asked the question, but I didn’t want to believe it was true. It was my grandfather, my dad’s dad.

My dad’s dad was essentially absent in the family. He left my grandmother for another woman when my dad and his three siblings were all under the age of 12. They saw him just once a month growing up. I had little to do with him when I was young except for the occasion of family get-togethers and the time when my parents split up and we spent some time camping in his backyard. I remember little about him except that his kisses were obnoxiously slobbery and I didn’t cry when he died. Not one tear.

“Dear god, what did he do to you?” Amy said with such a tone of sadness and regret that I immediately began crying. The truth is, I didn’t know at that time; my mind blocked me from going any further into the memory. I only saw myself kicking and struggling, then going into a catatonic state where I was completely still, my head turned to the side, my eyes staring blankly ahead.

Amy asked me to leave the scene, to rise above the room and notice what I saw. We were in my grandparent’s house and it was a family gathering. I saw my dad in the kitchen talking, but couldn’t find my mom or my baby sister anywhere. Then I saw my dad walking into the room where I was; what exactly he saw I have no idea. But something told me he saw enough.

And just like that, the entirety of my dad and I’s relationship flashed in front of my eyes. The time many years ago when I was starting to put the pieces together that my dating habits were reflective of my relationship with him. As I tried to articulate myself, he looked at me across the table of the brewery where we were having dinner, his face in a sneer and said “don’t you dare blame me for your bad choices in men.” Then again a few years, I was in a long-term relationship that didn’t seem to be going anywhere. During an argument, my dad said to me “Why won’t HE marry you?” As if something were wrong with me. And so many other moments, fights, feelings of abandonment or distance from him. They all passed through my mind in an instant and I knew there was truth to my experience.

The emotion was so intense as it released that I couldn’t breathe; I just heaved sobs and writhed around the bed. It was as if an emotional seizure had gripped my body. Amy sat with me for a bit more, assuring me this was normal, but then left me to be alone. I was exhausted and crying, and curled up into a fetal position until I fell asleep.

When I woke, it was like I was walking in a different reality. The reality of a truth so terrible I’d hidden it from myself for nearly 30 years. A truth I tried desperately to deny by creating different “truths” about my family, my grandfather, myself. My hands shook and my legs were wobbly, as if the trauma had just occurred minutes before, not years.

My mom text to ask how my day was going and all I could say initially was “not good.” Finally I told her, in the briefest details, what had come to the surface.

“Do you think it’s true?” she asked.

“My body says it is.” And that was all I had to go on at the moment, besides the memory itself. My body spoke even when my brain, so afraid of the truth, didn’t want to believe it.

For the next week, I struggled with the weight and the emotion of all that had come up, angry that I couldn’t recall the rest of the memory. Somehow, somewhere I felt I would be more validated in what I was feeling if I could recall all the specifics. But my mind wasn’t having it.

The next weekend, I got up early, bought a coffee and some doughnuts, and headed out to a hike I’d found online with a mission. I went to Mt. June to find the rest of the memory.

The hike to Mt. June is short, but mostly uphill. Up and up the trail winds, until at last it bursts open with a view of the chain of Cascade mountains, from Mt. Hood all the way down to Crater Lake. The climb up was slow going, and I let it be that way. I paused every now and then, overcome by the emotions dogging my moments, and cried. One one occasion, I paused near a tree and felt overcome by the notion that I should rest my forehead against it. As I did so, the rest of the memory came to me.


My four-year-old self came to me and I picked her up, asking her to show me. She guided me around, pointing and explaining. He had sexually assaulted me. I had left my body at this point, the only way I knew to cope. At the end, I heard a voice say “don’t tell anyone, or your dad will be in trouble.” Realizing I’d agreed to be my dad’s secret keeper at that moment (and harm myself in the process), I fell to the ground and sobbed. Another hiker came up at that point but I didn’t have it in me to hide my tears.

The weeks to come brought my birthday and a visit from my mom and lots more crippling break-downs as this new truth made itself real to me. Grief work is exhausting and unpredictable. One day I stayed in bed all day, apologizing to my body for the situations I’d put it in. Another day, it hit me just how much time I’d lost to this trauma; I’ve always wanted a loving partner and family and I had to grieve the knowledge that this trauma has kept me from those things.

