My Name is Shame and Silence (Jan-Feb 2008)

By Matt Dabbs

by Bettie Williams-Watson
January – February, 2008

Please Note: This letter is fictional, and is written for educational purposes, for ministers and other church leaders, however, all or a part of this letter could be related to the experiences of more than one member of your congregation.

Dear Church Leaders,

My name is Shame and Silence, and I am a member of your congregation, and sometimes I feel almost invisible. Today, I came to church, after being physically, and emotionally abused by my partner, who is sitting here right next to me wearing a big smile and saying “amen” every now and then. We’re holding hands and appear to be the perfect couple. You don’t know about the threats my partner made, before we arrived at church this morning, or the bruises that I often have to hide. When someone asks me about them, I say things like, Oh, I’m so accident prone. I bumped into the door the other day,” and then I pretend to laugh it off. Inside, I feel so bruised inside, like I never can be normal. Church leaders, I’ve got secrets—lots of secrets. You see there’s another person sitting on the front seat, participating in the service. This person molested me during my childhood from the time I was six, until I was fifteen years old. I didn’t know how to make it stop happening! I still blame myself. I felt so overwhelmed, afraid, and angry. I hated myself for what was happening, but I was told by that person on the front seat, things like, “It’s all your fault,” “You’re nothing but a liar, and who would believe you anyway, if you told.” “You’re making too big of a deal about this.” “It happens in all families, you know. People just don’t talk about it.” It usually went on at night, when everyone else was asleep. I would be asleep also, and that person on the front seat would wake me up, with their hands squeezing my neck, so tight that I almost thought I would die right then and there!

The person would say, “Just shut up!” If you dare scream, I’ll kill you right now! “Just relax and enjoy it!” I felt so terrified and frozen. I closed my eyes and prayed that it would all just go away. The pain, I suffered was so deep. I’m still afraid today to tell anyone. That person on the front seat robbed me of my childhood, and the pretense and silence keeps going on!

I’ll never tell you about being violated, because I don’t know what would happen to my partner, or to the child molester. Both my partner and the person on the front seat hold positions of authority here. I don’t want to upset things here, even though these secrets are tearing me up inside! Before, this happened, I trusted people, and felt that they would do right by me. I have problems sleeping, because when I sleep, I start to remember. I keep re-living the horror of that experience. I haven’t been able to move on with my life. Sometimes I feel as if I’m suffocating, and certain things seem to make me keep remembering. I am terrified that people will look at me and know. If my church family knew, they might just turn their back on me, or call me “crazy” or tell me that I’m a big troublemaker. I keep trying to put it all behind me. After all, it happened in the past, and it’s over now. I’ll never tell, because who can I trust. I told my partner, and they said, “You deserved it!” My partner throws it up in my face constantly, and, that’s another reason, I’ll never tell. What would my family say to me? I’m too ashamed to find out. They’ll probably say, I brought it on myself. I feel too vulnerable and exposed. I can’t trust anyone, not even myself.

I have been going to this church for 10 years, and I never heard anyone even mutter a sermon, or a prayer about abuse. Once, two members were whispering about some sister from another church, who left town, shortly after she had accused her husband of abuse. Before she left, one of the church leaders had asked her to leave the church. She was told in no uncertain terms that she was no longer welcome at the church. Her husband is still there though, and everyone seems to be supportive of him. Both of the sisters agreed that it was “good riddance.” They went on to praise the husband for what good works he continues to do in the church.

I want you to understand that each time I walk in the door, my heart feels so heavy, but I just can’t let anyone here know, what is really troubling me. Sometimes, I may be sitting beside you, with tears clouding my eyes. I’ll just speak in generalities about needing a prayer, or more strength to overcome some things in my life. I can’t really tell you what’s wrong, though. There’s too much at stake. I don’t want to lose the support of my church family and my immediate family. The price of freeing myself from this burden would be too high. I don’t want these two people to lose their jobs, church positions, or their families. I don’t want to see anyone get arrested.
No one would believe me anyway? Can anyone really see me, and understand what I am going thru? Please someone just help me? I feel trapped in this double cloak, and I’m dying inside and the trap just keeps getting bigger and bigger. I am SHAMED BY SILENCE, AND SILENCED BY SHAME!

© Copyright 2001, Bettie Williams-Watson Do not reprint without permission.New Wineskins

Bettie WilliamsBettie Williams-Watson is a trainer, speaker, advocate, community organizer and counselor, who has worked in the field of domestic violence for the past 18 years. Bettie is the Director of Advocacy Services for Northwest Family Life and the Founder/Executive Director of the award-winning Multi-Communities (M.I.C.) program. Multi-Communities addresses domestic, youth, and sexual violence in predominantly African American faith communities. Bettie appears in the video, Broken Vows:Religious Perspectives on Domestic Violence.

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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