My job as Ash has been to present “apparently normal.” I have been responsible for supporting the family lie that I was not harmed, which has meant to a large extent that I could not know what the abuse even was. When I did know, I could not be allowed to know the full details of it, or I could not be allowed to know that it hurt me as much as it did. I could not be allowed to know, because I could not both cope with the knowledge and go on presenting “apparently normal” to the world.

The reason I needed to present “apparently normal” to the world is that this was what my parents demanded I do. I had to keep their secret. If I could not keep their secret, then I would have to go in the box. I would be punished horrifically and memorably. I could not, for a minute, reveal that I was a deeply traumatized child with an out-of-control inner world.

If you were abused, you had to present “apparently normal” too. There might not have been a box. Your family might have found other means. Maybe they stopped speaking to you—for a child, who is totally dependent on the family to meet her emotional needs, total emotional rejection like that is going to be devastating. Maybe they just beat you. But they would have gotten it across that keeping the secret was a family rule and would be enforced.

The secret wasn’t just the acts of their abuse, but their neglect of my needs as a child. The secret was how their abuse affected me and still affects me.

I have, in the past, appeared to be an adult because I am 41 years old and “apparently normal” has involved exhibiting adult-like behaviours for decades. I have not, until recently, really been an adult. I am only an adult now.

This has meant I could not heal. I could not heal because I could not do what was necessary to create a safe world for myself—which has involved being an adult who could take care of my very significant trauma-derived needs.

You need to feel safe in order to be in the right emotional zone to integrate trauma. So for a long time I was stuck, caught in this Catch-22 of not being allowed to know what I needed to be able to take care of. And then I got unstuck. I don’t know how I did it. When I find out, I will tell you.