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When It’s Time Tell Your Story: How to Step Out of Hiding and Into Healing

“One day you will tell your story of how you overcame what you went through, and it will be someone else’s survival guide.” ~Brené Brown

“Hey, can I call you?” read the text from my cousin Dani.

“Of course,” I responded, nervously drawing in a deep breath.

I had recently shared some painful experiences with a family member we are both close to. I assumed Dani had heard what I’d said about our family, and I wasn’t sure if she’d be upset by the secrets I had exposed.

Throughout my life I had always been told to put a smile on my face and pretend that everything was just fine. I was taught that expressing ‘negative’ emotions may upset others. God forbid.

My mother died from breast cancer when I was only twelve, and on my last visit with her, I was told, “Don’t cry; you don’t want to upset your mother.” The “suppress all emotion” mentality continued after her death while I was conditioned to hide the verbal and emotional abuse I endured as a teen/young adult.

In my mid-forties I began trauma therapy and was diagnosed with complex PTSD. I began journaling to process the various ordeals I had experienced throughout my life. I am a list-person and found cataloging each incident with its associated emotions a beneficial way to absorb all that I had endured.

When the full inventory of traumas was complete, I just sat there and stared at the paper, my hand over my mouth. Seeing them together, the pain and the scars, I was stunned by the sheer volume. It was as if a blindfold had been removed, and I could see it all so clearly now.

I had spent my entire life keeping quiet and acting like everything was okay. I would alter myself, lessen myself, bend to placate others and suit whatever narrative would keep the peace. When that blindfold fell away, I knew I was done.

I purposefully made the choice to stop abandoning myself. I was tired of being the version of myself that everyone found tolerable. To keep the peace? Whose peace? I certainly wasn’t at peace, and I didn’t want to live like that for one more second.

I would step out of hiding and bravely bare my scars and tell my story. I have heard the stories others have been bold enough to share and found such comfort in the similarities; I felt like maybe I wasn’t alone.

I now felt the call to tell my truth in the hopes of being a source of encouragement for others who struggle with childhood trauma and mental illness.

It was scary, but I hesitantly began telling those closest to me. My husband and children knew the main pieces of my trauma, but I filled them in on all the rest of it. I became more courageous after that and slowly confided in other friends and family, exposing generational trauma, abuse, and abandonment. I was fully transparent and spared no one, not even myself.

As anticipated, there were unfavorable reactions where I received criticism over my sharing of this type of content. However, those negative responses were the exception, not the rule. I was pleasantly surprised that the majority were positive and incredibly validating. Some even thanked me for sharing my story, telling me what an impact it made or how helpful they found it.

Some family members, including my cousin Dani, corroborated the trauma and abuse. That was so healing for me to hear, especially when facing disapproval from others. What happened to me was true, even if there are some who want to dismiss or minimize it. A handful even shared their own stories of survival with me after hearing mine.

One critic asked why I felt the need to put all this negativity out there. They understood the need to journal to process my trauma, but talking to others about it seemed outlandish to them. They felt it would do more harm than good.

My entire life I had been conditioned to hide the truth and pretend like all was well, ignoring my own needs in favor of everyone else:

  • Never be sad, even if your mom dies when you are a kid.
  • Never be disappointed, even if your dad doesn’t step up for you.
  • Never be angry, even if your stepfather screams at you.
  • Never be upset, even if your stepmother demeans and excludes you.

In trauma therapy, I learned that hiding ‘bad’ emotions (spoiler alert, there are no ‘bad’ emotions) only causes more pain. The saying “the only way out is through” is popular for a reason. I had to walk through my emotions, honor my pain, and shine a light on it.

I will no longer put my abusers’ needs above my own. I will no longer be silent. I will no longer hide. I will tell my story of survival and healing with the world in the hopes of it being a guide for others who struggle. A map, an atlas.

Stepping out of hiding can be terrifying, and sometimes it needs to be done in baby steps. If you are at a point in your life where you feel it is time to shift from pain to healing, try the following.

1. One Small Step

  • Start small: Reveal one minor secret, experience, or trauma.
  • Tell one person: a close friend, a trusted family member, or anonymously online.
  • Be transparent: Share that you are nervous; say this is difficult for you.

2. Assess and Appreciate

  • Give yourself credit: Pat yourself on the back for taking a small, brave step.
  • Note how you feel: Proud? Relieved? Lighter?
  • Realize: You did it and survived, and you can do it again.

3. Repair and Repeat

  • Hits: talking in person, via text, anonymously online?
  • Misses: online trolls, friends offended, certain family upset?
  • Continue: It becomes more comfortable and more healing with each shared connection.

My reason for sharing my story with the world is that I will never be silent again! I stepped out of hiding to heal and you can too! Tell your story; show your scars. It may be just the map someone else needs to find the way to their own healing.

About Sadie Montgomery

Sadie Montgomery was born and raised in the Midwestern United States, where she currently resides on the shore of Lake Superior with her husband and children. She is an amateur baker and a professional accountant, and she won The Best Sense of Humor award in the sixth grade. Atlas of Scars is her debut memoir. You can find her on Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and at sadiemontgomery.com.

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