I am an incest survivor. And I am not ashamed.
I was 5 years old when a crime against humanity was committed against me…by my very own father. He’d always been a violent man and I used to watch in terror as he’d beat my siblings and mother. I always thought that I’d been spared because I was young.
But I hadn’t been spared. He’d raped me one day at our home in Vietnam. And I’d passed out. When I woke up, I felt so violated, dirty and frightened, and had no idea why. The bed beneath me was damp from bedwetting.
I heard my mother screaming and wailing while arguing with him about it. She threatened to leave him. But she never did.
Up until the day she died about two years later, she stayed with the man who raped me and beat all of my siblings and her.
When I grew older I learned that this is not uncommon amongst families with incest. It’s the shame and fear of what people would think that keeps mothers silent and complicit in these acts of heinous cruelty against a young child.
I used to think that the saddest day of my life was when I realized my mother had truly died and that she would not come back from the dead. I was wrong. She had died a long time before that, when she looked away and avoided eye contact with me as I asked her why she wasn’t packed yet.
She stayed silent and waved me away, as if I was being a burden to her already miserable life. My mother had always been very kind and affectionate towards me. She was not cold, as some mothers could be.
But because she was filled with so much shame about her own life and trauma, she could never really be there for us emotionally. I always felt like I was asking for too much when I asked her for something and she looked at me despondently in return.
I learned to feel ashamed of myself. Ashamed of having feelings that needed expression. Ashamed of having basic needs such as wanting to know why my siblings were being savagely beaten for seemingly no reason, why she stayed with such a violent man, why my dad seemed to hate us so much.
Shame plagued me as it had plagued my mother. But the person that shame plagued most of all was my father. He had cried and complained to countless people about his tragic past, but he could never tell us about his childhood or life in prison after his capture at the end of the Vietnam War.
Perhaps if my mother had not been ashamed, she would have left when she realized he was abusive. Perhaps if my father had not been ashamed, he would not have raped me. I don’t know why some people act out their shame and misery in such horrific ways. But I know that shame can rob a person of their soul.
Because of this, I’ve chosen to shed light on a topic that society is most shameful about: surviving incest. Shame is what allows incest to breed and stay hidden for generations. It’s what perpetrators like my father count on to keep their criminal deeds hidden from the public eye.
For 31 years, I kept my incest abuse a secret from all but my siblings, my therapists, and three close friends. The secret was so big that it isolated me from everyone around me. I felt that if they knew what happened to me, they’d see me for the damaged goods that I really was.
The effect of this isolation is that I didn’t feel a connection to anyone except for my abusers and the very few people who knew about the abuse.
It wasn’t until July 2020 when I watched a video from Marilyn Van Derbur which talked about the isolating effect of holding a secret like incest. Marilyn’s openness about her incest ordeal inspired me to share my own story in the hopes of helping other survivors dispel their shame.
When I reached out to my network to tell them about my incest story, I was met with overwhelming compassion. Unlike my siblings who, out of their own shame and wish to bury the past in the deep recesses of their minds, my network responded with support and understanding of my situation.
They never told me to “get over”, “move on”, or “stop obsessing” about my incest abuse like all of my siblings have. And for the first time, I felt known.
Marilyn once said that no one can know me until they know this about me. This blog is an attempt to let others know me. On its pages, you’ll find my journey to heal from trauma, reconnect with life, and repair my broken relationship with the Divine.
I hope it helps you.