My grandmother was in my life for nineteen years, and I’m not just talking about trips to her house and leaving with handfuls of butterscotch candies. My grandmother and I lived together with her room always being perfectly positioned just across the hall from mine. But in all those years with her being so close to me (literally and geographically), I never knew her story and what lead her to become the woman she was. It wasn’t until she passed that I discovered that my grandmother lived a life of struggle and hardship. She endured being sexually violated at a young age, losing a child, numerous broken hearts and a number of other life events that would render a grown man to want to curl up under the covers and hide for the rest of his life.
I never saw a fraction of what I thought was sadness in my grandmother. She was always calm and somewhat reserved with an indelible sarcasm that I would come to appreciate when I became a teenager. I was even shocked when my grandmother told me that she never suffered from headaches. Though I still wonder to this day if that was accurate information. Yes my grandmother was strong but she was also a woman who had feelings. This strength and stone-cold reserve was passed to my mother who also experienced her fair share of hardships. My mother constantly toes the line between soldier and teddy bear. She’s fiercely independent but often likes it when my dad takes charge and asserts his virility.
Like many other black women, I come from a long line of strong female predecessors who made the impossible seem easy and effortless. My mother, grandmother, aunts and cousins were like goddesses who balanced their jobs, the kitchen, kids and being a dutiful wife to their husbands. I wanted to be like them when I grew up. I wanted to dress impeccably and wear natural-looking makeup while I went to my amazing job and cooked a mean dinner from scratch. So imagine my surprise on the eve of my adulthood when I began to struggle with some of the simplest life tasks. I was constantly battling the dense fog of depression that enveloped me. Nothing came easy, and if fact I had to acquire a deal of energy in order to get out of bed most days. How did these women do it? Why couldn’t I just get past my sadness and rise to the occasion of life?
In addition to strong female models many black families also have the ever present cloak of secrecy. The past is always relegated to the generational gate keepers who never reveal the slightest bit of information, always espousing that they will take family secrets to their graves. And they do. So when this information about my grandmother was shared with me I was floored. Why didn’t I know this sooner? Why didn’t grandma ever talk about the things that she had to overcome? If I had known her struggles then maybe I would have come forward about mine earlier rather than wait twenty years. My confusion around the subject of sharing and why we were not a more open family was blown out of the wind when I expressed to my mother that I had been sexually abused at a young age. Rather than grab me and hold me tight with tears streaming down her face with sheer horror that someone had violated her little girl, she simply looked me in the eye and said “Me too”.
I would later learn that many women in my family had been the victims of sexual assault and/or abuse whether by their partners or by a male family member. Yet there was never a discussion about these occurrences and how to heal. And while many of the women made sure not to bring their daughters around cousin or uncle so-and-so, it was never addressed as to why. Of course many of the daughters never needed an explanation because said cousin/uncle always wreaked of nasty creeper. But I still didn’t understand the need for secrecy. If my daughters were to tell me that they were sexually abused or assaulted by ANYONE, aside from completely wiping that person off the planet, I would scoop them up and hold them in my arms and tell them that I would take care of them.
The voices of black women’s pain and struggle is all but nonexistent. It’s a combination of not speaking up out of fear and speaking up but not being heard. We have no reprieve, no shoulder to cry on because we are expected to be the ones to heal everyone else. It’s no wonder that my grandmother developed and battled cancer for over 19 years, because she was stuffing that pain deep down into her core. I wasn’t surprised that my mother had an issue with her thyroid and developed a lump on her throat from the previous years of keeping her voice silent. But I don’t want a physical disease or affliction tied to my pain. I want to break the cycle of abuse, pain, silence and disease.
At times I’m sure my oldest daughter was tired of me giving her the third degree every time I took her to a babysitter who also inconveniently forgot to tell me that a boy was present. Or when she spent time with family and friends without me and I had to check her mood for any signs of disconnection or withdraw. And though she constantly tells me that nothing has ever happened to her I still leave the topic on the table in the event that something DOES happen. I hate that I have to police my girls in this way but it comes from a familiar place. And I would rather they know that I’m here for them at the onset than for them to wonder and never speak to me.
This is why this blog and my videos mean so much to me because black women need to heal and we can do it together. We need to share our stories and raise our voices. Whether we survived abuse, sexual assault or something worse. Whether we live with depression, anxiety, psychotic disorders or PTSD. We are stronger together than we can ever be by ourselves. And once we find that power force in our sisterhood then we will be unstoppable. If you or someone you know has experienced (or is currently experiencing) any of these traumatic experiences I encourage you to speak to someone. Find a family member, friend, pastor, or spiritual teacher/guide that you trust and who will listen to you. If you don’t have such a person I encourage you to seek a therapist or counselor. Even if you have someone you can talk to I still encourage you to find a therapist. In any case make sure that who ever you talk to you feel comfortable with and they LISTEN.
Take the first step to heal and love yourself.