“I love you, and it’s going to be okay” were the magic words Brent heard from his wife when he finally disclosed the secret he’d harbored for decades.
The struggle to overcome the crippling effects of keeping a dark secret can be long and difficult, requiring profound perseverance. Brent is a testament to that.
The dark secret took hold of Brent when he was nine years old. An older neighbor boy began sexually abusing him. Like virtually all boys, Brent was instantly sure that the abuse was his fault, his shame, his humiliation. To tell his parents about it, to reveal the secret, would mean revealing guilt, shame. Or so the nine year old Brent thought.
Brent endured the abuse for two years, slowly retreating into a shell. Then one day he let slip enough of a hint of what was happening to his sister and she told their parents, who put an end to the abuse. But the end of the abuse did not end Brent’s struggle with the toxic effects of the secret. In fact, much of the secret remained – Brent’s now marrow-deep belief in his own guilt and shame.
Brent went on with the tasks of childhood and adolescence. Mercifully, he found solace, structure, friends, and a supportive community in his Mormon church. It anchored him, and it protected him from some of the destructive paths that some times take abuse survivors into dark terrain. And his church also gave him inspiration. When his Bishop one day described his own past struggles, Brent was at first stunned. But simultaneously he saw for the first time the possibility of revealing his own secret. This remained only a dream for another few years though, as his desire to be completely open continued to conflict with that same sense of shame.
He was married, with two young children, and he was terrified of revealing his secret to his wife, even though that secret had cut him off from Liz, leaving him and her emotionally isolated. He imagined all kinds of horrors; the worst, that Liz and his children would leave him.
And then on June 5, 2016, he suddenly knew he was ready and he felt calm. He told Liz what had been done to him, and he heard this from Liz: “I love you, and it’s going to be okay.” Life without the terrible secret has actually been better than okay. Much better. Brent knows that there is still work to do. He journals, he has been helped by therapists, and he is now turning his perseverance onto the task of undoing the secret’s negative effects. More than anything, the lesson he wants people to take from his experience is that these secrets are never worth keeping from the ones we love most.