Within days, I finished my math class with flying colors, moved to the state park, and started my summer gig as a Seasonal Ranger. Something I’d been looking forward to for many months.

For a moment, I was able to put all things aside and jump into a new routine. My body, as if suspecting my intention to forget it all again, started aching. A pinched nerve it felt like, crippling me with pain that radiated down the right side of my neck and into my shoulder. Like a crazy person, I paced the floor and popped aspirin. My only relief was laying on a heating pad, which was nearly impossible during work.

Finally, crazed with pain and grief, I yelled out.

“Ok! I’ll tell him!”

I had been wanting to tell my dad, needing to tell my dad, and it seemed my body would not rest until I did.

That conversation did not go well, and he hasn’t spoken to me since. He was immediately defensive of his ability to protect me, wanting to know where this happened, then claiming my mom put it “in my head” and that he would be more likely to believe it of her dad. I realized later why I’d shoved that memory so deep in my psyche; if my dad couldn’t receive this information when I was 34, how could he have possibly been a safe place when I was a child?

It was a suicide at the park that tipped the scales for me emotionally, and I realized I desperately needed help healing from this deep, old wound. I found a counselor, chiropractor and acupuncturist, letting them in on bits and pieces of the big secret. The counselor of course got more than the others, and in return she passed on resources for me to read. The first thing I read came from a book titled “The Courage To Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse” by Ellen Bass & Laura Davis. I shuttered at the title; I was, indeed, all of those things.

The chapter was about coping mechanisms, and the quote from a patient said simply and starkly: “My whole life has pretty much been coping.” I stopped there, the resonance of that so strong I just sat with it. Coping. Yes. My whole life? Yes.

I’ve always sensed something was wrong, always felt weird and out of place and either staunchly opposed to and scared of sex, or reckless and dangerous in my choices of partners. Twice I’ve been involved with men who were emotionally abusive, several times I’ve had sex with someone I didn’t really want to. I’ve felt broken and depressed and impressed at the fact I was still walking, when all I felt like doing was laying down in a hole and never waking. As I got ready for work the other day, trying to shake off a heavy feeling, I realized that my whole life has been like fighting two battles: the one of the present and the one of the past raging always in my being.

No wonder I’ve been so exhausted.

As I read thru these books, it feels as if I’m reading my autobiography. As if I’ve finally been given the key for a door I’ve been banging my head against for years. I finally understand the why and the what.

Honesty has never been a welcome thing in my family. In fact, it was punishable. Not by beatings or bust, but that far harsher, more brutal teacher: silence. Exclusion. Censorship.

I can see my aunt’s face, the one she would get sometimes. My dad has it too. The one that says, “shhhh.” You’ve gone to far. You’ve crossed the line.

You’re being too honest.

You’ve made someone uncomfortable.

Truth always makes people uncomfortable, especially those with secrets to hide.

I was never afraid of the truth. I’ve never been one to keep in the shadows what could be brought out into the light, examined, made pure and whole.

Still, I debated on writing this for several weeks. And even as I write now, a little voice is screaming “DON’T! Don’t tell! Don’t you know what they will do?? Better to keep this to yourself than make all of the mad at you.”

But I can’t keep quiet, and I won’t hide in shame. This is my story, my memory, my trauma. Anyone who truly loves me will understand shattering the silence is part of my healing journey, that staying silent will only further bring me harm.

Nor will I be a victim. Something tragic and traumatic and desperately unfair happened to me. It changed my relationship to myself, my sexuality, my family, my friends. It made me different. But it did not destroy me. And it will no longer control me. From here on out, I choose to move forward into radical healing, extending grace and compassion to the parts of myself that are still wounded and suffering. I choose to be honest with myself and others, about how I feel, what I’ve experienced. I choose to be my own advocate, my first cheerleader, my safest landing place.

And most importantly, I choose a future where this doesn’t happen to my daughters(s).

To learn more about Christie and read more of her stories, please visit her website.

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