For seven years I’ve been struggling with the reality that I was abused by my brother. No one knows the full extent (or even half, for that matter) because I was trying so hard to protect them from knowing and having to choose a family member to isolate. Now many years later, I feel like I’m falling apart and I have no one to talk to because they all act like it never happened. My brother even hires me to babysit his daughter and talks to me as if nothing is wrong so I pretend it’s all okay and I feel like I’m losing my mind. I get paranoid that if people find out they won’t talk to me anymore or they’ll treat me like some sort of wounded animal. I often wish I could just end it all because I’m the only one who even knows or remembers. Sometimes I think it was all in my head and that my family acts normal because nothing is wrong. If they can so effortlessly let it go, why can’t I? I haven’t made it through a single day these seven years where I haven’t thought about it and I want to move on but can’t figure out how. Even trying to reach out is a struggle and I usually give up or don’t try. It took a month to write this question because I kept panicking and deleting it or forgetting how to write. I want to live my life free of this burden but it is a part of me now and I don’t know what to do.

 A: I’m so glad that you worked up the courage to write in with your question. Taking that first step toward getting some help can be equated with taking a giant leap in the right direction. I’m sorry that you were abused and I’m sorry that you have been dealing with it alone. My first suggestion is that you look for support outside of your family. The rest of your family might seem like they have “let it go” more easily than you, because they were not the ones who suffered the abuse. Caring about someone who has been hurt is much different than being hurt. They can have empathy for you, but they cannot know exactly what you are feeling inside.

 It is time for you to stop worrying about everyone else and start taking care of yourself. You can’t move on until you deal with what happened. Healing from abuse takes hard work and courage, but you CAN heal and get your life back. I would suggest that you look for a therapist who specializes in trauma and abuse so you can begin working through the past with the help of an expert. You should also consider joining a survivor’s support group, either online or in your community. Speaking with other people who have gone through similar experiences can be a huge help. I’d also suggest educating yourself about the effects of abuse and what the healing journey is like. Two of the books I recommend often are Outgrowing the Pain and The Courage to Heal. Many of the books on abuse can be tough to read so take your time and make sure you have support in place first.

Finally, after you have more support and information about the effects of the abuse you’ll be better prepared on how to handle your family relationships, including your brother. But you must first take control of your own healing journey. Start today by realizing that this wasn’t your fault and that you will not let it define you for one moment longer!

All the  best,

Dr. Holly Counts