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On Keeping Secrets and the Power of Stories: a guest post by Michele Bacon

woman covers her face with her hands

At 17, I was madly in love with a clever, playful, adorable boy. I loved him fiercely. And—to my utter surprise—he loved me. Together, Michael and I did theater, marching band, and speech team. Over three (mostly) blissful years, we shared everything: our most cherished dreams, our ugliest failures, our triumphs, and our personal insecurities.

I say this not to induce envy (or eye rolling), but to emphasize how serious our relationship was.

About six months after we broke up—when I was 21—I confided in him: I had grown up in an abusive household. Michael was stunned that I’d never told him.

I had never told anyone.

During my parents’ messy divorce, I spoke with the judge, lawyers, and a therapist I adored. My father didn’t like that therapist’s analysis, so we saw another therapist. We were dug into our church at the time, so I spoke with my minister, too.

Those adults were keen to help me, but I never divulged what my father had done to me and to my family. The horrors I experienced, heard, and saw were too embarrassing and shameful. I was broken, and I thought sharing my abuse would taint people’s opinion of me. And, in a way that is now difficult to understand, I was terrified that telling would get me in trouble.

Until a few weeks ago, I had told only three or four friends. But now I’m saying it (to the Internet, no less): I grew up in an abusive household.

Being hurt—physically, psychologically, or emotionally—changes a person.

It made me feel that I was less something than everyone else. I started believing emotionally or physically abusive relationships were okay. That heavy, awful feeling, defined how I viewed my place in the world.

It still does.

Now, let’s be honest, we all have at least one ugly secret that devours us from the inside as we try desperately to conceal it. Perhaps you pretend to not be dyslexic. You don’t talk about your twin who died at birth. You conceal your gender or sexuality. You are poor. You are passing. You’re losing your hearing. You’ve left your religion.

book cover: Life Before. Dirty red sneakers sit in front of a backpackIt doesn’t matter what it is; everyone has something. And we all have the right to keep parts of ourselves private. And I have, for a long time.

Last month, I admitted to a room full of people that I had grown up in abuse, and that my greatest childhood fear was that my father would murder my mother. After I spoke, several women told me, privately, that they had the same secret. Or the same childhood. Or the same fear. Me too echoed around me, and several people said they’d never told a soul.

That is the power of stories: Me too.

Imagine how my life would be different if I’d had that moment at 13. Or 17. Or 19. During my teen years—that amazing intersection of opportunity, energy, and idealism—Me too could have changed my life.

In the last month, I’ve shed the fear that everyone would reject me if I revealed my ugly secret, and I’ve realized that hiding what I perceive as shameful parts of myself doesn’t make them any less a part of me. In the last few weeks, stories have poured from the hearts of readers. They’ve said me too. This shouldn’t have happened to any of us, but it did. For the first time in my life, I am not ashamed. I am done keeping secrets. And I am sharing my story, and the ugly parts of me.

Stories are powerful, and sharing stories makes us stronger. These days, I walk into author talks at schools and libraries knowing someone might ask personal questions. I feel vulnerable, but I’m doing it, and I am encouraging other people to tell the stories they can bear to share. Your story might come at just the right time. Someone who is hiding in the dark shadows of shame may hear “Me too” and step into the light.

 

author photoAbout Michele Bacon 

Michele writes fiction for adults and young adults. She lives in Seattle with her family. Her first novel, Life Before, publishes June 7th, 2016. She loves hearing from readers, fellow writers, and anyone who would like to say #metoo.
You can find her:
Via email at writer(at)michelebacon(dot)com
On Twitter @michelebacon,
On Instagram as WriterMicheleBacon
On Tumblr as michelebacon

 

About Life Before

book cover: Life Before. Dirty red sneakers sit in front of a backpackFor seventeen years, Xander Fife has been keeping secrets. (Almost) no one knows about his abusive father. If he can get through this summer, he’s off to college, where real life finally begins.

What’s more, the summer before college will be amazing: lots of pick-up soccer, long days hanging out with friends, and an epic road trip. Xander also is banking on some long overdue nights with his ideal girlfriend, the amazing Gretchen Taylor.

Instead of kicking off what had promised to be an amazing summer, however, graduation day brings terror. When Xander’s mother is murdered, his family’s secrets are thrust out into the open, and Xander must confront his greatest fear.

Armed with a fake ID, cash, and a knife, Xander skips town and assumes a new identity. Hundreds of miles from home and in danger, one thing is clear: Xander’s real life is already in progress and just getting through it isn’t enough.

 

Racism, Privilege, Shame, and a Book Giveaway (a guest post by author A.B. Westrick)


I had already written Brotherhood when I first listened to Brené Brown’s TED Talkabout shame. Growing up in the North as the child of Southern-born parents, I’d picked up on my parents’ sense of shame. Whether it was over our family’s complicity in the wrongs of the Confederacy or the Jim Crow laws, I don’t know, but I sensed it, and Brown’s TED Talk brought it home for me.

BrenéBrown is a Houston-based researcher who studies and writes about vulnerability and shame. She spends a lot of time listening to people tell their stories, and has come to believe that “you cannot talk about race without talking about privilege, and when people start talking about privilege, they get paralyzed by shame.” Once paralyzed, they stop talking; the shame intensifies, and the problem festers.

Brown says that “shame needs three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence and judgment.” Her comment reminded me of an email I got from my brother after I had blogged about the emotional seeds of my novel Brotherhood. My brother emailed to say that some of his friends were African-American, and he didn’t appreciate my announcing (via my blog) that our ancestors had owned slaves. He’d never before heard that history, and he didn’t want his friends hearing it. He wanted me to take the post down.


He sent me that email in 2011, one hundred and fifty years after the start of the Civil War, and it struck me how powerful the silence has been. He was right that our parents hadn’t talked about our ancestors enslaving Africans. I’d had to push them to get that information out of them. Their parents hadn’t talked about it, either. Nor had theirparents. Such was the genius of those who sought to interpret the Civil War as the noble Lost Cause of the Confederacy—a view that minimized the slavery issue. The institution of slavery was shameful, and white Southerners don’t talk about the things that shame them.

To be fair to my brother, he hadn’t ever shown much of an interest in our family’s history—not like I had. So maybe he hadn’t asked the questions I’d asked, and hadn’t sensed our parents’ shame. I respect him, but I didn’t take down my blog post. Removing it would feed the flames of secrecy, silence and judgment. Our society has come a long way on the racism front, particularly in the past fifty years, but American still has a ways to go.

“White privilege” is a term I first heard only a few years ago, and I’ve scoured websites to understand what it means. If you’re as unfamiliar with the term as I was, I suggest reading “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” by Peggy McIntosh. The article has helped me understand that simply by virtue of being white in a white-majority country, I enjoy benefits I’m not even aware of. In the aftermath of cases like Trayvon Martin’s, some of us whites are starting to get it. There is progress, albeit slow.

Brown says that the antidote to shame is empathy. When we strive to imagine how life is for others, when we listen and say, “I’m sorry,” the curtain of shame begins to lift. If we want it to lift even faster, we need to recognize privilege, own it, and talk about it. She’s says that “Jungian analysts call shame the swampland of the soul,” and she suggests that all of us will benefit from putting on some galoshes, and mucking around in it for a bit.

Brown’s research and her talks are intriguing. If what she says about privilege and shame resonates with you, check out her other TED Talk (it’s on vulnerability).

Meanwhile, if you’d like to be entered into the giveaway of one signed copy ofBrotherhood, leave a comment below. One random commenter will be chosen to win. Deadline to enter is February 8th.  Giveaway is open to U.S. residents.  Please leave a Twitter name or email so we can get in touch with you if you win.

A.B. Westrick is the author of Brotherhood (Viking/Penguin 2013), a Junior Library Guild selection. In its starred review, VOYA notes, “Great historical fiction always feels like a gift … Westrick skillfully leads the reader toward conclusions regarding racism, letting each epiphany occur organically. All the characters, dialogue, and action support each other deftly and with no filler.” For more about Brotherhood, visit the author’s website at www.abwestrick.com.